Walking on Water: Adventure Across Frozen Lake Superior to Apostle Island Ice Caves

February 27th, 2014 Permalink

There’s at least one great thing about super frigid weather, at least if you are near Apostle Islands National Lakeshore where sea caves have been transformed into ice caves. For the first time in five years, Lake Superior is so solidly frozen that people are coming from all over the world to walk on water. The phenomena has transformed the Wisconsin winter wonderland into a hot tourist destination. [32 Photos]

Frozen waterfalls, ice caves at Meyer's Beach on frozen Lake Superior

There’s at least one great thing about super frigid weather, at least if you visit Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in northern Wisconsin. Nearly 100,000 people have walked across frozen Lake Superior, iced solid enough this year for the first time in 5 years, to see a winter wonderland of frozen waterfalls and dazzling ice formations inside ice caves that are sea caves in the warmer months. Photo #1 by turn off your computer and go outside

Hiking over the ice Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

Once the ice on the lake is thick enough, thousands of visitors make the pilgrimage to catch a glimpse of these majestic ice caves on Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. While winter might imply smaller crowds, the lake last froze like this in 2009, allowing access to the incredible ice caves along the southern shore of Lake Superior. In fact, the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore has turned to other agencies for help in handling the thousands of winter adventuring people walking on frozen water. “Five other national parks have sent staff to help, and the local sheriff’s offices, U.S. Coast Guard and Border Patrol are also helping out.” Photo #2 by NPS


Arctic Wasteland, Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

So far this winter, nearly 100,000 people have hiked across this arctic wasteland. The frozen surface of Lake Superior stretches out for miles from the mainland sea caves. Before visiting, people should check NPS to make sure the ice is still stable and that risk is “low.” Photo #3 by NPS

Ice caves along Lake Superior near Bayfield, Jan 2014

NPS explained, “Visiting the caves in winter requires at least a 2 mile hike (round trip) on the ice of Lake Superior. Travel on Lake Superior can be dangerous any time of the year. Traveling across the ice demands extra attention to personal safety. Because of the unpredictability of lake ice, traveling across it is never completely safe. Before heading out, visitors must understand all of the risks involved, and the physical demands required for hiking out to the caves.” Photo #4 by Barbara Alwes / Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

Feb 2014 ice formations on Apostle Island sea caves

“Apostle Islands National Lakeshore staff checks the ice and monitors the weather to determine when the Mainland Caves are accessible. NPS is not, however, able to check every day. Cold temperatures can form thick ice, but wind and waves can break up that ice and make it very unstable. Low Risk ice conditions allow the area to be deemed accessible to visitors.” Photo #5 by stpaulgirl

Ice Wall AT Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

Walls of ice encrust the lower cliffs where wave spray has frozen on the rock. NPS wrote, “ALL of the following conditions must be met for ice to be considered Low Risk: Ice thickness along the entire route is known by NPS staff and is greater than 8″ for higher quality ice or greater than 12″ for lower quality ice. No reported ‘through-ice’ incidents have occurred in the area within the past week. Area has been checked in the last week by NPS staff and no changes have been reported. Ice is locked between established geographical points of land (i.e. Meyer’s Beach to Eagle Island). No major weather events have occurred that could have compromised ice stability.” Photo #6 by NPS

A Look Through to the Otherside of Apostle Island sea caves

A Look Through to the Otherside. If you are still not scared off, NPS added, “The conditions at the caves can change in less time than it takes to walk there.” Photo #7 by stpaulgirl

Dare to crawl inside an ice cave along frozen Lake Superior, Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

Would you dare to crawl inside an ice cave along frozen Lake Superior? Photo #8 by crossn81

Thousands cross frozen Lake Superior to visit ice caves at Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

Photographer at frozen Meyer’s Beach. “Set in a matrix of Lake Superior, the largest and most pristine of the Great Lakes.” The “Apostle Islands archipelago includes 22 islands and is located in far northwestern Wisconsin, off the Bayfield Peninsula. 21 of these islands, and a 12-mile segment along the shore of Wisconsin’s north coast, comprise the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.” Photo #9 by turn off your computer and go outside

Close up of Apostle Island National Lakeshore Ice Cave icicles on February 1 2014

Close up of icicles in February 2014. Apostle Islands National Lakeshore has beaches, cliffs, water, and 21 islands. Photo #11 by stpaulgirl

Looking out the ice cave at people walking on frozen lake

Looking out the ice cave at people walking on frozen lake. Lake Superior is reportedly icing completely over “for the first time since 1996, thanks in large part to unyielding arctic air.” Photo #12 by crossn81

Lake Superior in winter

Lake Superior in winter. NPS wrote, “Although the lake rarely ever freezes over completely, ice will typically form around the islands, such as here between Gull Island and the mainland.” Photo #13 by NPS

Winter wonderland, frozen falls and ice caves, Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

Winter wonderland, frozen falls and ice caves full of dazzling ice sculptures carved by nature. Photo #14 by crossn81

Ice formation along Lake Superior near Bayfield

Lake Superior’s waves have carved caves out of the sandstone. Photo #15 by Barbara Alwes / Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

Ribbons, Feb 2014, Apostle Island ice cave

Ribbons, Feb 2014, Apostle Island ice cave. Photo #16 by stpaulgirl

Apostle Islands Sea Caves, January 29 2014

The photographer wrote, “Near Cornucopia, Wisconsin out on the frozen ice of Lake Superior. First time accessible in five years due to favorable ice conditions!” Photo #17 by Rich Hoeg

Looking out the ice cave at sun close to horizon over frozen Lake Superior

Looking out the ice cave at sun close to horizon over frozen Lake Superior. Photo #18 by crossn81

Swallow Point on Sand Island

Swallow Point on Sand Island. NPS noted, “One of the archways eroded in the Devils Island sandstone on the east side of Sand Island.” Photo #19 by NPS

Frozen Waterfall Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

Frozen Waterfall. “Icy columns form where waterfalls plunge from the clifftops.” While ice may be all you see of the waterfall, you can reportedly still hear water moving in the falls. Photo #20 by NPS

Frozen Lake Superior and Meyer's Beach in 2014

Frozen Lake Superior and Meyer’s Beach. So cold, yet so hot of a tourist attraction: “Since news has spread around the globe that the ice-draped caves and cliffs are accessible for the first time in five years, this normally hibernating tourist community has awakened to throngs making the pilgrimage onto the big lake’s Apostle Islands National Lakeshore mainland caves. More than 76,000 have flocked to the see the ice caves since Jan. 15. Photo #21 by turn off your computer and go outside

Ice Caves, the Crack and look up at icicles

The Crack: “A large joint crack runs perpendicular to the face of the cliff at the mainland sea caves creating a narrow opening between 60 foot high sandstone walls.” Right: Icicles hanging like razor-sharp daggers from ice caves. Photo #23 by NPS & #24 by NPS

More ice, Feb 2014, Apostle Island National Lakeshore Ice Cave

More ice, Feb 2014, Apostle Island National Lakeshore Ice Cave. Photo #26 by stpaulgirl

Icy formations along Lake Superior, Jan 2014

Icy formations in frozen sea caves during Wisconsin winter 2014. Photo #27 by Barbara Alwes / Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

Ice caves in 2009

The last time Lake Superior was frozen rock-solid enough for people to walk on the ice was 2009, when the ice caves looked like this. Photo #28 by stpaulgirl

Frozen, Apostle Islands Ice Cave, 2009

Frozen waterfall at Apostle Islands Ice Cave that last time it was cold enough, in 2009. Photo #29 by stpaulgirl

Winter excursion to ice caves, Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

Winter excursion to ice caves this year, in 2014. Photo #30 by crossn81

inside an ice cave that is mainland sea cave in winter

2014 from inside an ice cave that is a mainland sea cave in warmer months. Photo #31 by crossn81

Setting sun outside ice cave

Setting sun outside ice cave. Photo #32 by crossn81


If you liked this, then you might also enjoy glimpses of winter in Michigan along the lake as seen in Power of the Storm: 44 Ferocious Waves Attacking Lighthouses.

Aftermath of the Winter Storm - huges turned to ice

The photographer described this photo as, “30 foot tall outer light of the St. Joseph, Michigan, after a severe winter storm.” Photo by Tom Gill

Ice Drapery after 20ft waves

Ice Drapery: Ice formed on the St. Joseph, Michigan lighthouse and catwalk during a winter storm that churned up Lake Michigan and created 20 foot waves. Photo by Tom Gill

Like Wisconsin, frozen Lake Superior and the ice caves, Michigan in the winter is not for the faint of heart. Brrr! Photo by Michigan Travel Bureau via EPA

Furious Lake Michigan Petoskey - waves and ice

But walking across frozen Lake Superior to see the ice caves is too rare to adventurers and photographers to pass up. It’s unknown if it will be another 5 years before the lake can freeze solid enough as winter can also look like these furious lake waves and ice. Photo by Charles Dawley

Like the cold, snow and winter? Then you might like these:
Abandoned Snowy Post-Apocalypse? 41 Photo Scenarios of Snowpocalypse or Snowmageddon
A Snowman’s Worst Nightmare: Calvin & Hobbes in Real Life [PICS]
Beyond Brrr! 45 Photos of the Real North Pole and Arctic
Mountaineering at Denali National Park: Adventure in America’s Last Frontier
24 Amazing Auroras: Aurora Borealis & Aurora Australis

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