Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Apostle Islandsí ice caves captured on camera. © Karen McFadzen

Apostle Islandsí ice caves captured on camera.
© Karen McFadzen

February 2015

A photographic pilgrimage in the coldest of days

Apostle Islands' ice caves captured on camera.

Story by Mike McFadzen, photos by Mike and Karen McFadzen

Last year's cold and snowy winter was superb for winter recreation in the upper Midwest. Frozen lakes and rivers gave access to unique areas for ski and snowshoe trips. Winter grandeur doesn't get any better than the Apostle Islands' mainland sea caves.

Mike McFadzen on skis at Apostle Islandsí ice caves  © Karen McFadzen
©Karen McFadzen

The frozen waterfalls take on myriad colors depending on the mineral content. Huge icicles hang over 30 feet, with gorgeous ice formations formed by the meltwater. Big ice-filled chambers take on different colors and hues based on the daylight and reflections. This is a bucket–list trip.

Over 120,000 visitors made the jaunt to explore this remote and frozen natural wonder in 2014 according to Neil Howk, Apostle Islands' Assistant Chief of Interpretation. But is it safe?

"To keep it (ice caves) open, we make a determination of low–risk ice safety based on several variables. This includes having no open areas nearby and at least 8 inches of ice for at least two weeks," explains Howk.

The last time the ice was safe enough to provide access to the sea caves was in January and February 2009.

The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore is about as far north as you can get in the Midwest without bumping into Canada. This U.S. National Lakeshore is an archipelago of 21 islands and shoreline encompassing 69,372 acres on the northern tip of Wisconsin.

The best access to the mainland sea caves is from Meyers Road, located four miles northeast of Cornucopia, Wis. on State Highway 13. The sea caves start one mile from this parking lot. Call the Apostle Islands Ice Line at (715) 779–3398 ext. 3 for current ice conditions before attempting this trip.

If you go

The best nearby lodging and restaurant choices are in Bayfield, 17 miles east of the sea caves on State Highway 13.

Mike McFadzen writes from Greenbush, Wis.