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U.P. Ice Caves Are Natural Attraction

Cliffs create a crystalline winter destination for groups gathering in the Upper Peninsula

By Kathy Gibbons

Grand Island ice caves || By David Bryan courtesy of U.P. Travel & Recreation Association

Heading to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula for a conference or event soon? If you are, consider making time to take in a natural phenomenon you can only see in the wintertime: U.P. ice caves.

Not caves in the true sense of the word, U.P. ice caves are formed from walls of stalactite ice that builds on cliffs—typically from January through March. “What happens is there’s more of a water flow that kind of seeps over the edges of these cliffs and cause a wall of stalactite ice, similar to what you would see in a cave … a sort of drip that turns into this ice formation,” says Adonia Finendale, of the Upper Peninsula Travel & Recreation Association.

There are several locations to view U.P. ice caves. The ones near Miners Castle in the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore on Lake Superior are among the most popular, Finendale says. Unlike some others, these can be accessed from the parking lot. Chapel Rock Ice Cave is another top attraction in Pictured Rocks, though getting there means a hike along the lakeshore.

Also near Munising, the Grand Island National Recreation Area “is just phenomenal,” Finendale says. “The challenge is waiting for enough ice cover to get out to it.”

Grand Island is about a half mile from Munising in Lake Superior and requires a snowshoe hike or walk to get there when the ice is frozen. It can also be accessed by snowmobile, with tours available when the ice is solid. Finendale says a lighthouse on the island offers another “amazing” winter viewing experience.

Eben Ice Caves are also a well-known U.P. ice cave destination. Part of the River Rock Canyon Wilderness but located in the town of Eben Junction about 25 miles east of Marquette and 15 miles west of Munising, they’re off the beaten path and accessible by foot on what can be a slippery, sloped path. Ice cleats are recommended.

“It’s like down in a canyon—slippery, very icy—so safety first,” Finendale says. “It’s a mile in, so two miles round trip.”

Part of the path crosses private land, where the owners graciously give visitors the right of way to get in and out. They provide outhouses and there’s a donation box where guests can leave a token of appreciation.

“It’s just something very unique,” Finendale says of the U.P. ice caves.