You are here

Walking on Water at Apostle Islands


Apisicecave2_copy    Bring up Apostle Islands National Lakeshore during a conversation about vacations, and most folks will assume you're talking about the summer months. I mean, c'mon, the shimmering waters of Lake Superior, windswept beaches, islands you can string together like pearls during a kayak or canoe trip?
    And, frankly, if you're going to travel far for your vacation, Apostle Islands nine times out of ten would be a summer destination. But if you live in the immediate vicinity of this Wisconsin jewel, you might want to consider a trip to the lakeshore soon so you can check out the Mawikwe Sea Caves.
    During the summer these caves can only be accessed by boat, but when winter turns cold -- as it has this year -- the sea caves are transformed into the ice caves. Here's how the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees described the caves last fall when listing its favorite winter travel destinations in the park system:
    Icy curtains cover walls of red sandstone, frozen pillars mark where waterfalls tumbled from cliff tops and dagger-shaped icicles rise at odd angles from the roofs of sea caves. Wintertime magically transforms the Lake Superior shoreline at Apostle Islands National Lakeshore into a frozen fairyland. The lake surface along the park’s 12 miles of mainland shoreline may be covered with ice for some or all of the period from late January to early April. If the lake ice is thick enough, visitors can park their cars near Meyers Beach (about four miles northeast of Cornucopia, Wisconsin) and then walk, snowshoe, or ski about a mile along the shoreline to the park’s mainland sea caves. When conditions are right, several hundred people a day may Apisicecave5_copy flock to the area to photograph the varicolored ice formations and crawl into icy recesses that place them in the heart of the winter. Visitors must use caution, however. Warm clothing is a must. Keep in mind that walking on ice can be very dangerous. Wear sturdy boots, carry a ski pole or walking stick, beware of falling ice, and watch for newly formed cracks or soft spots in the ice. Ice conditions can change rapidly, especially on windy days. People planning a winter trip to visit the sea caves should call the Apostle Islands Ice Line at (715) 779-3397 ext. 3, for information on current ice conditions.


I'll second your recommendation of the sea caves as a great winter destination. I know them well: I used to be the District Ranger in charge of that area. For a half-dozen winters in the 1990s, I spent many a Saturday and Sunday out on the ice, getting back to the most enjoyable part of a ranger's job: mingling with visitors and sharing their wonderment at spectacular natural beauty. Never got bored; the ice formations changed from day to day, and there was always something new to admire. I'll also re-emphasize how important it is is to check with the park to get the latest ice condition information before going out. Lake Superior is a very dynamic, changeable environment, and conditions can change in a flash. Ice that was Gibraltar-solid yesterday may hide deadly cracks today. I could fill a book with stories of people who've run into trouble on the ice of the Big Lake; please don't put yourself into the next chapter.

Add comment


This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

National Parks Traveler's Essential Park Guide