The majesty and might of ice left untamed is now on display at the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore area along Lake Superior in northern Wisconsin. But it’s for a limited time only.
“We’ve had five years now of penned up demand,” Neil Howk told Newsline 9.
Howk works with the National Park Service, and says this year’s cold winter has created ice conditions deemed safe enough for people to walk onto the lake and examine the caves in person.
This year marks the first since 2009 conditions have been deemed safe enough to do so.
“There’s no such thing as a typical year anymore. Usually by about the first of March is when Lake Superior gets to it’s max level of ice cover,” Howk said.
But officials with the National Park Service warn that though Monday the 18″ of ice found along the immediate shoreline is suitable for exploration, weather conditions could end the season abruptly.
“Wind is the biggest enemy of the ice,” Howk said. “If we get a big wind storm blowing out of the wrong direction it can break that ice shelf up in a matter of hours and blow it over toward Minnesota,” he continued.
The land and seascapes of Wisconsin’s Apostle Islands are beautiful all year round. But during the winter, the contrast between ice and red sandstone paired against the white snow on the lake can make for stunning photos of nature.
“The sandstone these cliffs are made of is a very weak type of sandstone,” Howk said of the terrain. “Every place where that Devil’s Island formation creates a cliff, those cliffs are honeycombed with caves,” he continued.
Howk says the weak rock is impacted greatly by wind, waves and ice formations that adorn the cliffs this time of year.
Ice is widely abundant in this region, and the ice formations vary based on the area of the cliffs you are examining.
Dramatic frozen waterfalls can be seen shooting off the top of the cliffs at a height Howk estimated to be 60 feet in the air.
Spray and water from waves has also made for widespread coatings of ice along the red sandstone exterior.
“A lot of water is seeping down through the cracks and coming out as springs in the cracks along the shoreline,” Howk said. An excellent compliment to the dozens upon dozens of dazzling chandelier-like icicles that often organize beneath arches and cave roofs.
Access to the ice caves is free, however the National Park Service does charge $3 for parking along Meyers Road of Highway 13 on the Bayfield Peninsula. Meyers Road runs directly into Meyers Beach which offers the most convenient access route to the caves. According to the National Park Service, the GPS address for Meyers Beach is 90500 Meyers Road, 4 miles east of Cornucopia along Highway 13 in Bayfield County.
Officials with the National Park Service urge visitors to come prepared to face the elements.
“We’ve had several broken bones suffered by people who are walking out there. So it’s really important to be fully prepared for this. It’s an amazing experience, but it’s one that you have to plan for,” Howk said.
Visitors should be dressed warmly, as wind chills along the shorelines can drop quickly. Boots are highly recommended, with traction-assisting features a plus. Sleds, ski poles and snowshoes are also often utilized by guests, and for children parents often tow young ones along by sled.
For the latest conditions on the ice, call 715-779-3397 extension 3. Additional information along with maps are available online here.