Ice Caves of Lake Michigan

Posted by bob on Feb 18th 2014

IMG_1461 The wild winter this year has brought frigid temperatures, mountains of snow, and large waves to the Republic. We can now add ice caves to that list! The spectacular formations on Lake Michigan have been caused by the way the lake has frozen this year: a mixture of sudden freezing caused by historic low temperatures, a gradual pileup of pack ice, and wave action adding freezing spray to the equation. The results are stunning: cavernous caves, precipitous cliffs, and an ice pack stretching to the Manitous. Naturally, we couldn't wait to see it for ourselves! The information we had been given told us to head to Gills Pier Road, just a little north of Leland. Apparently others had heard the same advice! When we got there, there were literally hundreds of cars parked at the side of the road and throngs of people walking, snowshoeing, and skiing along it. It looked like summertime crowds! Wanting to escape the crowds, we headed farther north up the coast towards Northport, and turned in at a deserted Peterson Park. A short hike down to the lake and across the ice brought us to the spectacular sights below. IMG_1421 The view from Peterson Park out to the Manitou Islands. IMG_1424 The first stage of the lake's freezing is visible here. This small wall of ice is right at the shoreline and was formed by the waves and freezing spray. IMG_1431 Roughly 200 yards out on the ice is where we found the ice cliffs and caves. IMG_1439 It was amazing to see the ice stretching as far as the eye could see. IMG_1449 A stunning ice cave complete with icy stalactites! The top of the cave here is at least 20 feet high. IMG_1453 A closer look at the icicles on the top of the cave. These are formed both by spray from the waves and by melt-water dripping down and refreezing. IMG_1461 Hard to believe that this is Lake Michigan 200 yards from shore. You could be forgiven for thinking it was Antarctica! IMG_1462 More gnarly looking ice on this bluebird day in the Republic. IMG_1470 A couple of people from our party help to provide some scale in this picture. This cave was by no means the biggest one we found out there. IMG_1473 Another view across the frozen lake. Just think: people will be swimming here in a few months! IMG_1480 The view out to the Manitou Islands. While it looks like you can walk out to them, the farther from shore you get, the more treacherous the ice becomes. You can find more information about the ice caves on Traverse Magazine's website. They put together a nice photo gallery and a brief guide on visiting the ice caves. A few words of caution if you do decide to head out to see the ice caves:
  1. Exercise Extreme Caution! We've been having some warmer temperatures lately. This means the ice will be much more unstable. Proceed slowly and carefully and do not venture out too far. Trust us, you do not want to fall through!
  2. Bring a buddy! Do not venture out alone. Bring at least one other person, preferably more.
  3. Dress appropriately! Wear warm clothes in layers and be sure to wear good boots that won't let the snow in. Snowshoes or Yaktrax can be helpful. Bring a change of clothing too, just in case!
So what do you think of the ice caves? Did you get out to see them? Let us know in the comments below!