[Note: This is a post I wrote for Girl from the Northwoods last year. Today it was announced that the Ice Caves will be open again on Saturday, so I thought this would be a perfectly timed Prehistoric Amber post. Please head over here for updates on parking, admission, and trail conditions. I’ll work on a “If You Go” post for those looking to round out their the Ice Caves trip with some cool local places and will try to have that up and in front of your fine faces by Friday)
Living up here in the Northwoods, for some reason I always kind of feel like people need to ask for my permission before they can up for here for stuff like the Birkie or Fat Tire.
Or at least give me credit for being an obviously integral and super important part of the Northwoods that they’re visiting and enjoying.
Especially if they’re people that I know… Part of it is just me being my territorial self, which is admittedly one of my less-awesome character traits (hi, every girl who’s tried to date one of my guy friends! How are you? Sorry for being a jerk). But I think this sort of attitude is also something I share with a lot of locals, and it grows the longer I become a local myself…that sort of protective ownership and pride tends to bleed into uptight territorial tendencies (This is OUR special place, NOT YOURS!)
The other part of it is just me being a self-absorbed jerk who doesn’t like to share and still feels flabbergasted when offered proof that she’s not the center of everyone’s universe. I mean, if you’re going to the Ice Caves, you’re only going to be a short 45 minutes away from where I live. That’s reason enough to plan your entire trip around the opportunity to see me, yeah?
The reason why I’m sharing this is because, when the Lake Superior Ice Caves opened in January for the first time in 5 years and everyone started going ballistic about it, I put it on my bucket list of Need-To-Do-At-First-Opportunity. First, because they are freaking ridiculously awesome and possibly a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but also because I didn’t want 5,000 other jerks to get there first and ruin it all for me.
(This also works into another one of my neuroticisms, which is a minor panic that, if I’m going to some kind of show, experience, or party, I have to get there super early so that other people don’t ruin it for me by crowding out the place or gobbling up all the good stuff. I grew up with brothers. A lot of stuff got ruined if I didn’t get there first, okay!?
Boy, you guys are getting know me REALLY well with this post! I don’t think 75% of the guys I’ve dated even knew all this about me. Let’s get married. Two kids cool with you? Great.)
If you haven’t yet heard about the Lake Superior Ice Caves, they’re a natural wonder of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. During the summer, the sea caves of the Apostle Islands are only accessible by boat and kayak, so being able to access them by foot in the winter is already pretty awesome…but when wind, snow, and ice combine to form the ice caves, the magnificent result will make you feel that you’ve traveled to a different world altogether.
So when I was spending time with my family for my father’s birthday and my mom asked if I wanted to venture up to the Ice Caves only a couple days before my birthday, I jumped at the chance.
I mean, what better way to celebrate my birthday than by marveling at natural wonders that were obviously created just for the anniversary of my very special birth?
So we headed up north to the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, the entrance to the mainland sea caves along Lake Superior. My rad mom and I lucked out in that we decided to go on a weekday (Tuesday, to be exact) that just happened to be the warmest day the Northwoods had seen in weeks. We were also super lucky to roll in just as two packed school buses were leaving. The crowds were small enough that we got to park close to the entrance (as opposed to three miles down the highway, which some unlucky suckers experienced last weekend when visitors reached a record high).
The temp was around 14 degrees, but we still bundled up and used heated handwarmers inside our mittens…being seasoned lake visitors, we knew that conditions on the lake tend to be windy and chilly no matter what the temps are (especially since, I mean…you’re walking on ice. You’re on a miles-wide slab of frozen ICE). I also have to give my mom another high-five for bringing Yaktrax for us to wear on our boots – those things made the trek super easy and worry-free (especially for this girl, who only broke her tailbone a year ago after slipping on ice).
After a respectable hike – about a mile on a paved path of snow – we reached the Ice Caves, and they were AMAZING. Just ridiculously breathtaking. Giant sculptures of glittering, shimmering ice against red and brown rock. I’m already weirdly fascinated with everything Arctic, so having a natural wonder like this in my backyard just makes me feel so, so lucky to live here.
Trekking back, we decided to hit up Big Water Coffee Roasters for something warm, which served as both motivation and reward for a really windy mile-long hike. If you don’t know this about me yet, Big Water Coffee Roasters is one of my absolute favorite places on earth: The staff is always uber friendly (and hilarious…the barista on duty that day teased my mom and I about being on our cellphones instead of talking to each other. I was like, “Dude, we just hiked across Lake Superior together. We’ve talked enough.”), the atmosphere is über cool, and the coffee…it’s tragic, basically, to be in Bayfield and *not* go to Big Water.
All in all, it was a wonderful day with my moms, and an uber awesome way to celebrate my 35th birthday.
If you’re even *thinking* about going, make haste and get up there – there’s no telling how long the Ice Caves are going to be accessible or if they’ll open again next winter (this is the first time in five years that they’ve been open to the public).
If you go:
* Call the Ice Line first to make sure the Ice Caves will still be open on the day of your visit. You can also get directions to the park entrance by clicking the link above.
* Go on a weekday, or go early/late on the weekend to beat the crowds. Current reports cite that the Caves are seeing around 6,000 people on weekends, so…that’s a lot of people to maneuver around for your new Facebook profile pic, yeah? If you absolutely can’t go on a weekday, then try to go around sunrise or right at sunset – you’ll beat the crowds (not to mention get some super stellar photos).
* Leave the little ones at home. I am not exaggerating when I say that it’s a trek out to the Caves, it’s windy and old, and it can be a miserable experience for anyone who isn’t totally gung ho on seeing the Caves. In my opinion, the Ice Caves themselves just aren’t something that a kid under 7 can really appreciate. We heard a lot of crying and whining from little ones about being cold and bored, and I did not envy the hassle for some parents who thought sleds or shoulder carriers were a good idea.
* Bring cash for parking. Parking spots at the lake entrance cost $2, so if you’re lucky to be parking off the highway, pull up to the cash dropbox in the parking lot and get your slip *before* you park (it will save you an extra trip back to your car to place your slip in your windshield). There’s also a shuttle available on the weekends.
* Bundle up. As previously mentioned, no matter what the temperature, it’s always windy and chilly on the lake. Wear lots of layers, and snag some heated handwarmers at the gas station before you arrive – they are a lifesaver!
* Yaktrax are the best thing ever for the mile-long walk on ice and snow. Poles, not so much. They seemed to really slow people down. Go for the Yaks instead.
* Bring a fully charged phone or camera for photos. I charged my phone to full power before we left, then turned it off and didn’t turn it back on again until I was right in front of my first photo opportunity. The reception up there is spotty, so having it on – especially in those cold conditions – will drain your battery fast.
* Plan to hit a warm-up spot afterward. Bayfield and Washburn both sport some of the coolest places in the Northwoods, so rushing back home after a visit to the Ice Caves is kind of the dumbest move ever. Hit up Big Water Coffee Roasters for the best damn Pumpkin Spice Latte you’ve ever had (trust me on this one, ladies) or a Lavendar Mocha. If you’re in the mood for alcohol, hit up The Bayfield Inn for one of the best Bloody Marys on the planet (and if they have fish tacos available while you’re there, GET ONE). Or, tuck into The Snug in Washburn for a beer and some Scottish Eggs. If you’re really out to grab a hold of the day, head to Ashland and visit the South Shore Brewery, Black Cat Coffeehouse, and Ashland Baking Company.
Hope you have the greatest time!!!
And if you do, I definitely expect you to give me credit for it.