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Lake Superior sea caves open for the first time in 5 years

Tourists wander through the ice caves near the Apostle Islands in this 2009 photo. (Jed Carlson/

By Mike Simonson, Wisconsin Public Radio

For the first time in five years, you can walk on the ice of Lake Superior to get to the Apostle Islands sea caves. If you don’t mind feeling moving ice below your boots, you might just love it.

The National Park Service describes the caves as a “fairyland of needle-like icicles.” On weekends, more than 1,000 people a day may visit the caves – more than the peak of the summer season.

Apostle Islands National Lakeshore Superintendent Bob Krumanaker says the mainland caves 18 miles west of Bayfield are one of the most unique sites in the 21 island park.

“For most people, walking on a frozen Great Lake is just a remarkable experience psychologically, let alone physically,” says Krumanaker. “It’s pretty solid generally and depending on the visibility it could be white as far as you can see. But you know the lake is under it and sometimes you can even feel the ice move a little bit.”

While getting to the ice caves can be one experience, arriving there is another: “You’re looking at these beautiful rock formations, but they’re covered by stalactites and stalagmites made of ice,” he says.

“And then if you carefully crawl under some of that ... the ice is completely smooth and generally completely clear underneath it. So it’s like there’s a glass floor that you can see the bottom of the lake.”

This is the first time the ice caves have been accessible over the ice since 2009. Krumanaker does say they monitor ice conditions closely. He hopes the caves will be open for six weeks, but he says wind and weather could change that as soon as tomorrow.