A goal of mine for this winter was to visit one of Northern Michigan’s ice caves if they were accessible. These natural phenomenon occur only during the coldest winters. I heard through friends that the caves at the Grand Island, just off the coast of Munising, were magnificent this year. I blocked out a day in late February to make the trip.
I arrived just after noon at the Pictured Rocks National Park just outside of Munising. I bundled up in my thick snow boots, snow pants, extra layers of sweatshirts and thermals, thick gloves, and my warmest hat. Stepping foot onto the ice of Lake Superior, I began my journey across over one mile of ice and thick snow.
Fearful of journeying alone, I was excited to see two women a few hundred yards behind me. I stopped and waited. I asked them if they minded I joined them. “I’ll go first,” I told them. “That way if I fall in you can turn around.” They laughed and promised to tell the world where I died.
We followed a snowmobile track directly across the lake. I was confident that the ice was frozen deep into the water, still each crack and groan was unsettling. At times the snow was as deep as our knees, and we cursed ourselves for not bringing snow shoes. Several times we were forced to circle around slush holes.
When we reached the end far shore, the ladies decided to turn south in order to visit the lighthouse a half-mile down the shore. I turned towards the ice.
I’m not entirely sure what I expected to see. I researched the ice caves before I left, and read stories of the ice colored in shades of green, blue, red, yellow, and brown. I heard the cliff face was eroded inward by the lake, allowing you to climb behind the ice. The ice was rumored to be 80 feet tall in places, and as thick as an ancient oak. I prepared myself for the disappointment of the caves being less grand than the photographs online. A Northern Michigan Mt. Rushmore where visitors look up in despair and say, “That’s all? I drove all this way for that?!”
The first set of ice failed to awe. At 20 feet tall and an ugly dirt shade, the ice was pretty but not worth long journey across the lake. I snapped a few photographs before placing my bare hand against the ice to feel the cold. I sighed and stepped back, hoping to find something more grand around the bend of the island.
This was more like it! Standing well over 30 feet tall and brightly colored, these ice formations were the magnificent sight I was promised. The sun was behind a large cloud as I photographed the exterior of the ice falls.
Beneath the ice falls was a wonderland. I felt like I had just entered Superman’s Fortress of Solitude. The ice was easily 8 to 10 feet thick in places. The floor was slick. I could hear water dripping down the columns. This was beyond my hopes when I left Harbor Springs in the morning on a four-hour journey to Munising. And then…the sun came out.
When the sun shone bright through the ice walls, the caves lit up. These are colors I would expect to find in a sci-fi movie, not on the shores of Lake Superior. Emerald and sapphire light washed over the cavern floor. I snapped away, hoping that I could capture just a bit of the beauty.
In all, I took over 200 photographs. I spent the afternoon climbing through the ice, laying face down below massive icicles, sliding down 10 foot ice hills, and simply staring in wonder at the natural beauty in front of me.
While I was there, the ice falls were cracking. Large pillars of ice lay scattered around the caves. These formations will not last long, and with the weather beginning to warm, you may only have a few more weeks to visit.
If you are interested in visiting the Grand Island ice caves, you need to be fully prepared for the journey. The website – ThingsToDoInTheUP.com – has a great write-up on the ice caves, with directions and pro tips on visiting these amazing formations.