When the temperature drops below freezing the Apostle Islands ice caves come to life. The red and pink sandstone cliffs begin to glimmer with different shades of white and blue as the ice begins it’s annual migration from the top of the cliffs to Lake Superior. Waterfalls that once dribbled over the edge become spires of ice that shoot out from the cliff’s edge out to the surface of Lake Superior. The porous sandstone allows melt water to permeate through the smooth surface and creates caves full of thousands of pristine icicles. At the beginning of the ice cave season the features tend to be small and intricate and by the end of a season there can be giant ice formations resembling stalagtites (aka stalagtice) inside the caves. We offer two destinations for the ice cave tours; if ice and wind conditions are appropriate we go to Meyers Beach, but when the ice or wind conditions are not appropriate we go to Red Cliff.
The longest expected ice cave season is Red Cliff: (January 20th – April 10th) and Meyers Beach: (February 15th – April 1st). January 1st, 2018 we will begin to update this page with the expected ice cave season for 2018. The Red Cliff ice caves have been accessible every year for the last ten years. The Meyers Beach ice caves have been accessible two times in the last ten years. Once the Red Cliff ice caves open up they tend to stay open until they close for the season. If Meyers Beach ice caves open up they may close and re-open several times throughout the season due to the unpredictability of ice conditions on the West side of the Bayfield Peninsula.
Red Cliff Ice Caves (Beginner) (2.5 miles round trip) (2 Hour) $40
The Red Cliff ice caves are a section of tall sandstone cliffs that have four ice caves and a picturesque sea arch that creates an extraordinary ice display. The crowds are small to non existent as the access is limited. This stretch is well known by Red Cliff locals and is only accessible from the Red Cliff Chippewa reservation. We are the only outfitter with permission from the tribal council to tour these caves, and we ask that all that sign up for this tour have the utmost respect for the areas that we have access to, as it is a cherished privilege. We practice “leave no trace” tours and absolutely everything you bring with you must be packed out. These are the same kind of sandstone caves and cliffs you will find at Meyers Beach but without the crowds and with much more predictable ice conditions. In February and March we are able to tell you if your Red Cliff ice caves tour will launch 24 hours before your tour.
Meyers Beach Ice Caves (Intermediate) (5 miles round trip) (4 Hour) $40
Meyers Beach has the most and the largest ice caves of any stretch of ice caves in the Apostle Islands. This fact makes them an incredible experience but has also made them very crowded, if they open. Parking can be a circus at Meyers Beach but we shuttle you to the trail head which ensures your walking distance will be 5 miles round trip. These caves are on the West side of the peninsula and are much more susceptible to wind and waves deteriorating the ice conditions and they do not open every year. Even when these caves do open they can be closed with almost no notice. When these caves are open, decisions to launch are made at the beginning of each day, and no guarantee can be made 24 hours prior to your tour.
Ice Cave Tour Policies
- If you sign up for the Red Cliff Caves on a day that Meyers Beach is accessible you will be allowed to switch to the Meyers Beach ice cave tour at no additional cost. The same is true if Meyers Beach is not accessible and you want to switch to Red Cliff.
- Meyers Beach does not always become accessable, so we do not book any Meyers Beach ice cave tours until the ice sheet extends out at least 1/4 mile from the caves at Meyers Beach. In the last 10 years this has only happened in February or March. Meyers Beach ice conditions can be viewed at Sea Caves Watch.
- If the ice at Meyers Beach extends at least 1/4 mile out from the ice caves we will allow them to be booked but it does not mean that they are open, it only means that they are nearing conditions that might allow them to open. Meyers Beach ice conditions can be viewed at Sea Caves Watch.
- If the ice is not 12″ thick along the path to Meyers Beach ice caves we will go to the Red Cliff ice caves. If the ice conditions are not appropriate at the Red Cliff ice caves full refunds will be issued and the option to re-book to a later date will be offered.
- If you cancel 24 hours before your reservation a 100% refund will be issued, if you cancel less than 24 hours before your tour a 50% refund will be issued. No show results in no refund. If we cancel due to weather, a 100% refund will be issued.
How often are the Red Cliff ice caves accessible? The Red Cliff ice caves have been accessible every year on record and usually have a two month season in February and March.
How often are the Meyers Beach ice caves accessible?
In 2014, they were accessible for the first time since 2009. Between 2003-2009, they were accessible for at least a short period of time each year except for 2006. They were not accessible in 2016 or 2017.
How unusual was the visitation at Meyers Beach in 2015?
The visitation at Meyers Beach in 2015 was 38,000 over a nine day period. In 2014, the visitation was 138,000, but the season was much longer, nearly 2 months. In 2009, the season length was similar to 2014, but the visitation was only 8,400 and in 2017, a year without accessible ice caves, visitation for January and February was 3,100.
Why do people have to park so far away on Highway 13 at Meyers Beach?
We shuttle you to the start of the trail head, ensuring a 5 mile round trip walk. However, other people often have to park 2 to 3 miles away from the parking lot at Meyers Beach because there is not ample parking at the Meyers Beach trail head. If the Meyers Beach ice caves open, and you plan on visiting on a weekend, the possibility exists that you could end up parking 2-3 miles from the trail head and walking 10 to 11 miles round trip due to the overcrowding at Meyers Beach.
What’s the latest date the Meyers Beach ice caves have been accessible?
In the mid-2000’s (approx. 2005) the caves were not accessible until March and people were still walking out to the caves that first week in April.
What is the longest season the Meyers Beach ice caves have been accessible?
2014 and 2009 probably tie for the longest seasons (approx. 8 weeks).
Why is some of the ice on the ice caves blue?
Ice only appears blue when it is sufficiently consolidated that bubbles do not interfere with the passage of light. Without the scattering effect of air bubbles, light can penetrate ice undisturbed. In ice, the absorption of light at the red end of the spectrum is six times greater than at the blue end. Six feet into the ice, most of the light in the red spectrum can’t be seen. A lack of reflected red wavelengths produces the color blue in the human eye.
Why is some of the ice on the ice caves pink?
The cliffs at the mainland sea caves are formed from Devils Island sandstone. The sand grains in this rock are weakly cemented and easily eroded by wind, ice, and waves. That is how the caves form, but when the reddish sand grains slough off the rock and become imbedded in the ice, the ice acquires pinkish appearance.