Nature’s Ice Sculptures

Grab your climbing shoes or simply admire how winter transforms familiar landscapes.
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Nature's ice sculptures
Photography by Ken Scott

Those seeking a mid- to late-winter adventure need only turn to rivers and shorelines to find it. Don some snowshoes or boots with ice grippers attached and get ready to explore the frozen reaches where ice caves form and waterfalls freeze so they are suitable for climbing or simply admiring. Winter transforms otherwise familiar landscapes into otherworldly sculptures that glisten like jewels when viewed up close.

Eben Ice Caves: Find these formations near Marquette, and you’ll think you’ve been transported to Superman’s Fortress of Solitude as you pass curtains of ice, tinged a sapphire blue. Here, nature does the building — and design work. Water trickles from slow snow melt over the edge of a small cliff and freezes, forming ice sculptures and caves you wander through. Find it: The trailhead is on Frey Road, 25 miles east of Marquette, within the Hiawatha National Forest.

Munising Falls: In nearby Pictured Rocks, more than a dozen waterfalls flow down limestone cliffs and become an attraction of a different sort when their roar is replaced with silence, adding a cathedral-like feel. Munising Falls is one the most accessible of frozen waterfalls. Park in the Munising Falls lot and take the 800-foot trail to the ice curtains that can reach 50 feet high. No climbing is allowed, but if you’re looking for a more active ice adventure, venture to Pictured Rocks during February’s Michigan Ice Fest or book a guide from Down Wind Sports in Munising (downwindsports.com).

Grand Island: Traversing the uneven, slippery surface of Lake Superior can be as much an adventure as climbing a frozen waterfall, but hordes of the curious nonetheless find it worthwhile to venture the 3,000 feet from Munising to the shores of Grand Island. The southeastern shoreline contains some of the most dramatic caves on Lake Superior, some of them up to 80 feet high. One of the safest ways to get there is with the help of a guide; Lake Superior Ice Cave Tours, (602) 384-7038, offers full- and half-day guided adventures, generally traveling over by snowmobile; the night tours of glowing caves are a rare treat.

Leland and the Lake Michigan coastline: Head to a Leelanau County beach when the deep freeze is on and you may find nothing but frozen hills of ice as far as you can see. The dramatic transformations from warm summer beaches around Leland have become a popular winter attraction. During recent years, caverns complete with stalactites have formed as if by magic, as waves created pancake ice — floes resembling lily pads — and stacked them like building blocks.

The Jordan River shoreline: These don’t count as caves, not even close, but the lacy ice that forms on the edge of the Jordan River is an attraction highlight of the winter river rafting trips led by Jordan Valley Outfitters. You don’t get wet when traveling in the well-padded rafts, and there are stops for a warming fire and hot chocolate. (jvoutfitters.com).


Kim Schneider is an award-winning travel writer who shares her travel savvy in every issue of Michigan BLUE.

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