Exploring the Eben Ice Caves in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

Today, featured blogger Jesse Land of Things To Do in the U.P. tells us how to have a fantastic Pure Michigan winter adventure at the Eben Ice Caves in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. 

Photo courtesy of Habibi Photography

The Eben Ice caves in Marquette County are one of Michigan’s prime winter attractions. Each winter, once the ice caves start to freeze up (usually sometime in December), visitor’s flock to the tiny town of Eben Junction to see the ice caves and, while they’re out there, support local businesses like the Eben Ice Caves concession stand, the Rock River Cafe and the New Moon Tavern.

Eben Ice Caves – The Basics

The “Rock River Canyon Ice Caves” better known as the Eben Ice Caves, form when melting snow runs over the edge of a small cliff and freezes, forming “ice caves” Much like the large ice formations along Munising’s Grand Island and parts of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, if you were to visit here in the summer you would see little to no water running over the edge.

It’s the perfect combination of a slow snow melt and frigid temperatures that causes these “caves” of ice to form.

The Hike to the Caves

Photo courtesy of Things to Do in the U.P.

This isn’t an attraction where you can pull up in your car, walk a few feet and be done. It’s not a long hike, but yes, you will have to get out and stretch your legs. And for the pet owners out there, yes, the area is pet friendly. Each time I’ve visited the ice caves I’ve seen more than a few dogs on the trail.

The hike from the parking area to the ice caves is about .75 miles. The first .25 mile stretch is a very flat walk through a farmer’s field. And just a note on that, the farmer allows people like you and me to pass through the field at no charge and if the kind family that owns the land ever stopped allowing this, the hike to the ice caves would be much longer. In addition to that, the land owners now offer portable bathrooms in the parking area at no charge. So, show your thanks by purchasing a hot beverage or a snack at their concession stand if you’re able!

A Word on Snowshoes and Ice Cleats

Photo courtesy of Things to Do in the U.P.

After a foot of snow got dumped on the area just two days before my recent visit, I asked a friend who lives in nearby Chatam if I should bring snowshoes. “It’s never a bad idea to bring the shoes,” he said, “but I”m guessing it’ll be packed down by then.”

He was right. Snowshoes would have only made the hike more difficult. So if you have them, bring them in case you happen to visit right after a big snowstorm. Otherwise, wear ice cleats.

Some form of ice cleats (I like Yaktrax but any of them should help!) can go a long way toward enhancing your Eben Ice Caves experience. Trust me. On any given day, about half the people visiting the caves are wearing cleats, and the other half wish they had them. The main reason is that, with ice cleats, you’re able to walk around inside the ice caves on relatively sure footing. And without them, it’s a little treacherous. The ice inside the caves is very smooth so traditional rubber boots tend to slide around quite a bit.

But another reason to wear cleats is that the trail out to the caves has some steep ups and downs. You’ll see many spots where people slide down hills on their bottoms, and then struggle to get up the other side. In short, if you’re wearing cleats (like myself and my cohorts were on our last outing) you’ll be able to walk right up and down those slippery spots. On my last visit, a college aged girl looked a little stunned as I walked right by her on a slippery hill and said “Oh, so that’s what it’s like when you have traction.”

Okay, enough about the ice cleats. You get the point!

Getting There

Photo courtesy of Habibi Photography

The Eben Ice Caves used to be a little hard to find, but no longer. Just set your GPS for Eben Junction, MI. (Or use Google Maps to find it.) From M-94 in Eben Junction, turn north onto Eben Road and drive about 1.5 miles to Frey Road. Turn right on Frey Road and drive to the end (if you can) or if it’s a busy day just find a spot to park along the road. It’s not unusual to see fifty or more cars parked here on a nice weekend day. Also, Eben Road and Frey Road have yellow signs on them that say “Ice Caves”, so keep an eye out for those.

All in all, though it’s a bit of a drive out to the ice caves, I’d highly recommend checking them out! As far as Michigan ice caves go, these are the most accessible I know of.

Have you been to the Eben Ice Caves? What did you think?

 

Written by Jesse Land of Things to do in the U.P. on behalf of Travel Marquette Michigan.

 

 

Q&A with Michigan Native Olympian Nick Baumgartner

Today, native Michigander and Olympic snowboarder Nick Baumgartner answers our questions about snowboarding in Michigan and training for the Olympics! 

Q: How did you get started in snowboarding?

A: Growing up in Iron River in the Upper Peninsula, it would get super cold in the winter months.  I was taught to find fun activities to do no matter how cold it was, plus I was always trying to keep up with my older brothers who I looked up to immensely.  I had to do whatever they were doing and hyperactivity kept us going all day.  Before we started snowboarding, my brothers, sister, and I spent most of our time in the winters at the sledding hill behind my parents house.   For Christmas of 1990, my brothers, Josh and Beau, and I asked Santa for snowboards.  Josh was the first to open his board on Christmas morning and what an awesome sight it was!  It was a Black Snow “The Edge” with metal edges and worthy to shred on real ski hills.  Beau and I received hot pink, plastic “Mogul Monster” snowboards that were only allowed on the sledding hill out back.  I made it a mission of mine from that day on to prove to Santa that I was worthy of metal edges.  I now ride one of the fastest boards in the world, a Carbon Fiber Oxess Snowboard, but it all started that Christmas morning on a sledding hill basically using a glorified sled with bindings.  Huge thanks to my brother Josh for being one of the pioneers of snowboarding in the UP and pushing me to become the Olympic snowboarder that I am today.

Q: Tell us a little bit about your career in snowboarding.

A: My snowboard has taken me on one heck of a journey.  At the beginning I had to fight tooth and nail to earn each and every opportunity.  I didn’t know any pro snowboarders or anyone that could help direct me on the correct path so I took it on myself to create my own opportunities and make the most of them.

I have been a member of the US Snowboarding A Team since 2007.  Being on the A Team has allowed me to continue chasing my dream, because as a single father, finding funding for my season is always crucial.  When I started pursuing this dream, my goal was to receive an invite to the Winter X Games.  The X Games was the biggest venue snowboarding had to offer.  Once I accomplished that goal in 2005, I immediately made a new goal to win the X Games.  This journey to X Games Gold would span 6 years, take me to nearly 20 counties, 2 national championships, 1 Olympic Games, 2 World Cup Titles, a World Championship Bronze, 15 screws and a titanium plate just 12 days before winning and holding my 6 year old son Landon over my head in front of the whole world!  Seeing all my hard work and determination pay off made all the sacrifices I made so worth it.

Q: Have you done any of your training in Michigan? If so, where?

A: I choose to do most of my training here in Michigan.  Most of my team moves out to Park City, Utah and trains at the Center of Excellence which is home to both the US Ski & Snowboard Teams.  This facility is one of the best training gyms in the world, but it’s not home.  Training to me isn’t just about weights and cardio, you also have to have your head right.  In order for me to be able to compete at my peak level I need to be physically fit just as much as I need to be mentally fit.  Being home with my family, my son Landon, our dog, and using the beautiful backdrop that is Pure Michigan as my training facility is the perfect combination.  In the summer, training consists of many miles of running, swimming with my dog Oakley, kayaking with Landon, exploring the U.P. and enjoying life to the fullest.   When it comes to traditional conditioning–sprints, running stairs, hitting the weights and making sure I am in the best shape I can be– I head back to my old high school and train with some of the local kids from the West Iron County High School Football team.  This is awesome, not only for me, but for them as well.  They look up to me and by trying to keep up they can push themselves to be the best they can be.  This gives me an opportunity to help these kids reach their full potential.  I know they get a lot of inspiration from me and I love that- it fuels me.  One thing I can’t stress enough is that they give me the inspiration I need in return.  Regardless of whether or not I am standing on top of that Olympic podium in February, the football boys that conditioned with me will have played a huge roll in my preparation.  Training in Michigan is the best way for me to be fully prepared physically and mentally.

Q: Where is your favorite place to hit the slopes in Michigan?

A: When I am home in the U.P. I love hitting up Ski Brule right here in my home town of Iron River.  Ski Brule is where I first rode a snowboard with metal edges and it’s only 7 miles from my house.  Without growing up next to such a great place like Brule I would never have gotten where I am today and for that I am so fortunate.  In the lower Peninsula, I would have to say Boyne Mountain because there are so many things to do on and off the slopes.  I may meet the age requirement of an adult but I’m just a giant kid and being able to Snowboard, zip line, ride a standing wave, hit the water slides and so much more all in one day is pretty sweet.

Q: What do you love about winter in Michigan?

A: I love just about everything in Michigan all the time.  Hunting, ice fishing, snowboarding, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, sledding…the list could go on forever.  Michigan is a winter paradise–there’s so much to do as long as you aren’t afraid of a little snow and a little cold.  I love the people here- even when it’s below zero people will give you the shirts off their backs and I couldn’t imagine a better place to raise my son.

Q: What was your favorite thing about growing up in the UP?

A: Being able to grow up in the outdoors was so awesome.  Everyday for us was an adventure, whether we were hunting for food, hunting for treasures, building forts in the woods, riding bikes in the neighborhood, or playing Kick the Can at night, my friends and I always had something to do.  I think we got to do a lot more than most kids in the world since Iron River is a safe place and the people in the community are so kind.  The U.P. gives you so many more options than other places when it comes to doing something active and fun.  If you love the outdoors you will never be bored.  It is definitely a small community up here, but whether something good or bad happens, everyone rallies together to provide as much support as possible.

Q: What is the most exciting part about being an Olympic athlete?

A: For me the coolest part about being an Olympic athlete is that it gives me an opportunity to use my story to help inspire others.  Kids are our future, and I know that with my personal experiences I can show kids to DREAM BIG, because with some hard work anything is possible and no goal is too lofty.  I also love sharing my journey with as many people as I can; I know I am very fortunate and want to give back the best ways that I can.  Being able to travel is also pretty sweet.  I love being able to see how people all over the world live- it definitely gives me a different perspective on life.  With all the travel however, the best part of every trip will always be coming home to the U.P. and to my boy.

Q: What advice would you give to any beginning snowboarders out there?

A: Anyone that is new to snowboarding should know that the first few days can be tough, but with a little hard work you will learn very fast.  Snowboarding has a steep learning curve, so within 3 days you can go from a complete beginner to an intermediate snowboarder who can keep up with your friends.  I have been snowboarding for 17 years and some days I wish I could go back and have that first day all over again.  I love watching people learning to snowboard because even when they are having a rough time they are having so much fun.  Whatever you decide to do, I urge you to eat healthy, be active, and dream big.  If we take care of our bodies and stay active, we give ourselves the best chance to stay healthy and fully enjoy life.  Life can be so much fun; try to smile yourself and try to make someone else smile everyday.  It’s amazing how a nice gesture can help someone, because you never know what that person may be going through.

Follow me on Twitter, Instagram, and Vine and like me on Facebook. I want to share my experiences with as many people as I can.  When I check my social media and see all the support and kind words, it really motivates me- I read every single comment.  When things aren’t going perfect, everyone’s kind words help to lift me up and keep me charging forward.  I have some of the best supporters in the world, and more support would never be a bad thing.  I will do everything I can to bring an Olympic Gold back to Michigan, but I promise to represent the USA, Michigan, the UP, my family and all my fans the best that I can. My Name is Nick Baumgartner and I am PURE MICHIGAN!

Wishing Nick the best of luck as he competes in the Winter Olympics in Sochi this February! Will you tune in to the 2014 Winter Olympics?

An Inside Look at Cold Rolled: Amazing Video on Snow Biking in the UP

Today, featured blogger Jesse Land of Things to Do in the U.P. shares his interview with filmmaker Aaron Peterson on snow biking in Michigan and his new film Cold Rolled.

Photo courtesy of Aaron Peterson

A new film by Michigan filmmakers shows that Marquette, Michigan is breaking ground in the sport of snow biking, with veteran snow bikers leading the way. With a custom made trail groomer and a dedicated snow bike trail (simply dubbed the “SBR” for snow bike route), there’s yet another reason to visit Marquette in the winter. I caught up with filmmaker Aaron Peterson this week for a quick Q &A about the film, Marquette and snow biking in general.

The film is being released in five parts, and you’ll find the first two parts below the interview.

How did this film come about? What were some of the challenges you ran into while making it? Did you run into any pleasant surprises?

I wanted to showcase the unique winter riding opportunities available in Marquette. We started out with the idea to make a short action video for the web, but then found a deeper story about a strong culture of winter cycling in Marquette and decided to expand the project into a film. Some of the challenges were that I’m new to video and filmmaking, this is my first major undertaking. I’ve been shooting video for about a year and just started to learn editing about 10 months ago.

As far as you know, how does the snow bike trail in Marquette compare to snow bike trails in the rest of the country?

Marquette’s SBR is, as far as I know, the first of its kind. It is very similar to a standard summertime mountain bike singletrack flow trail, meaning its fast, narrow and has fun features like bermed corners, rollers, etc.

From what I’ve seen in other areas, most places are simply allowing fatbikes on existing Nordic ski trails, which has a very different feel than buzzing through the woods on a dedicated bike trail. The NTN SBR is a really unique product, and one that I think was made possible due to the 30-year history of winter riding in Marquette that is featured in the film.

How does the NTN groom the snow bike trail?

Mike Brunet and Matt Belic of the NTN experimented with a number of different techniques and equipment over the past few years before developing and constructing their own groomer design. It’s sort of a cross between a snowmobile trail groomer and a Nordic ski trail drag. It rolls and packs the snow leaving a 27-inch wide courdoroy ribbon of fun through the hills and forest within the city of Marquette.

Are there any other snow bike trails in the area that will be opening in the foreseeable future?

The Range Mountain Bike Club of Negaunee/Ishpeming is planning to groom some of its system this season, making Marquette County a true hub for winter cycling. Also the Noquemanon Ski Marathon will have three races during the weekend of†Jan 24-26, 2014.

Do you need a special bike to ride the snow bike trail?

Yes, this is a trail specifically for fatbikes, bikes with oversized tires available from a variety of manufacturers. Fatbikes are available to rent from The Sports Rack in Marquette and can be demoed at any of Marquette’s four bike shops. The trails are also open to snowshoeing.

Can you talk a little about snow biking in general? I heard of it last year for the first time and it seems like it’s rapidly growing in popularity.

Fatbikes are the fastest growing segment of the bike industry right now. They use an oversized tire with low pressure to increase flotation and traction in soft conditions, they work in all types of terrain but excel like no other bike when it comes to riding on snow, which is why locally they are called snow bikes.

They do need a packed surface of some sort, like a ski trail, dedicated snow bike trail or anywhere a snowmobile of snowshoe traffic has compressed fluffy snow. Riding on snow is surreal. For an experienced cyclist, the feeling is similar to mountain biking but different enough that it lets you feel an entirely new experience on a bike. Marquette’s SBR can be very fast because it is smooth, the ride is like a roller coaster.

The bikes are very stable because of their wide tires and the traction is unbelievable. It’s just fun to try something familiar yet different and see what the bike can and can’t do. Plus it’s outdoors in crisp fresh air and great exercise. You just have to try it.

Video One:

COLD ROLLED-Chapter One from Clear & Cold Cinema on Vimeo.

Video Two:

COLD ROLLED-Chapter 2: The Thirty-Year Winter from Clear & Cold Cinema on Vimeo.

The remaining three videos (and the full length film) will be available the following dates:

These approximately 4-minute long chapters will be live by 8 a.m. EST on the following dates:

  • Saturday, Dec. 21 Chapter 3: The Lake Superior Session
  • Saturday,Dec. 28 Chapter 4: MindSparks-Birth of the SBR
  • Saturday,Jan. 4 Chapter 5: The SBR Shred Session
  • Saturday, Jan. 11 Full film available

Have you ever been snow biking? Tell us about your experience.

This post was written by Jesse Land of Things to do in the U.P. on behalf of Travel Marquette Michigan.