4 Tips for Exploring the Eben Ice Caves in Michigan's Upper Peninsula
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.
Just outside of Marquette, the Eben Ice Caves 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.
1. Learn About the Eben Ice Caves
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 National Recreation Area 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.
2. Here's How to Get There
Set your GPS for Eben Junction (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.
3. Plan for the Hike to the Caves
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, 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. The landowners allow people like you and me to pass through the field at no charge. If they ever stopped allowing this, the hike to the ice caves would be much longer. In addition, the landowners now offer portable bathrooms in the parking area at no charge. Show your thanks by purchasing a hot beverage or a snack at their concession stand if you're able!
4. Use Ice Cleats
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.
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!
All in all it's a bit of a trek to the ice caves, but I'd highly recommend checking them out! As far as Michigan ice caves go, these are the most accessible.
About the Author: Jesse Land of Things to do in the U.P., worked with Travel Marquette Michigan to create this article.