Sightseers look at icicles at the mouth of a sea cave of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore of Lake Superior near Cornucopia, Wisconsin. REUTERS/Eric Miller
Crowds of people are flocking to northwestern Wisconsin to
trek on a frozen-over Lake Superior to reach dramatic ice
caves accessible on foot for the first time in several years,
courtesy of the long frigid winter.
The ice caves on Superior's shoreline are carved out of
sandstone by waves from the lake and derive their name from
the icy freeze in winter that makes them glisten with hoar
frost, icicles and ice formations.
Reachable in warm weather by boat, the caves are accessible
in winter only by walking across ice when it is thick and
It has been five years since the ice caves were last
reachable in the winter, officials said.
About 35,000 people have hiked the more than 1 mile (1.6 km)
route across the ice in the Apostle Islands National
Lakeshore since officials declared the ice a "low risk" on
Jan. 15, park spokeswoman Julie Van Stappen said.
"We have never had this number of people coming," she said.
"It has been a bit overwhelming, but it has been great for
the local community, and they are gorgeous."
A cool autumn and early winter combined with polar vortexes
helped lake ice build up weeks earlier than normal, said
George Leshkevich, a researcher for the Great Lakes
Environmental Research Laboratory.
The Great Lakes in the last week reached its broadest ice
coverage in 20 years at 88 percent, with Lake Superior at
about 95 percent, according to the research laboratory.
Van Stappen said the round-trip trek to the caves can take
three hours or more over a well-packed and slippery path with
little cover to break the sometimes fierce winds.
Still, the number of visitors was expected to surge over the
three-day Presidents Day weekend, boosting tourist activity
in such towns as Bayfield, about 18 miles (29 km) west of the
Maggie's restaurant in Bayfield was doing more than double
the business it normally does in February, which is typically
a good winter month anyway because of events such as cross
country ski races, office manager Heidi Nelson said.
"Our waiters and bartenders are just elated," Nelson said.
At the Bayfield Inn, manager Tyler Stoklasa said this may be
the busiest winter season he has seen.
"We are doing July-type business right now," Stoklasa said.