The Rock River Canyon Ice Caves, much better known as the Eben Ice Caves, remain a mystery to many.
It seems that this cool little natural wonder of the Upper Peninsula isn’t frequented as much as it could be largely due to the fact that many people just aren’t quite sure how to get there. Well, I’ll cover the whole “how to get there” conundrum (from the North, from the South, sideways, backwards…etc.) in another post. Maybe I’ll even throw up a video. (I do have a link to a map below, though, so I’m not totally leaving you hangin’.)
For now, though, I’ll give you the basics.
The Eben Ice caves are part of the 4,000 plus acre Rock River Wilderness area of the Hiawatha National Forest. I’ve never visited the area during the summer (though I should, and so should you), but in the winter it’s a nice way to spend a morning or afternoon. Sixty-foot tall icicles are always cool.
If you’ve never been to the Eben Ice Caves, you’re experience will likely go something like this:
You drive far out into the Upper Peninsula countryside, down a sometimes-muddy road, and park at the edge of a farmer’s field. Yellow signs labeled “Ice Caves” help point the way.
Unless the area has just recently received some snowfall, the trail will be packed down by the many visitors who came before you. The hike to the ice caves is about a half mile from where you park, and though the first section is pretty flat, as you get closer to the caves there are some pretty steep ups and downs. And as you may imagine, once you get there, the ice caves are, well… icy.
To that effect I’d recommend wearing boots with nice, grippy soles at the very minimum, and preferably wearing some sort of ice cleats on the bottoms of your shoes.
A group of friends and I recently embarked on a little afternoon trip to the Eben Ice Caves and really enjoyed it. After a slight wrong turn, we found our way, parked by the field and hiked in. There were probably ten or fifteen other cars there when we pulled in. It was early afternoon.
I’d guess it took our group about fifteen minutes or so to get to the caves, as we were taking it slow and enjoying the scenery. And the way the sunlight cast the bare birch tree’s shadows over fluffy mounds of snow made me want to stop to photograph everything, but I eventually made my way to the caves. Gorgeous area though.
Let me pause here to note – once again – that you’ll probably enjoy the experience a little more if you do have some sort of cleats on your shoes or boots. I didn’t, and it was slippery as all hell in some spots on the trail. (Note to self for next year – buy ice cleats.)
At any rate, once we got there the group dispersed to explore behind the giant walls of ice, take photos, or just stand back and observe one of the Upper Peninsula’s many natural wonders.
I walked/slipped/slid behind the ice to get some photos and could have hung out there for a while. It’s really something to see, much like the ice curtains off Sand Point Road in Pictured Rocks (link). The difference is that here there’s enough room to get behind the ice.
We probably spent a half hour or so playing around the caves, then climbed up above the ice and made our way back along another section of the trail. This part of the trail was a much easier hike than the way we took in. (If you want to take this way in, go right when the trail forks at the “Rock River Canyon Ice Caves” sign.
After our hike, my wife and I drove just a few miles from the parking area to have lunch at the Rock River Café, which was awesome. I’d highly recommend that you check it out on your way to or from the caves.
Bottom line: The Eben Ice Caves are one of the Upper Peninsula’s best-kept secrets, but they shouldn’t be. Get out there and check them out!
How to get there? To view a map of the Eben Ice Caves on my map of the Upper Peninsula, click here.