With captivating geographical features including high cliffs and ice formations descended from streams and rivers, it’s easy to see why a small city in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is home to the largest ice climbing festival in the Midwest.
Munising stretches along Lake Superior shoreline and is the western gateway community to the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, which is known for its unusual sandstone formations and dramatic multicolored cliffs. While thousands of people flock to the area in the winter to enjoy snowmobiling opportunities, ice climbing has become another popular pastime that attracts people not only from all over the country but the world.
Make sure to check out these magical ice formations in the Munising area during your visit in the winter:
1. Ice Curtains at Sand Point
The 20-50 feet ice curtains at Sant Point is a popular destination for adventurers due to the proximity to Munising. The ice curtains are in the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore between Munising Falls and Sand Point along Sand Point Road and is the main area ice climbers go for Michigan Ice Fest. The festival – which is held the second week of February – usually has over 1,000 participants with around 2,000 spectators.
Ice forms as water trickles out of sandstone cliffs, freezing into curtains and columns of dark blue and white ice. The ice generally forms by mid-December and remains until early April.
Parking is prohibited along Sand Point Road. To get to the ice curtains, walk along Sand Point Road from Munising Falls or Sand Point Beach and then walk/hike up to the base of the escarpment to find and view the ice. There are no designated trails, but as you walk along the road, cliffs and ice can be seen through the forest.
Ice cleats of some sort – which can be purchased or rented from several local businesses – are critical to avoid slipping or falling while adventuring to and around the formations. Forgot your ice cleats? Find a variety of them at South Bay Outfitters, Downwind Sports, Chatham Village Pub and New Moon Bar.
2. Eben Ice Caves
The Eben Ice Caves form each winter as water drips through the walls of the Rock River Gorge. Although not “true” caves, they are made up of vertical walls of ice formed by the seeping water, making this a great place to explore. The ice caves are located 25 miles east of Marquette and 15 miles west of Munising. The trek to the ice caves is roughly a 1-mile roundtrip walk. If there is no fresh snow and you don’t plan on getting off the beaten track, snowshoes aren’t a necessity. However, ice cleats or Yaktrax are recommended as there are no ropes or safety lines anywhere along the route and the path can get icy. Ice climbing is allowed at the Eben Ice Caves.
3. Grand Island Ice Caves
Water from Lake Superior seeps into crevices and caverns along sandstone bluffs on Grand Island, forming extraordinary ice curtains and icicles that hang like stalactites from ceilings. The ice formations are more than 30 feet tall and stretch hundreds of feet wide.
To get to the Grand Island Ice Caves, follow Sand Point Road all the way to the end until you find yourself near the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore headquarters. Ice caves are located on the southeastern side of the island. It takes about a .6-mile walk from Sand Point Beach across the frozen lake to get to the majestic formations. Ice levels are not monitored by the National Park Service, so caution is advised before and during a trek across the bay.
About the Author: The Munising Visitors Bureau strives to promote attractions, events and other projects in the Munising area.