The Eben Ice Caves: A Real Michigan Wintertime Adventure
Ron Rademacher stopped by the 95.3 WBCK Morning Show to talk about another little-known Michigan Back Road treasure. The Eben Ice Caves are part of the 4,000 plus acre Rock River Wilderness area of the Hiawatha National Forest.
Ron says it’s a fairly rough hike and the last half mile can be treacherous, still it is well worth it if you are careful. He was careful and still managed a 35-foot fall on his most recent visit. He’s OK.
Ron says frigid weather creates this gorgeous natural wonder every winter, year in and year out. Oddly though the Eben Ice Caves are only about 40 miles from Munising and the famous Pictured Rocks, many people have never heard of them.
The ice caves are high up on a cliffside above the river, are enormous sheets of ice, as much as 30 feet tall. As water seeps through cracks in the bedrock and flows down the cliff face it freezes into rippling curtains of ice. The colorful curtain of ice extends more than 50 yards along the canyon wall. Slowly the water freezes and builds and builds concealing undercuts in the limestone and thereby creating the ice caves.
This destination would be worth visiting just to see the frozen wall of ice, but there is more. If you make the climb up the canyon wall, you can actually go inside behind the curtain of ice to the interior of the ice caves. The interior is lit by daylight filtering through the translucent ice, stalactites are hanging from the ceiling and there are even small windows that form so you can see the pristine forest outside the caves.
The great sheets of ice that form the caves can be more than 3 feet thick. They are so solid and strong that some people go there to climb the walls of ice. On past visits, there was a rope at one end so anyone can make their way to the top. From there you get a panoramic view of the cascades of ice that form the caves.
The Eben Ice Caves are unique and beautiful but visiting them requires some planning. Getting there requires a hike across a windswept field where the wind chill can be serious. After a quarter-mile or so of that, hikers enter the forest. An easy trail winds through the trees for a short distance and then gets tricky as you head down into the gorge.
At the beginning of the section of the trail that descends into the river gorge is a sign. The sign describes the wilderness area you are in. Then it announces that “THE TRAIL AHEAD MAY BE TREACHEROUS.” Ron says “you would be wise to heed that warning. The descent is steep and in some places, it is icy and slippery. There are places where small streams cut across the trail and crevasses must be crossed. Proper footwear and ice cleats make this a lot easier, especially when coming back and you are climbing uphill. This part of the trail is no joke, some visitors get hurt every winter. At the bottom of the trail is the river and a short distance along the river is the spot where the ice caves up on the cliff wall become visible. Those ice cleats make the climb up easier and the entire area along the cliffs may be icy as well. The beauty of the place makes it all worth it.”
There are minimal facilities at the parking area and NO facilities at the caves. Remember this is a remote wilderness area so appropriate clothing is essential. If you dress warmly and take enough water for a couple of hours in the woods, you will have a great time exploring this one of a kind place.
How to get there:
At Chatham, take M-94 to Hwy 365 aka Eben Road. Take that North to 388 (Frey Rd), turn right (east) and follow the signs. It’s an easy day trip from Escanaba, Gladstone, Manistique or Nahma.
Find out more from the Eben Ice Caves Facebook Page.