Frozen Waterfalls & Ice Caves

Robert WellerTake A Hike!

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What comes to mind when you think of a winter getaway? Probably some place warm right? Maybe a beach somewhere just lying in the sun with a cold drink in your hand. I would have to guess that most people don’t think of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula as a winter destination. I mean unless you are into snowmobiling or skiing why would anyone want to go where it’s colder, right? Well, what if I told you that there are things to see and do in the U.P. during the winter months that you can’t see or do there any other time of the year? The story I am about to share with you may open your eyes to the possibility of the U.P. being a place on your future list of winter destinations. 

My wife, Cathy and I love to visit Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and one of our favorite things to do there is to visit as many waterfalls as we can. We have camped at the Tahquamenon falls lower falls campground several times and used it as a base camp to explore from. Many times in the past, I told Cathy how much I would enjoy seeing the falls frozen. She would always agree and say, “someday”. Well, in February of 2019, we decided it was time to quit talking about it and finally made the drive to Michigan’s frozen Upper Peninsula. The day that we headed north, old man winter decided to fire up the snow machine, which made our drive a bit more interesting. Call me crazy, but I’ve always enjoyed driving in the snow, and pride myself on being a good winter driver. Cathy’s car at the time was a 2016 Subaru Outback and it was made for the conditions we were driving in. However, as much as I enjoyed the snow and as good as that all wheel drive car was supposed to be in the conditions, we were being passed by every other vehicle on the road. It didn’t matter what I did, that Outback was all over the road. I told Cathy there was something wrong with the car, and that we needed to find an alignment shop because there was no way I was going to try and drive another mile with the car handling that poorly. We found a Belle tire just a few exits later and fortunately they got us right in. The technician came out to find us after getting our car on the rack and when I stood up to greet him, he commented, “Sir, that car can’t handle well at all in this snow” to which I replied “no, no it doesn’t.” He showed me the results from the alignment scan and it was no surprise to me that all four wheels were out of spec. I gave him my consent to proceed with repairs and in less than an hour we were back on the road. With the wheels properly aligned and a car that handled the way it should, we were back on our way. We crossed the Mackinac bridge under high wind warnings and the UP greeted us with white out and blizzard like conditions. After a brief stop at Kitch-iti-kipi, we made our way to Munising and eventually arrived safely at our hotel where we hunkered down for the night as the storm blew through the area. The next morning we were off to see all things frozen. Our first stop, well, you probably guessed it, the magnificent Tahquamenon Falls and let me

tell you they did not disappoint. They were as breathtaking as the cold air we were breathing. There was still some water flowing and you could clearly see the usual copper and brown colors of the falls. Some of the ice shared the same color as the water and the fresh blanket of snow on top of the ice made it seem as if we were staring at a giant frozen root beer float. Cascading down the banks to our left, across from the falls were several ice formations that had a blue tint to them. We were amazed at the beautiful coloring of the ice everywhere.

We continued our tour of all things frozen over the next two days by exploring the shores of Lake Superior and visiting several of our other favorite local waterfalls, stopping at every one that we could find a way to access. One of our stops was Scott falls, a small

waterfall right on the side of the road. It didn’t look like much at first but we were so glad we stopped. As we approached the tiny waterfall, we noticed the base was completely frozen and that we could actually climb around in behind the falls. Once we crawled in behind the falls, we could actually see and hear the water running inside the frozen fall. We got some video clips and of course took lots of pictures. The snowpack was about 3 feet deep, and in addition to all the snow the area had received, an ice storm had also gone through recently creating a hard layer on top of the snow. Snowmobile tracks definitely helped us with our hiking efforts as the packed trails were much easier to walk on . As we made the mile long trek back to Laughing Whitefish falls we brushed up against several small trees that had leaves covered in ice still hanging from their branches. When the branches were shaken, the ice covered leaves sounded like a wooden wind chime. After seeing the falls, we stopped on our way back to the car to take a break on a bench and the snow was so deep our legs were straight out in front of us as we sat down. We continued to visit other falls in the area and

at some of them, we saw people with ropes, spikes and other special climbing gear enjoying the sport of climbing on the magnificent frozen walls of ice. At some of the falls, much like at Scott falls, we were able to walk, climb or crawl around behind the falls making each stop its own little miniature waterfall exploration adventure. Sometimes there was a bit of a hill to climb but going back down was always a treat because we just sat down and slid on our butts. 

Now folks, my wife is quite the expert vacation planner so if we are taking a trip, you better bet that she is going to find other things to do in the area. Meaning we weren’t just going to the U.P. to see waterfalls. She is a real blessing to me because planning a trip is not my thing. I am more of a “tell me where we are going and I’ll get you there kind of guy”. Cathy had spoken to some friends about our upcoming winter getaway the previous fall and one of them had told her about The Eben Ice Caves. After reading all about them and buying ourselves some Yaktrax (An absolute must have for this attraction) we decided we had to go check them out. Folks let me tell you, I’ve never seen anything like it. They look slightly different every year but man are they ever a sight. You access the Eben Ice Caves by parking on and hiking across private property. The land owners are very gracious people who allow others to access the woods by way of their field and they even had porta-potties set up along with hot chocolate and other refreshments. They also had a donation box which we of course left a donation in before we departed that day. It was a relatively short hike across their open field and then into the woods. We had no trouble following the well packed path that led us right to some of the most amazing ice formations I have ever seen. We spent the next couple of hours in the woods just taking it all in and playing in the snow. My wife nearly wiped me out as she slid down the side of one of the hills on a snow covered ice run. We were laughing and playing in the snow like a couple of kids. It was an absolute blast. With our Yaktrax, we were able to climb in behind the columns of ice and get lots of great pictures. The caves aren’t really caves, they are pillars of ice that form as moisture drips out of the earth overhangs on the side of a cliff more or less. The ice caves were quite sheltered from the wind making it very enjoyable to just sit back and gaze at all of the ice even in the cold.

Unfortunately, like all fun getaways do, it all ended before we were ready to go home. But, I suppose that is what makes it a getaway. If you didn’t want to stay, I’m not sure it would be as special. This was certainly a special trip with my wife and I will say, I am very glad that we finally made the decision to go and see all of these frozen attractions. We returned to the frozen Upper Peninsula in February of 2022 with our kids so they too could see several frozen falls and the Eben Ice caves. Many of the attractions looked different than we remembered from our previous visit, but they were all still spectacular to see again. If you don’t mind the cold or snow and have a love for the outdoors, I highly recommend you get to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula during the frozen season and see some of these magnificent sights for yourself. I have included a link to a short youtube video of our little adventure as a preview of what you can expect to see. 

Bundle up, have fun and God Bless!!