Last month images of the ice caves on Lake Superior went viral. The lake had frozen over to its greatest extent in decades, and for the first time in five years the sea caves of Apostle Islands National Lakeshore near Bayfield, Wisc. became accessible by foot.
Normally a paddling destination in summer, the caves have gotten a winter makeover, complete with elaborate ice formations and chandelier-like arrangements of stalactites.
For sightseers and local businesses alike, this rare site has put a silver lining on an especially punishing winter. By one recent count, 88,000 people have trekked across the frozen lake to see the caves, compared to the 148,000 people who visited Apostle Islands in all of 2013.
But barring a last-minute vacation to Wisconsin, most of us won’t get a chance to see the caves in person before the lake ice breaks up.
Never to worry: Ice caves are not strictly a winter-only phenomenon—you just have to go to the right place.
Many of the most spectacular examples are in glaciers, formed as summer meltwater widens openings in these ever-shifting rivers of ice. Deep blue glacial ice can cause the light filtering through to bathe everything inside in a spectral glow.
Others are actual caves where, by some geological fluke, the temperature remains below freezing year round, so that water seeping in accumulates into incredible frozen formations.
We did the research and came up with ten ice caves you can visit even when the mercury starts rising again. That way you won't have to wait till Hell—er, lake Superior—freezes over again to snap photos that'll make your Wisconsin friends jealous.
After all, they had to suffer for it.
Dobšinská Ice Cave, SlovakiaA tourist attraction since the 1800s, this UNESCO World Heritage site in Slovak Karst country is filled with columns, domes and stalagmites, all made of ice. Open to visitors from May through September, temperatures in the nearly mile-long cave can get down to the 20s Fahrenheit, so bring a jacket.
Los Glaciares National Park, Argentina
The third-largest ice cap in the world is in Patagonia, feeding dozens of glaciers in this national park. One of the best places to explore is Viedma Glacier, which flows into Viedma Lake near Mount Fitz Roy. Patagonia Aventura offers an “Ice Trek” tour on, and into, the deep blue ice.
Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, Alaska
Juneau isn’t the only place in Alaska with awe-inspiring glacial caves. Glaciers cover over 5,000 square miles of this park (which is the largest in the United States), and two of the most accessible are Root Glacier and Kennicott Glacier, both near the abandoned mining town of Kennecott. Operators leading tours into the caves include Alaska Denali Travel and St. Elias Alpine Guides.
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