The ice caves are frozen formations of art nestled in the remote Rock River Canyon Wilderness within the Hiawatha National Forest.
Situated on M-94 equidistant from Escanaba, Marquette and Munising, the caves have drawn more people to local businesses than snowmobilers, officials have said.
According to geologists, water drained from sandy loam seeps through the Prairie Du Chien and Trempealeau sandstone bedrock. As the temperatures drop, these intermittent “leaks” through the sandstone create ice stalactites over the entrance of undercuts in the region’s exposed bedrock cliffs.
Although this process creates the seemingly magical effect of the ice caves, it also keeps the shallow soil on the canyon slopes in a poorly drained state, posing serious erosion problems that could be exacerbated by heavy human traffic.
Winter use leaves a relatively smaller human footprint on the local ecosystem, but visitors still need to respect the region.
The trailhead begins at a snow swept field and leads to a path that travels through a stand of woods.
Hikers follow a compressed trail that resembles the route of a large rolling ball. The white noise of several small, melting creeks accompanies a sharp slope that winds at times along a fairly steep precipice.
The hard-packed trail, once a convenience, becomes a hazard as hikers make their way up and down the steep valley’s twists and turns.
Snowshoeing, cross country skiing, hiking and winter camping are all allowed by the U.S. Forest Service. However, wheeled or motorized equipment is not allowed.
A collapsed pillar of ice dwarfs visitors to the Eben Ice Caves. It also serves to remind them of the potential dangers of falling ice.