MUNISING, Mich. (Michigan Back Roads) – The Rock River Canyon Ice Caves, also known as the Eben Ice Caves, are a unique destination for a winter day trip. While this beautiful natural wonder is being visited more often, many people have never heard of it.
The Rock River Wilderness, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, includes more than 4,000 acres in the Hiawatha National Forest. The ice caves are high up on the wall of the river gorge with ice formations as much as sixty feet tall.
These giant sheets of ice are formed by water seeping through the rock wall. As the water flows down the rock wall, it freezes into beautiful curtains of ice. Eventually, the ice reaches the the bottom of the wall. The ice conceals undercuts in the cliff face, which become ice caves.
This spot would be worth visiting, just to see the frozen wall of ice, but the fact that you can go into the caves, formed by the cascades of ice, make this a one-of-a-kind destination. The caves are large enough so you can walk around inside. The interior is well lit by daylight filtering through the translucent ice wall. Stalactites of ice will be hanging from the ceiling. There are even windows, formed naturally, that afford a view of the pristine forest outside the caves.
The sheets of ice that form the great wall can be three feet thick or more and are very strong. Some people come specifically, to climb the ice walls. Even if you are not an ice climber, there is a rope, at one end of the cliff, that can be used to get to the top. From up there, you can get a panoramic view of the entire ice formation, the forest, and the river gorge.
When you arrive at the parking area, you will find minimal facilities, so take your water and energy bars with you. About halfway to the river, you will come to a sign describing the area, and pointing out that the trail into the gorge is steep, slippery, and possibly treacherous. Believe it!
The final part of the hike is into the gorge, with steep up and down sections. Not only is it slippery and treacherous going down to the river, it is just as wild when you climb back up. The trail is snow covered, with wet rocks and icy conditions. There are a couple of spots where small streams and crevasses must be crossed. Cleats on hiking boots, come in very handy on some sections of the trail.
Directions: The Eben Ice caves are part of the 4,000 plus acre Rock River Wilderness area of the Hiawatha National Forest just outside Eben Junction, on Route 94, in the Upper Peninsula. Follow Route 94 west out of Munising, until you get to Eben Junction. Follow the small yellow signs, to the ice caves.