With every breath, crisp air tickles the lungs. With every step, new-fallen snow crunches beneath the snowshoes. And around every bend in the Lakeshore Trail, a new, spectacular wintry view awaits.
Friends of the Apostle Islands board members Neil Howk and Mark Peterson recently snowshoed the trail and brought back some wonderful photographs to share as well as some tips you can use to safely enjoy a similar adventure.
NPS Lakeshore Trail Map
With appropriate clothing, gear and preparation, exploring the Lakeshore trail in the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in winter offers rewards you won’t experience during the summer months.
The trail starts at the Meyers Beach parking lot off of Highway 13, northeast of Cornucopia. Please note that parking fees apply. You may use the Recreation.gov app Scan & Pay feature. Download the app before visiting to pay fees when out of cell service. Cash fee envelopes may not be available.
The first of three sections takes you through almost 2 miles of hardwood forest, and over some boardwalk and bridges to “the Crevasse.” (If you’ve kayaked the mainland caves when conditions were right, you’ve probably paddled into the narrow crack in the sandstone cliffs and looked up to see an opening to the sky above. That’s “the Crevasse.”)
The second, short section of the trail overlooks the mainland sea caves. You will see large ice formations built up over the winter, as groundwater seeps from the porous sandstone formations, and as waves crash into the red sandstone walls. This section is six-tenths of a mile long. It ends at a feature called “the bowl, where you’ll see outcrops at both ends of a bowl-shaped section of shoreline.
The third trail section heads inland through mixed forests of cedar and hardwoods. This section is almost four miles long and ends on a beach just below mainland campsite 1.
About their recent adventure to the sea cave overlooks, Neil Howk said, “The recent cold, calm conditions were good for ice development on the lake. While there was a lot of jumbled pack ice in Mawikwe Bay, the ice from the cliffs out past Eagle Island was smooth and clear with interesting patterns on the surface. The massive icicles around the large cave called the Garage were particularly striking.
We photographed the cliffs from the Crevasse with its natural bridge, north to the Garage, the Bowl (where the cameras for the Sea Caves Watch webpage are located) and along the cliffs to the north.”
Mark Peterson noted the various colors in the ice. The brownish tinted ice forms mostly where surface runoff flows off the clifftops creating large icicles and ice columns. The blue ice forms where persistent seeps flow out of cracks in the sandstone.
Peterson said, “Snowshoeing this trail in the winter is a remarkable experience. There is the dramatic beauty of ice formations in various colors and interesting shapes clinging to the red sandstone cliffs. The patterns are different from cliff to cliff. But beyond the visual, there is the pervasive sense of solitude as the snow in the forest and the ice blanketing the lake muffle every sound, and the stark evidence of the raw power of Lake Superior.”
Howk added, “As fantastic as the ice formations on the cliffs, it was amazing to see the broad, flat expanses of clear ice covering Lake Superior as far as we could see. The cold, calm conditions last week were great for ice formation. The patterns of cracks and swirls on the black ice surface were beautiful.”
The National Park Service cautions that that parts of the trail are rugged and suitable for strong hikers. The NPS recommends using appropriate footwear based on conditions. The park service recommends against using cross country skis. In winter, snowshoes or ice cleats and trekking poles may be appropriate. Peterson said the trail was well-packed during his trip to the caves and back, but conditions can change quickly. Check current conditions on the National Park Service website or contact a ranger for more information. The park service says you will find decent cell phone service for much of the trail – have a fully-charged phone with you in case of emergency.
We want to thank Neil and Mark for sharing their photographs and their adventure with us. If you make the trek, we would love to see your photos. Feel free to share them with us on the Friends Facebook page.