When it comes to unique destinations, Michigan can’t be beat. Every season brings somewhere new to explore! Rock River Canyon Ice Caves, more commonly referred to as the Eben Ice Caves, located in the central Upper Peninsula, is one of those places. These stunning natural formations are spectacular and a must-see winter thing to do in Michigan.
About the Eben Ice Caves
The Rock River Canyon ice caves (aka Eben Ice Caves due to their location near Eben Junction) are part of the Rock River Canyon Wilderness area, which is located in the Hiawatha National Forest. This area, situated in Alger County, is home to an abundance of natural wilderness and many species of wildlife. Two canyons – Rock River and Silver Creek – are part of the stunning landscape. These canyons are approximately 150 ft. deep, with other elevations within the area ranging from 600 – 1,000 ft.
The Eben Ice Caves are part of the 4,000 plus acre Rock River Wilderness area of the Hiawatha National Forest. During winter months, water steeping over the edge of the canyons creates the stunning ice curtains in front of the caves. Cedar trees and sandstone around the caves contribute to the yellow coloring of the ice. Soaring walls of ice reach up to 50 ft. high.
How to Get to the Eben Ice Caves
The Eben Ice Caves are very easy to find. However, both the internet and GPS service in this area is limited. Before leaving, write down directions. When doing a directions search, search “how to get to Eben Ice Caves“ in order to pinpoint the location you want to visit.
After arriving in Eben Junction – the town where the ice caves are located – look for the yellow direction signs. Follow these from the turn on Eben Road – they lead directly to the parking area.
If you’ve never been to the Eben Ice Caves, your experience will likely go something like this: You drive far out into the Upper Peninsula countryside, down a sometimes-muddy road, and park at the edge of a farmer’s field. Yellow signs labeled “Ice Caves” help point the way. After arriving, a parking area with portable bathrooms will be available.
Before setting out, be sure to have an emergency kit in your car that includes blankets, water, flashlights, jumper cables, and other winter necessities. Michigan weather can be unpredictable and snowstorms can spring up suddenly, so it’s good to be prepared.
Trekking to the Rock River Canyon Ice Caves
The hike to the caves is approximately 1.4 miles. The first part of the trip is across an open field, toward the woods. This part of the trail is on private property and unmarked. Follow the tracks from previous visitors to the wooded area.
Unless the area has just recently received some snowfall, the trail will be packed down by the many visitors who came before you. The hike to the ice caves is about a half-mile from where you park, and though the first section is pretty flat, as you get closer to the caves there are some pretty steep ups and downs. And as you may imagine, once you get there, the ice caves are, well… icy.
After arriving in the woods, continue to follow the trail for a short distance until you see a welcome sign for the “Rock River Canyon Ice Caves” and “Rock River Canyon Wilderness” area. Turn left at the sign and follow this trail to the caves.
Exploring the Eben Ice Caves
A group of friends and I recently embarked on a little afternoon trip to the Eben Ice Caves and really enjoyed it. After a slight wrong turn, we found our way, parked by the field, and hiked in. There were probably ten or fifteen other cars there when we pulled in. It was early afternoon.
I’d guess it took our group about fifteen minutes or so to get to the caves, as we were taking it slow and enjoying the scenery. And the way the sunlight cast the bare birch tree’s shadows over fluffy mounds of snow made me want to stop to photograph everything, but I eventually made my way to the caves. Gorgeous area though.
Let me pause here to note – once again – that you’ll probably enjoy the experience a little more if you do have some sort of cleats on your shoes or boots. I didn’t, and it was slippery as all hell in some spots on the trail. (Note to self for next year – buy ice cleats.)
At any rate, once we got there the group dispersed to explore behind the giant walls of ice, take photos, or just stand back and observe one of the Upper Peninsula’s many natural wonders.
I walked/slipped/slid behind the ice to get some photos and could have hung out there for a while. It’s really something to see, much like the ice curtains off Sand Point Road in Pictured Rocks (link). The difference is that here there’s enough room to get behind the ice.
We probably spent a half hour or so playing around the caves, then climbed up above the ice and made our way back along another section of the trail. This part of the trail was a much easier hike than the way we took in. (If you want to take this way in, go right when the trail forks at the “Rock River Canyon Ice Caves” sign.
Practical Tips for Visiting Rock River Canyon Ice Caves
This destination might be difficult for smaller children, people with infants, anyone who has trouble walking/climbing, or is unstable on slippery surfaces.
- Be sure to dress warmly! Temperatures in this area are often below zero with wind chill factors at -20 to -30 below. This is typical Upper Peninsula winter weather, so be sure to bundle up!
- Invest in some ice cleats. The area around the caves is extremely slippery and cleats will help provide extra traction. Inexpensive rubber slip-on cleats are available through Amazon or at almost any sporting goods store.
- The trails to and from the caves can be steep and slippery, especially if there’s been a lot of foot traffic. Be sure to plan enough time to take it slow.
- Use extreme caution when climbing or going inside the caves. Watch for unstable areas and be aware of where any children in your group are at all times.
- Before heading in, take a minute to read the safety information posted on the Rock River Canyon Wilderness sign.
For the most up-to-date information on cave conditions, visit the Eben Ice Caves Facebook page.
Things to Do in the Upper Peninsula Near the Eben Ice Caves
After our hike, my wife and I drove just a few miles from the parking area to have lunch at the Rock River Café, which was awesome. I’d highly recommend that you check it out on your way to or from the caves.
Are you ready to plan your visit to Rock River Canyon Ice Caves? Have you ever been before?
More Things to Do in Winter in Michigan
There are many more things to do in Michigan in winter. For instance, you could visit family-friendly winter vacation destinations in Michigan or explore one of Michigan’s frozen waterfalls. And if you like outdoor adventures in winter, be sure to try winter camping in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and plan to visit at least one of the best Michigan ski resorts throughout the state.
Thanks to Christine Snow & Jesse Land for contributing to this article on the Eben Ice Caves near Marquette, Michigan.