Incredible Ice Caves to Explore this Winter

From the year-round ice cave near the Ban­dera Caldera to the treach­er­ous ice caves of the Menden­hall Glac­i­er, explor­ing ice caves is an excel­lent spec­ta­tor sport with a notable touch of dan­ger. Ice caves are inher­ent­ly haz­ardous, and respect for the mas­sive mov­ing struc­tures needs to be demon­strat­ed. But fol­low the rules, and some­times fol­low the crowd, and you can enjoy a unique adven­ture this win­ter check­ing out some of Amer­i­ca’s coolest ice caves.

Big Four Ice CavesBig Four Ice Caves—Mt. Bak­er-Sno­qualmie Nation­al For­est, Washington
Accessed from the city of Gran­ite Falls just out­side of Seat­tle, the Big Four Ice Caves with­in the Mt. Bak­er-Sno­qualmie Nation­al For­est is a great place to spec­tate ice cave activ­i­ty. Caused by avalanche run-off and accu­mu­la­tion from the Big Four Moun­tain, the Big Four Ice Caves are ever-chang­ing in appear­ance and struc­ture, and a short trail will take you there. Vis­i­tors are warned not to pro­ceed past the trail that lends a view of the ice caves, and explo­ration with­in or around the caves have led to dead­ly acci­dents in the past. Keep your dis­tance, how­ev­er, and each vis­it to the Big Four Ice Caves can give you some­thing new to appreciate.

Ice Cave and Ban­dera Vol­cano, New Mexico
Locat­ed in north­west­ern New Mex­i­co along the Con­ti­nen­tal Divide, the Ice Cave and Ban­dera Vol­cano is a pri­vate attrac­tion that, with the price of admis­sion, can have you explor­ing two very dif­fer­ent worlds. Ban­dera Vol­cano itself erupt­ed over 10,000 years ago, and today vis­i­tors can climb to the top of the ancient caldera for some killer views. After the caldera trail is con­quered, locat­ed near­by in a col­lapsed lava tube is a year-round Ice Cave. The tem­per­a­ture there nev­er ris­es above 31ºF, so wit­ness­ing the ecosys­tem that has devel­oped down there is well worth the trip

Pictured Rocks National LakeshoreIce Caves and Ice Formations—Pictured Rocks Nation­al Lakeshore, Michigan
Found in the adven­ture-rich Upper Penin­su­la of Michi­gan, Pic­tured Rocks pro­vides the per­fect con­di­tions for stun­ning ice for­ma­tions to grow. Slow melt, frigid tem­per­a­tures, and plen­ty of water all go into cre­at­ing the beefed-up ici­cles on dis­play at Pic­tured Rocks. Find the pop­u­lar path­way to these columns of blue, white, or yel­low ice, and be pre­pared to see for­ma­tions between 20 and 50 feet tall.

Crys­tal Ice Cave—Lava Bed Nation­al Mon­u­ment, California
Locat­ed in North­ern Cal­i­for­nia near the Ore­gon Bor­der, Lava Beds Nation­al Mon­u­ment is home to a rugged envi­ron­ment defined by vol­canic activ­i­ty over the last half-mil­lion years. Home to more than 700 lava-tube caves, there’s plen­ty to explore at this scenic des­ti­na­tion any time of the year. Come win­ter though, the Crys­tal Ice Cave cre­ates some of the most eye-catch­ing ice for­ma­tions with­in the entire mon­u­ment. Because of its frag­ile nature and per­ilous envi­ron­ment, the only way to expe­ri­ence the grandeur found in the Crys­tal Ice Cave is through a guid­ed tour led by the Nation­al Park Service.

Mendenhall Ice CaveMenden­hall Glac­i­er and Ice Caves—Tongass Nation­al For­est, Alaska
For a real­ly rugged ice cave explo­ration, the many ice caves found with­in the Menden­hall Glac­i­er will give you some­thing to brag about. Not only is this far-south­east­ern Alaskan attrac­tion hard to get to, once you’ve made it to the glac­i­er itself the trav­el­ing doesn’t get any eas­i­er. Make the jour­ney to the pho­to­graph­ic Ice Caves with­in the Menden­hall Glac­i­er at your own risk, and you’ll find your­self step­ping into oth­er­world­ly environments.