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 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
Ice 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 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.