Exploring the Upper Peninsula this Winter? Hike to the Eben Ice Caves in Hiawatha National Forest and explore gorgeous curtains of ice (and plenty of photo ops for all!), plus our favorite Marquette food and drink spots for after your adventure.

For all of our travels to the u.p. over the years, with our three kids and sometimes just the two of us, we somehow missed a pretty spectacular attraction: the Eben Ice Caves just outside of Marquette. During a late-winter weekend North, however, we made sure to include a stop at the small town of Eben Junction on Highway M-94, to hike into the woods and find these vertical walls of ice formed by water seeping through the sandstone bedrock cliff edge.

We definitely weren’t alone in wanting to check out this natural wonder.

Driving toward the parking area, we encountered a string of vehicles and people lining the side of the snow-covered gravel road that leads to the private farmland we’d walk through to enter Hiawatha National Forest and Rock River Canyon Wilderness, home to the ice caves. (More on the private land walk-through under Parking Considerations at the bottom of this article.) Because of the crowds—it was a stunning sunny Saturday afternoon— we had to walk about a mile from our car to get to the farmland path. Tip: If you’re looking for a slightly quieter experience, try going mid-week.

Here’s what you need to know if you’re planning a trip to the Eben Ice Caves on your next U.P. adventure.

Woman at Eben Ice Caves in Marquette

Photo by Liam Kaiser

A Winter Wonder

The Eben Ice Caves—also known as the Rock River Canyon Ice Caves—aren’t true “caves,” but rather curtain-like walls of ice you can walk alongside and behind. They form as the temperature drops and intermittent leaks create ice stalactites over the entrance to the bedrock undercuts. (This usually starts happening in December.) It was interesting to learn that while ice caves are a phenomenon in the winter, a summer visit would reveal algae-covered rocks and dense foliage in the same spot. Note: The ice caves are weather-dependent, so dates for visiting vary year to year. Check the Eben Ice Caves Facebook page for weather conditions and updates.

Putting on snowshoes

Photo by Liam Kaiser

Hiking in winter

Photo by Liam Kaiser

Finding the Eben Ice Caves

The caves are located 25 miles east of Marquette and 15 miles west of Munising. From Munising, take M-94 west about 17 miles to Eben Junction. At New Moon Bar, turn right onto Eben Road and travel north about two miles on the narrow gravel road. Turn right onto Frey Road and that will lead you to a parking area. We came from Marquette, having booked an older Victorian home-turned-spacious apartment complex near Third Street for the weekend. It was a fairly straight shot to get to the Caves—we traveled US-41 from Marquette to M-94 and on to Eben Junction.

Looking at Eben Ice Caves in Marquette

Photo by Liam Kaiser

Eben Ice Cave Parking Considerations

The route to the ice caves requires visitors to park on private land and cross over a private field before entering the wilderness area, which is public land. The landowners have generously allowed portable bathrooms for visitor use, and they also have a concession stand on site.

In car heading to Eben Ice Caves in Marquette

Photo by Liam Kaiser

How to Hike Eben Ice Caves (Bring Your Shoe Traction!)

The hike from the parking lot to the caves is just under a mile. The first section is flat, through a field, but then you’re in the woods—it’s a lovely, meandering trail through towering trees. Given the number of visitors this spot generally at- tracts, the snow was packed down along the path. We were grateful to have worn shoe traction, though—a tip from a friend—especially as we got closer to the caves and found the ground ice-covered and quite slippery at times. It made the experience way more enjoyable. (We like our Kahtoola NANO- spikes, but use your favorite kind.)

A fair amount of people, including families with happy and excited young kids, milled about the trails, a frozen stream nearby and the ice caves themselves. Seeing the caves up close meant climbing a fairly steep slope. But we took our time, made sure our foot- ing was good and eventually made our way to the top. It was worth the climb!

We spent some time checking out the waterfall-like ice and took lots of pictures. Again, we were grateful for shoe traction—as we made our way behind the curtains of frozen water, to peer out between narrow openings, we stood on slabs of flat, sheer ice. Just take it slow, shoe traction or not, and be sure to look up. It’s truly beautiful and awe-inspiring.

By the time we left, walked back to the parking lot and then on to our car, we had logged four miles— a just-right wintry workout featuring a memorable Michigan natural experience to boot. Next up for us: some good food and drink.

We headed back toward Marquette, home to so many great restaurants. With our daughter waiting for us—a Michigan Tech University student, she made the hour-and-a-half drive to Marquette from Houghton—we opted for a takeout dinner from the Marquette Food Co-op on Washington Street, a favorite of ours that offers hot bar options and tasty and healthy to-go fare. (See other food and drink stops above.) We decided putting our feet up post-hike sounded nice, so we took the food back to our Airbnb.

Two inside Eben Ice Caves in Marquette

Photo by Liam Kaiser

How to Capture the Beauty of the Eben Ice Caves

Headed out to the caves to take pictures? Here are a few tips from photographer Liam Kaiser.

ONE | First and foremost, always be prepared for the weather. Michigan winters can be fierce, often with dangerously cold temperatures, so dressing appropriately is critical. Make sure to check the weather before heading out. A good tip I’ve learned from adventuring outside is: “start cool and end warm” (this will help to prevent you from overheating). Also, wear layers! If you get too hot, you can always shed a layer. The hike is just over three miles round trip (plus a walk to your vehicle), so be prepared to cover some distance.

TWO | Second: traction. Given the high traffic the ice caves get, it’s not uncommon for the trail to get icy and slick. Pro tip: Invest in a pair of Yaktrax. These adjustable ice cleats will be a lifesaver for getting up and down the steep slopes on the way to the caves. You can find a pair at your local outdoor outfitter for around $20. Seriously, you won’t be disappointed, and it could very well save you from a nasty fall.

THREE | Third: the camera! The ice caves are a breathtaking sight and a perfect place to snap some pictures. My tip? Have fun! They say the best camera is the one that you have on you. You don’t need a profes- sional camera to take stunning pictures, especially when shooting something as cool as the caves. Try playing around with different camera angles, high, low or somewhere in between. Take lots of pictures. You’d be surprised what you can get after just a few minutes of shooting. And if you are a photography nerd like me, a wide-angle lens is a great tool for capturing an entire scene.

FOUR | Last, always remember to pick up after yourself. Take nothing but pictures and leave nothing but footprints. Places like the ice caves aren’t to be taken for granted—having access to outdoor places like this is a privilege. Take care of them. No one likes seeing trash on the trail; don’t be the person who leaves it behind.

Group at Eben Ice Caves in Marquette

Photo by Liam Kaiser

Marquette Restaurants to Grab a Bite at After Hiking

After a long and exciting day of hiking the Eben Ice Caves, here are the must-stop spots in Marquette for the area’s best food and drink.

Bodega
517 N. Third St. // cafebodegamqt.com
This eatery is known for its fresh breakfast options for vegans, vegetarians and meat-eaters alike.

Togo’s
1000 N. Third St. // togostogo.com
Marquette’s original submarine sandwich shop bakes its bread daily and offers a pick-up window for call-ahead orders.

Steinhaus
102 W. Washington St. // steinhausmqt.com
Stay cozy while enjoying locally-sourced, classic German dishes and an impressive selection of European beers.

Blackrocks Brewery
424 N. Third St. // blackrocksbrewery.com
Grab a Coconut Brown ale and sip in the sunshine at this beloved brewery’s outdoor patio.

Zephyr Wine Bar + Café
215 S. Front St. // zephyrmqt.com
Beyond Michigan’s longest by-the-glass wine list, this wine bar boasts a seasonal menu to perfectly complement your beverage of choice.

Heather Johnson Durocher writes from Traverse City, where she lives with her husband Joe and their three kids. She is the founder of the travel and active lifestyle site MichiganRunnerGirl.com and also hosts a weekly podcast.

Liam Kaiser is a visual storyteller whose work documents people and our experiences in the world. He’s got a strong love for the outdoors and the grit that comes with it. You can follow his adventures on Instagram @LiamKaiserCreative.

Photo(s) by Liam Kaiser