While it isn’t a sunny day in the UP, the temperature was 32 degrees which is a call to action after being stuck inside due to below zero temps. After church I wasted no time pointing my car towards Eben Junction and the Eben Ice Caves.
To get to Eben one must drive through Chatham. No worries, I had already planned to stop by the Rock River Café for lunch. What I hadn’t planned was what a treat that would be. The café is housed in The Pacific Hotel, built in 1904 as a boarding house for loggers coming to work in the area. A few incarnations later, including a speak easy during the prohibition, the building is now the farm-to-table Rock River Café. They pride themselves on supporting the local economy by serving breads baked fresh locally, eggs and produce come from farms down the road where chickens and cows roam, and fish is harvested from Lake Superior. My maple steamer was a dream come true, but the real treat was scrumptious sweet potato apple soup served with a dark bread. It was the best meal I’ve had since being in the UP and with any luck I’ll be back for more.
Needing to walk off the maple steamer I drove on toward Eben Junction to hike through the woods in search of ice caves. One of Michigan’s prime winter attractions, the Eben Ice Caves are actually located in the Rock River Wilderness area. They start to freeze in December, forming when melting snow runs over the edge of a small cliff and freezes, forming “ice caves”. If you were to visit here in the summer there would be little to no water running over the edge. Weird! But it’s the combination of slow snow melt and frigid temperatures that causes these “caves” to form.
I quickly figured out this isn’t an attraction where I could pull up in my car, walk a few feet and be done. It’s not a long hike, but I had to get out and stretch my legs. The trail was full of families, couples and more than a few dogs on the trail. One dog in particular took a liking to me. Lila’s owners were concerned she was bothering me, but not a bit. She was my hiking companion.
The first ¼ mile is through a very flat field, then it’s another ¾ mile through the woods. I was told if the farmer ever decided to cut off access it would be a much longer walk. On top of allowing access through his property, he supplies free portable bathrooms and a parking area for visitors. His family runs a concession stand with hot chocolate and small snacks. It’s a unique set up that seems to work for everyone.
Before going I had asked my boss if I should take snowshoes and she advised me to wear ice cleats instead. She was right! The ice cleats went a long way toward enhancing my experience. About half the people visiting the caves are wearing cleats, and the other half wish they had. By having the ice cleats on I was able to walk up to, and into the ice caves with relatively sure footing. It was pretty treacherous for those without the cleats since the ice was very smooth and traditional rubber boots were just sliding around.
Besides that, the trail itself had several steep ups and downs. There were areas where some people had to slide down on their bottoms then struggle to get up on the other side. But not me! Ice cleats were well worth the investment to feel secure.
Save your bottom, get the facts and a good lunch before you head out for your next adventure.