Deep Freeze: Hike Into Some of These Stunning Ice Caves This Winter
Create your own Frozen moment when you get up close to these chilly natural wonders.
Some sights are so jaw-dropping in beauty, they have to be seen to be believed. Ice caves fit that description perfectly. With many having a year-round temperature below 32 degrees and a huge amount of ice formations from a steady stream of water, these natural freezers are a favorite place for visitors from all over the world. And where there's an ice cave, there's probably a glacier. According to the National Park Service, a melting glacier may sometimes cause small caves to form within the ice, between the ice and the bedrock, or between the ice and the sediment beneath it. Ice caves can also form where water escapes from beneath the glacier.
If visiting an ice cave is on your bucket list—but you think it'll never happen because there's little chance you'll ever get to Iceland or another arctic environment—make plans to visit a magnificent ice cave in the U.S. and Canada instead. Some of the best-known American ice caves are in Alaska, Washington, and Wyoming, but other states like New Mexico and California are home to them, too. If you plan to visit an ice cave, do it safely. Some can only be viewed from a distance—if a cave has "Do Not Enter" signage at the entrance, don't ignore it. Never go beyond the end of a marked trail and viewing area—falling rocks and ice pose tremendous risks. Find out what's required at a cave you're interested in, such as crawling on your stomach through a tight space or climbing an eight-foot rock wall. With that in mind, here are some worthy contenders.
Mendenhall Glacier Ice Caves in Juneau, Alaska
These spectacular natural phenomena inside a glacier are worth the kayak ride and short hike to reach them. Once inside, you'll be surrounded by dazzling blue ice formations and glacial "rain," which pours down as the ice melts.
Bandera Volcano and Ice Cave in Grants, New Mexico
If you're in El Malpais National Monument, follow the path—cut from a collapsed lava tube—from the dormant Bandera volcano to a cave that glows blue-green. Otherworldly? It seems so with a ton of algae that grows beneath a 20-foot-thick ice floor.
Big Four Ice Caves in Granite Falls, Washington
After a hike through Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, you'll reach the caves, which are surrounded by waterfalls and mountains. Entering these icy wonderlands isn't permitted due to frequent ice avalanches, but you can still get a close-up view.
Crystal Ice Cave in Tulelake, California
If you want to visit this enchanting but arduous cave in Lava Beds National Monument, plan on getting into tip-top shape: It's recommended that only visitors who are physically fit take the tour. The ice formations are breathtaking, so start your workout regimen now.
Big Ice Cave in Bridger, Montana
Located in Pryor Mountains, which houses numerous caves, the popular and accessible Big Ice Cave was formed from 350-million-year-old limestone. Since limestone is an excellent insulator, the cave remains frozen year-round.
Jumbo Creek Ice Cave in Kennecott, Alaska
America's largest national park, the 13.2 million-acre Wrangell-St. Elias, is home to Root Glacier, where you'll find the Jumbo Creek Ice Cave. After walking down a steep hill, you'll enter the cave's mesmerizing blue underworld.
Darby Canyon Ice Cave in Wyoming
Only experienced spelunkers should consider trekking through this maze-like ice cave, which is unmapped. To reach it, hikers must first trek through Fossil Mountain, which offers sweeping views, making every step of the journey worth it.