Updated: Feb 22, 2020
The Apostle Islands Sea Caves are one of the main attractions for visiting the Apostle Island National Lakeshore. One of the reasons for this is because some of these caves are located on the mainland, which allows them to be accessible by land as well as by water.
In this brief article I wanted to address some of the most common questions we get during our sea cave kayak trips, as well as give you some highlights and information to help you better plan your visit.
First it is important to know that the Apostle Islands are home to several opportunities for experiencing sea caves.
Mainland - Mawikwe Bay/Meyers beach access. (Formerly known as Squaw Bay and still listed as such on some maps)
Sand Island - Swallow Point
There are other beautiful cliffs and coves throughout the islands, but the above locations are where you will find the unique caves of the geologic entity known as the "Devils Island formation."
This Devils Island formation is so-named by geologists because some of the most intricate caves are found there. For most paddlers Devils Island is at least a two-day trip, weather permitting.
The Sand Island caves are the smallest of the three exposures, but are still magnificent and are imbued with a mottled coloring unique to this location.
The mainland caves are by far the most popular due to location and access. They are the tallest cliff of the three, with the length extending approximately 2.5 miles. These have been also dubbed the "ice caves" due to the winter ice formations that occur here.
The History of Rocks & Caves
All of the cliffs you see in the Apostle Islands are made from sandstone. Sandstone is sand deposited either by blowing wind or moving water, and then over years of pressure and chemical action, bonds form to harden the sand into rock.
The Apostle Islands area sandstone began to form 1.2 billion years ago when mountains to the south and west formed and eroded quickly in the oxygen-free atmosphere. (No plant roots around to hold the soil in place.) The rains came and rivers of sand ran into what is now the Lake Superior basin. These braided streams ran one way and then the other, criss-crossing as river beds filled with sediment. If you look at the cave walls you will see these intermittent layers.
Each layer bonded to the other at varying strength. Some are very weak. It is within these weak layers that water and ice can be trapped, and when winter comes this water freezes and cracks off chunks of rock.
About 10,000 years ago the last glaciers left our area, and since then the carving action of ice and waves have worked together to create Sea Caves, also known as "undercut re-entrants."
The Ojibwa natives are considered indigenous to this area (pre-European) Oral history speaks to these people plying the waters of Lake Superior for fishing and travel for many years. Imagine a time before roads... The rivers and lake WERE the roads for these people.
Once European settlers came to the area they began to mine the riches of the forests. The French fur traders are some of the more well known of these explorers. They traded with the natives for animal skins in return for various goods such as metal cooking pots and guns. These were the French "Voyageurs". Many families born from this era still live in the area.
Later on when shipping became more reasonable on the Great Lakes timber and coal was harvested inland and transported to the lake, the water of Lake Superior making it easier to transport resources and goods to the east coast and beyond.
Fun Facts & Suggestions
To prevent sea sickness - Keep your eyes on the horizon. Eating ginger candies before a trip has been proven to help.
Are there bats? What lives in the caves? You'd be lucky to see a bat. More likely cliff swallows and frogs. Watch for eagles in the trees above!
www.visitcorny.com has helpful information for traveling to the mainland sea caves area from where to stay, eat and play.