Ron Caspi

Michigan Ice Fest: An Ice Climber’s Paradise

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Participants get a feel for the ice as they climb at “Curtains” one of the most accessible ice-climbing locations of the Michigan Ice Festival (photo by Ron Caspi)

Looking for some outdoor adventure opportunities in the winter? The annual Michigan Ice Festival in the Upper Peninsula is the perfect chance to get out and enjoy snow covered forests and the majestic ice formations found within. The yearly event is held along the scenic shores of Lake Superior in the Pictured Rocks National Park in Munising, Michigan. 

These beautiful hardwood forests are home to a multitude of sandstone bluffs creating a lot of climbable ice in a small area which adds to the uniqueness of the climbing experience found here. Due to the soft porous nature of the sandstone, groundwater seeps through slowly creating spectacular blue ice formations that jut directly out of the rock walls. In addition, there are also hundreds of waterfalls available for climbers to explore in the area. All this against the backdrop of pristine northern forests set along the Lake Superior shoreline and you have all the makings for a perfect weekend adventure.

What began approximately 26 years ago as a group of guys sitting around at Sydney’s restaurant (now designated festival headquarters) looking at slides and talking about climbing gear has grown into the longest running ice climbing festival in the U.S. It’s popularity continues to increase as 2015 marked their largest turnout yet, around 500 participants.

The festival features 4 consecutive days of climbing workshops, demos, and social events.  You will find classes available for climbers of all abilities and ages.  A big advantage of participating in these classes is that everyone has the chance to observe and learn with professional climbers who teach and perform demos along with local experts and climbing enthusiasts from around the Upper Peninsula.


This ice climbing spot known as “Curtains” makes a perfect playground for big groups due to it’s big concentration of ice in a small area. (photo by Ron Caspi)




The Michigan Ice Festival gives climbers opportunities to learn and try out the latest gear for 4 fun-filled days in the scenic forests of the Upper Peninsula. (photo by Ron Caspi)

Reps from a variety of top notch gear companies are also in attendance to answer questions about their products and give folks opportunities to try out all the gear. Rentals are made available from the Marquette based Down Wind Sports shop which carries everything you need to get started.

Classes include: Top Rope Climbing where ropes are anchored up top allowing beginners to start getting a feel for the ice and make mistakes safely; Lead Climbing where participants learn to free climb 10 – 20ft and insert screws into the ice wall to attach ropes until reaching the top; and rescue classes for learning advanced techniques. Experienced climbers also enjoy opportunities during the festival to hike back country and along the lakeshore to explore and climb on their own.

Whether you come along or bring all the family this makes a great weekend of fun on the snow and ice for everyone. Non-climbers have plenty of nature and scenery to enjoy too since the area also boasts snowshoe, cross-country ski, and snowmobile trails as well.


A climber smiles triumphantly as she makes her descent down the ice after a successful climb. (photo by Ron Caspi)

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