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Outdoor Thrill-Seekers Flocking To Lake Superior Ice Caves

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Along the shore of Lake Superior in northern Wisconsin, the ugly winter has created something truly beautiful.

Ice caves, some as high as two-story homes, are drawing thousands some driving hours to see the carvings by nature. During a time of year that can be so dark, winter is being celebrated along the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore near Bayfield, Wis.

"Just the sheer beauty of it, you couldn't dream this up," said James Fuchs.

He drove six hours from just outside Minneapolis to see the ice caves.

"You have to come and see it," said Fuchs. "You have to come and see it."

About 5,000 people felt the same way. It's the most to ever visit the park. Sightseers are slipping and sliding along the shores of Lake Superior as frozen spears dangle above.

"It's just fantastic," said Jim McLaughlin, "It's a lot better than we thought it would be."

What looks like the "March of the Penguins" has brought the park it's busiest day. As McLaughlin said, the trek is not for the faint of heart.

"You've got to have some lungs on you to get out here and back. And get back. We ain't back yet. So we'll see," said McLaughlin.

People use ski poles and ice cleats to stay upright.

"We're not crazy," said McLaughlin.

The coldest of winters is making it the hottest tourist attraction yet for the park. The last time the ice was solid enough for people to make the mile long walk to the caves was back in 2009. No one knows when the spectacular site will be visible again.

The Murphy family drove five hours with a 2-year-old.

"We don't know if she'll get a chance to see it so we thought it would be fun for her to be here," said Owen Murphy.

The park's superintendent, Bob Krumenaker, also warns of research that shows despite this year's temperatures, the lake is warming.

"We're referring to the ice cave experience as a truly endangered national park experience, because like endangered animals we can't predict its future and it may not always be there," said Krumenaker.

The fear of future opportunities is why the park opened up in its slow season, despite budget cuts. Nearby towns paid for plowing the road to the cave's access point and staff to help with such large crowds. The park will stay open as long into the season as possible.

While Mother Nature may be responsible for making the glacial art gallery, she can just as easily take it away with a wind storm or warmer temperatures.

That's why a visit to the cathedral-like caves is seen as such a spiritual experience. The caves are about 4-and-a-half hours from the Twin Cities.

The park hopes the ice caves will be open the next four to five weekends, but you'll need to keep checking their website to make sure the ice is safe.

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