Shelf Ice on Lake Michigan

Please note: A new National Park entrance fee has been added. Learn more here.

Winter's majesty is breathtakingly apparent this time of year along the southern shores of Lake Michigan. If it's been a cold winter, freezing temperatures bring with them the formation of shelf ice, a natural occurrence that mimics the landscape of arctic regions and is beautiful to behold. Waves crashing into floating ice that collects along the shore and re-freezing is what creates the shelf ice, which is not attached to the bottom of the lake, but only to the shore.

To see if shelf ice is present on the lake, you can contact Indiana Dunes National Park at 219-395-1882.

Beautiful to look at and tempting to traverse, these shelf ice formations are dangerous and caution must be taken when visiting the South Shore's beaches to view them. While appearing to be stable and solid, in reality it often is not. Often hidden by snow drifts, cracks, thin spots, holes and faults can be found among the mounds.

Safe Viewing Locations

There are several locations in the Indiana Dunes National Park to view shelf ice on Lake Michigan. The best elevation is at West Beach on the Dune Succession trail at the top of the stairs, although beware - it is tricky during heavy snow and ice. Observing from the West Beach bathhouse stairs gives a slightly elevated view above the beach. Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk, as well as Lake View in Beverly Shores, are also good spots for shelf ice viewing. Both allow fairly close parking to the viewing locations.

Remember to enjoy these spectacular winter formations from a safe distance. Stay on the shore, and away from any slippery surfaces near the water. Be cautious and never walk on the shelf ice. It's very beautiful but potentially dangerous.