Blog Trails & Beaches

The dangers of shelf ice and why you should enjoy the beauty from afar.

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January 19, 2016

Winter has settled in, and with the cold temps brings the freezing of Lake Michigan. The crashing waves become still, and the sight of shelf ice can be spectacular. Many who visit our beaches in the winter have never seen anything like it. When out on the beach, one can feel like they are in Alaska…or Antarctica!

But as beautiful as shelf ice is, it can also be very dangerous. Shelf ice usually occurs on the east and southern shores of Lake Michigan and is the result of winds and waves pushing ice against the beach. Hills and mounds can be created, making it very hard for some people to resist walking over it. However, it’s very important to stay off of it. Though it looks frozen, it is not. There are many pockets that can shift and move, or aren’t frozen at all, and with one step, you can be deep into a very, very cold lake.

Some days during the winter you can go out to the beach and it will look as if the lake is frozen as far as the eye can see, but this is not the case. Shelf ice that occurs on Lake Michigan is not like the ice that freezes on a small pond. It is not uniform. Strong winds can push the ice around, which can make it look frozen solid one day and then full of gaps the next. Not only could you fall into the water, you could be on a piece of ice that breaks off and starts to float away.

Kemil Beach. My favorite spot.

Kemil Beach, winter 2015

When getting out to the beach to enjoy the magnificence of Lake Michigan in the winter, please stay along the shoreline. It is just as amazing from afar! And, if you still feel the urge to get closer, take a look at this wonderful video created for the Indiana Dunes Tourism.

Is the shelf ice making you cold? Take a look at these warm weather shots of Floral Lane in Warren Dunes State Park.

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