Glacial and Palatial

Appears in the January 2023 issue.

Lake Geneva’s Ice Castles captures wintry magic


Ice Castles

It’s a marvel of icicle agriculture and architecture. Part science and part fairy tale, Ice Castles in Wisconsin opens for the season in late January, weather permitting, on the grounds of the Geneva National Resort & Club, 1091 Hidden Cottage Circle in Lake Geneva.

“Guests who enter the icicle-adorned archways get to explore a world built entirely from ice,” says Ice Castles spokesperson Melissa Smuzynski. “With caverns, tunnels, crawl spaces, ice slides, fountains, and thrones—all created or carved from ice—it is a true winter wonderland. At night, the ice glows with color-changing lights that are embedded.”

Ice slide
Ice slide

The frosty attraction draws tens of thousands of visitors during its typical three-to-four-week season. “Walking into Ice Castles is like stepping into another world where wonder and imagination awaits,” Smuzynski says. “For some, it resembles Elsa’s ice palace from Frozen, for others it’s the Fortress of Solitude from Superman. It truly is a place where your imagination guides you through the experience. There is nothing else like it, and I personally love how it brings joy and wonder to a season and time of year that is often characterized as dreary and dark.”

So, how does one build such a frozen fortress? By hand, actually, one icicle at a time.

“Our ice artists typically start setting up water lines and lighting elements in late October and begin growing icicles in late November or early December, depending on the weather,” she says. “We’ll grow and harvest up to 12,000 icicles each day. Those icicles are then hand placed and sprayed with water.”

Over and over and over again.

“This process is repeated daily until the ice grows to about 10 feet thick and 20 feet tall,” she explains. “It typically takes a team of 20 ice artists per location to create the experience, and by the peak of the season, we’ve made approximately 20 million pounds of ice.”

Snowshoeing at the Geneva National Resort & Club
Ice skating at the Geneva National Resort & Club
Snowshoeing and ice skating at the Geneva National Resort & Club

In addition to America’s Dairyland, the company also constructed four other ice castles this year—in Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, and Utah. While the overall designs evolve from year to year, some features (such as ice slides, thrones, and fountains that castlegoers have come to expect) are always included—as are some enhancements.

“This year we have completely reimagined our horse-drawn sleigh ride trail,” Smuzynski says. “We will be adding some new lighting features and introducing whimsical, magic winter characters, which will be at the attraction every day for meet-and-greets with guests.”

Sunset at Ice Castles

The Ice Castles concept has a pretty endearing origin story. More than a decade ago, Brent Christensen and had just moved his family from sunny California to Alpine, Utah, and wanted to give his children something to do outdoors in their new snowy home. He began tinkering with running water to build an ice cave in the front yard. “His icy creation brought out kids from all over town who wanted to explore the frozen fortress,” Smuzynski says. “The kids affectionately called it the Ice Castle, and thus, our attraction was born.”

Christensen eventually patented his ice-build process and opened several venues across the country in snowy climes. Since that first cave, the temporary winter wonderlands have attracted millions of visitors. Not surprisingly, some of those visitors have even used the stunning backdrops for wedding proposals and other special occasions. In fact, if you’re looking for a private spot, you can reserve your own chunk of the icy paradise—the Arctic Alcove—for $450 per hour (six general-admission tickets and six sleigh-ride passes are included.)

For tickets, guidelines, and a schedule, visit

Know Before You Go

A multicolored ice structure at Ice Castles

• With some dates and times already sold out, to guarantee entry be sure to buy tickets online in advance. Weekday general admission is $25 ($17 for kids 4 to 11), while weekend and holiday general admission is $29 ($22 for kids). Tots ages 3 and under are free.

• Wanna ride? Sleigh-ride tickets can be added to online orders. Rides (lasting 10 to 15 minutes) are $17.

• Dress for the weather. This is an all-outdoor event, after all. Hats, gloves, snow pants, and boots are recommended.

• No, there are not ice bathrooms. But portable facilities are available.

• Since all this chilly exploring can build up an appetite, the Geneva National Resort & Club offers concessions, including s’mores kits, chili, cheese curds, hot cocoa, and hard cider. The venue also has an onsite restaurant, Turf, complete with snow-globe dining and Ice Princess Brunches (reservations required).

• Looking for more outdoor fun? Ice skating, sledding, and even candlelight snowshoeing are available on the resort grounds (free for overnight guests or for daily fee). For more info, visit

• Need even more winter escapades? Lake Geneva Ziplines & Adventures ( features year-round ziplining and a 16-obstacle high-ropes course. Vail Resorts’ Wilmot Mountain ( and Alpine Valley ( offer nearly 50 ski runs as well as professional instruction and equipment rentals. (Wilmot also boasts 22 tubing lanes and a magic carpet.) ClearWater Outdoor ( in downtown Lake Geneva rents snowshoes and cross-country ski equipment to explore the area’s trails, like those at Big Foot Beach State Park or Kettle Moraine State Forest.


Photos courtesy of Destination Geneva National (snowshoeing, ice skating, and winterscape) and A.J. Mellor (Ice Castles)