This year’s first window to the Apostle Islands ice caves will be short-lived.

Officials plan to close access to the caves at 6 p.m. Tuesday — temporarily, they hope — because of weather that includes strong winds.

Visitors must walk atop frozen Lake Superior to see the icicle-draped caves, and high winds can sometimes break up the lake surface ice quickly.

“We’ve got the big winter storm coming and gale force winds,” said Julie Van Stappen, chief of planning and resource management for the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. “If conditions permit, we will reopen no earlier than sometime on Thursday.”

The caves opened to visitors Saturday, after promising-looking conditions earlier this year were twice thwarted by winds breaking up ice.

Over the weekend, almost 12,000 people trekked on a treacherous path to the caves that included glassy smooth ice in some spots and piles of broken ice plates in others. Van Stappen said the weekend went smoothly with only minor incidents of cold and injuries reported.

Last winter, 138,000 visitors flocked to the caves near Cornucopia, Wis. over about 10 weeks. The caves were accessible for the first time in five years, and word of their beauty went viral on social media.

Before making a trip to the caves, visitors should check the park’s Facebook page or call the park’s ice line at 715-779-3397, ext. 3.

Pam Louwagie