The world’s largest ice cave is a perpetual winter wonderland

It’s the time of year for ice festivals, snow forts, and winter fun, and near Salzberg, Austria, a perpetual winter wonderland lies just under the surface at Hochkogel Mountain. Dubbed Eisriesenwelt, it’s the largest known ice cave in the world, winding 26 miles into the heart of the mountain. Only about one mile of the labyrinth is open to the public, but it’s quite a mile. Frosted spires, iced tunnels, and frozen waterfalls–some locked in place for hundreds of years–dazzle chilly guests who dare to slip through these caverns. And it is popular–about 200,000 parka clad visitors chill out at Eisriesenwelt each year. Checkout this perma-frosty cave below.

The name Eisriesenwelt literally translates to “The World of Ice Giants.” Image by Eisriesenwelt

Tours through the cave are guided and last about 75 minutes, which is plenty of time to be in the cold. Image by Tak from HK

It’s about 440 feet up steep steps just to get to the mouth of the cave. Image by Eisriesenwelt

Up until the late 19th century locals refused to explore the cave, as they believed it was the entrance to hell. Image by Eisriesenwelt

Eisriesenwelt is a “dynamic” ice cave, meaning it experiences cycles of melting and freezing, although the ice is never in danger of retreating to any major way. Image by WikiCommons

The size and shape of features like these snowy catacombs change dramatically over time with temperature variations, meaning new natural ice art is always forming in the cave. Image by Inspiration Point Studios

The oldest layers of ice in Eisriesenwelt go back at least 1,000 years. Image by Eisriesenwelt

It wouldn’t be an ice cave if the temperature exceeded 32 degrees Fahrenheit for very long. Needless to say it doesn’t, so dress warmly. Image by Manuel Scheikl

All tours are conducted by lantern light, which can make the still, chill atmosphere even more other-worldly. Image by Dalton Iwazaki

The cave is hollowed out of zebra limestone. Here you can see some of this stripy stone, shiny with a layer of ice. Image by Manuel Scheikl