Geneva Lake and the town of Lake Geneva in Wisconsin lie 100 miles southwest of Milwaukee and 30 miles west of Kenosha on Lake Michigan. Large segments of Geneva Lake freeze over in the winter, and sometimes ice covers Geneva Lake entirely. Ice Castles, the name of the company that creates the Lake Geneva Ice Castles, established itself in 2011 and used Geneva Lake’s winter water for arts and entertainment.
Utah’s Brent Christensen built an ice cave for his daughter at his house in 2011. Then, his neighbors and community members began to flock to Brent’s cave, and the cave was a hit. From there, Brent’s company, Ice Castles, has grown into international fame. Ice Castles builds winter wonderlands in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, New Brighton, Minnesota, North Woodstock, New Hampshire, Lake George, New York, and Midway, Utah.
Why Is Lake Geneva so Famous?
Geneva Lake is one of Wisconsin’s most beautiful vacation spots, and the town of Lake Geneva sits on Geneva Lake’s northeastern shores. The towns of Fontana-On-Geneva Lake and William’s Bay on the southwestern shores, along with Lake Geneva, all hold individual local auras oozing with charm.
The Lake Geneva region and Geneva Lake are and have been of the most famed vacation destinations in southeast Wisconsin since the mid-1850s with Americans. John Brink, a government surveyor, named Geneva Lake in 1834 when he was triangulating the Lake Geneva region. Its pristine waters reminded Brink of a lake new near his hometown, Geneva, New York.
As early as 1856, the Chicago & Northwestern’s new railroad short line from Chicago to Geneva Lake carried 600 passengers on June 11. It only took a five-hour outbound trip, and with fewer stops, a four-hour return trip, instead of a few days, to get to Geneva Lake from Chicago and back. Even before the short line from Chicago, people happily journeyed by beasts of burden to get to beautiful Geneva Lake.
Before and after the Civil War, Chicagoans were moving north and building elegant mansion estates on Geneva Lake, and they called it the Newport of the Midwest. After the Chicago Fire of 1871, those with the means to do so left Chicago and settled on Geneva Lake. The exquisite waters of Geneva Lake attracted millionaire moguls and ruling criminals like Al Capone in the 1930s.
Native Americans treasured Geneva Lake for centuries before discovery. The Potawatomi Indians called Geneva Lake “Kish-Way-Kee-Tow”, which translates loosely to “Lake of the Sparkling Water”. The native people lived off of the abundant wildlife and forests surrounding the region for around 13,000 years and built burial mounds. Until 700 A.D., they buried their dead in large round earthen mounds, when the mounds took on effigy characteristics.
The Indians built the earthen effigy mounds in the shapes of animals, human figures, religious figures, supernatural figures, and symbols. The shapes correlated to the animal ancestors, named clans, and spirit beings of the native peoples, but the effigy mound building lasted only four centuries. The Indians built the effigy mounds in today’s southern Wisconsin and parts of bordering states, and only a few survive today. From what historians know, Geneva Lake has been famous for at least 13 millenniums.
When Was the Last Time Lake Geneva Froze?
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that continuous recording Geneva’s Lake freezing conditions began in the late 1850s. At that time, Geneva Lake began fully freezing over in late December. Since the late 1990s, that freezing point has moved from early to late January. Geneva Lake did not record an “ice on”, or fully frozen lake, for the first time in 1997.
On January 24, 2022, Geneva Lake completely froze over and stayed frozen. Geneva Lake did not fully freeze in 2001, 2012, or 2017, and 2020 was the fourth year in 20 years that Geneva Lake did not fully freeze over. Geneva Lake fully froze in 2021. In January 2023, the Ice Castles did not open until February.
Does Lake Geneva Have Ice Sculptures?
The Chinese first created primitive ice sculptures in the 16th century, unlike like the ones we know today. They froze buckets of water, carved out the center of the ice in the bucket, and put candles in the center holes for use as lanterns. Today, ice sculptures have taken on a truly recognized art form, such as the Ice Castles at Geneva Lake, Wisconsin.
Yes, technically Lake Geneva has ice sculptures. Geneva Lake hosts a thrilling ice sculpture event. But this event is called and very much like Ice Castles, which is the name of the company that builds ice sculptures to represent a frozen castle wonderland at Geneva Lake and five other northern U.S lakes.
Geneva Lake Ice Castles are built from man-grown icicles embedded with rainbow-colored LED lights and comprise archways, caverns, crawl spaces, frozen towers, ice-carved thrones, ice slides, and tunnels. To create the ice castle event, Ice Castles grows between 5,000 to 12,000 icicles daily in their icicle farm for however many months it takes, depending on the weather.
The amount of time it takes to build the Ice Castles varies according to the temperature. If the temperature stays below freezing, it takes less time to build the entire Ice Castle complex. Each castle, i.e. ice structure, is about 1 acre in size. Every castle is next to a natural water source. When the Ice Castles’ structures melt, the water goes back to the natural source it came from.
How Long Are Lake Geneva Ice Castles Open?
When it comes to outdoor ice castles and ice sculptures, the only factors that matter are 32° Fahrenheit in the U.S. and 0° Celsius in other countries. Although the Ice Castle sculpture artists do work in slightly higher temperatures than freezing at times, the temperature has to be freezing at a constant level for the ice castles to open to the public. The entire Ice Castle event, building it and enjoying it, depends on unpredictable weather.
Every year, Ice Castles keeps a diligent watch on the weather for their Lake Geneva Ice Castles, and their Ice Castle events on the other lakes. Every year, how long the ice castles open for depend on the weather. Ice Castles clearly states in its policy that Ice Castles’ features are weather dependent, and may be closed or unavailable due to weather.
What Do You Wear to Lake Geneva Ice Castles?
In the cold winter weather, when you are expecting to participate in physical activities, most people dress in layers. Once visitors to the Ice Castles buy their tickets, there is no time limit on how long they can stay inside the Ice Castles. It also depends on if visitors bring children and babies. Ice Castles does not allow strollers.
If the temperature is 0°, what you wear to visit the Ice Castles will be different from if the temperature is 24°, so check the weather. Dress in layers. Wear boots with non-slip soles so your feet will stay warm. Wear gloves, hats, and bring hand warmers for gloves and boots—the cheap or rechargeable warmers. You can bring sleds for babies, but no strollers.
Visitors to the Ice Castles crucially need to understand the difference in temperatures at or below freezing and freezing. You do not want to rush through the beautiful Ice Castles experience because you are cold or you are not cold, but your feet are freezing or your fingers are freezing.
Boots with non-slip soles are important because you will be walking on snow and ice for hours if you want. Make sure your hats cover your ears. Hand warmers are an absolute must and you can pull them out occasionally to warm your face and nose. Also, you can bring a sled for the ice slides.
Is it Better to See the Ice Castles at Night or Day?
Daytime visits vs. nighttime visits to the Ice Castles bring about different colored hues to the Ice Castle visual experience. They also differ in how visitors perceive the structures. It depends whether it is January or February what time the sun sets and rises. When planning a daytime, nighttime, or combo daytime/nighttime visit to the Ice Castles, visitors need to know the sunrise and sunset times.
During the daytime, the sun brings out the glacial blue hues of the ice and snow, accents every icicle hanging and the intricacies of the ice structures, and allows people to fully appreciate all work that goes into the massive ice construction feats, plus Ice Castles constantly maintains the icicles, and visitors may get to view that work.
At night, the colors of the LED lights imbedded in the icicles shine bright and illuminate a magical icy world, and visitors can view the ice creations as the stars shine down from underneath the stars (if there are no clouds). Visitors can always purchase a ticket with a time a couple hours before sunset and stay until the lights rainbow-shine through the ice prisms.
How Much Are Tickets to the Ice Castles in Lake Geneva?
The Ice Castles are a once a year event. Ticket prices will vary from year to year. The bottom line is that the cost of the Ice Castle tickets has to cover the cost of production plus make a profit. The ticket prices are reasonable for the experience. Visitors truly receive a bang for their buck throughout this one-of-a-kind icy experience.
During the 2023 Ice Castle season, a general admission-age 12 and up-ticket cost $29, a child admission-ages 4 to 11-ticket cost $22, babies to age 3 are free, and sleigh rides cost $17. Ice Castles maintains an interactive website throughout its season because of the changing weather conditions that affect its opening dates and day.
Ice Castles offers a special private Ice Castle personalized experience called the VIP Arctic Cove. This private ice cove is perfect for a couple’s romantic time on ice and is popular for proposals and groups of six for families and friends. The VIP package is complete with a sleigh ride for up to six guests. The VIP package offers hot beverages with treats for an extra charge.
Ice Castle Ticket Policies
Dates and hours are weather dependent.
Ticket sales are final. Tickets are nonrefundable and non-transferable to another person. Dates and times may be changed for a fee as long as changes are made at least 24 hours in advance. Please take this into considerations if there is inclement weather imminent or if you have a sudden change of circumstances.
Peak season tickets are for dates Ice Castles anticipates being open, based on historical data. Ice Castles may open sooner than the peak season dates or remain open longer, if weather permits. Additional tickets for extended season dates would become available once dates are confirmed.
Once visitors enter the Ice Castles, they can stay as long as they want, but visitors cannot leave and then reenter.
Tickets may be available on-site if Ice Castles is not sold out. On-site prices are subject to higher rates. For guaranteed entry and the lowest price, buy tickets online in advance.
Sleigh rides are available at an additional charge and may be purchased when you reserve your tickets online. The sleighs do not run between 5pm-6pm on weekends and holidays.
Ice Castle hours of operation vary by location, by the day of the week, and around holidays. On weekdays, it typically operates in the evenings. On weekends and holidays, it typically operates after noon and into the evenings.
Ice Castle’s hours of operation will be available on its ticketing page when tickets go on sale. For the most current information regarding ticket availability and more, select your preferred location at the top of the page.
Subscribe to the Ice Castles newsletter on its website to find out when tickets are going to be up for sale. Ice Castles will email newsletter subscribers as soon as ticket sales begin. You can also select your location on its website, where Ice Castles updates their most current information on opening dates, ticket availability, magical new features, and more on its location pages.
Holiday Pricing is the same as weekend pricing if open for the season.
Ice Castles and Ice Palaces Throughout the Ages
We have to credit Russia inspiring the first creative ice castle. The real Empress, Anna Ivanovna, commissioned a vast ice castle during the winter of 1739 to 1740, which was an extremely cold winter, even for Russia. Empress Anna’s ice castle included ice animals, birds, cannons, cannon balls, furniture, and trees. One of her animals was an ice elephant.