Only in Eagle River – The Eagle River Ice Castle

Since 1933

What’s 20 feet tall, weighs 75 tons, lights up the night sky, and has thousands of people take photos next to it for 6 weeks in the Wisconsin Northwoods? No, it’s not an extra-large abominable snowman with a flashlight. It’s the Eagle River Ice Castle.

Thousands of people flock to the massive structure near the old railway depot to pose for photos. And unlike the professionally ice structures made in other parts of the world, the Eagle River Ice Castle is built entirely by volunteers. Local businesses fund the equipment and resources needed to construct the castle, which allows visitors to see the ice castle for free.

More than 2,000 blocks of ice are fashioned to create a stunning structure resembling a castle fit for a king and queen. Flood lights were added in the 1990s to make the ice castle even more spectacular. It’s become a huge draw to the Eagle River downtown.

The first ice castle was built in 1933 for the King Winter festival. While weather is the ultimate determining factor, the Eagle River Ice Castle didn’t truly become an annual occurrence until 1935-36. Charles Hanke, the owner of C.H. Hanke Ice Co., built the ice castle in his front yard in 1948 following a 5-year hiatus during World War II. He continued to help build the ice castle until about 1980 when his grandson Jack Thomas took over the duties. Jack was the assistant fire chief in the mid-‘80s and the fire department began managing the ice castle construction at that time.

Today, Eagle River Fire Chief Michael Anderson coordinates the operation. It takes more than 700 hours for volunteers from the Eagle River Fire Department and others to harvest approximately 2,300 blocks of 12” x 10” x 20” ice from Silver Lake. Each block of ice weighs between 60 and 70 pounds. Volunteers still use some of the original equipment Hanke used. Because the ice comes from the lake, the weather in December needs to be freezing to allow Silver Lake to ice over quite deep. It’s typically built in early January and is safely disassembled in mid February.

Celebrating more than 90 years, the Eagle River Ice Castle is truly steeped in history. Built by volunteers, funded by the community, and enjoyed by all, this kind of ice castle can only be seen in Eagle River—and only on years that are cold enough to supply the right amount of ice. It’s a rare and beautiful sight to behold.

For more information about the Eagle River Ice Castle or to volunteer, visit

A group of men working on an ice sculpture.
A large ice sculpture in front of a church.