Length: 19.90 miles
Width: 2.10 miles
Surface area: 20.73 sq miles
Surface elevation: 4,396 feet
A hard to believe spectacle, the frozen lake bubbles in Lake Abraham, Alberta Canada, are a rare and stunning phenomenon. Located in the foothills of the Canadian Rockies, Lake Abraham is an artificial lake named for Silas Abraham, who lived in the Saskatchewan River valley in the 1800’s.
The former Calgary Power Company (now called TransAlta) created Lake Abraham when they constructed the Bighorn Dam in 1972. The lake was built on the upper course of the North Saskatchewan River.
Lake Abraham, often called Bubble lake, is also Alberta’s largest reservoir which stores spring run off from the Rockies to be used in hydroelectric generation.
Because the lake is man-made and not a natural lake, there are organic materials such as trees, grasses and plants that would normally not be found on a lake bed. The decomposition of these materials contributes to the methane gas in the lake.
The lake levels change rapidly, and so the lake has never been conducive to any type of water-based recreation. This has led to very little development around the lake. As a result, any interest in the area is focused on ecology and nature trails.
Each winter after ice in the lake forms, a natural phenomenon takes place that makes it a favorite spot for photographers. The area the lake is in recieves little snow, so the lake ice is clear, with great visibility.
Rock flour (finely powdered rock) is carried down the Saskatchewan river from the glaciers above the lake and gives the water a milky blue hue, which adds to the beauty of the lake.
When dead organic matter (both leaves and animals) falls into the water it then sinks to the bottom of the lake. In the case of Lake Abraham, because it is man-made, there are additional organic matters on the lake bed.
Bacteria on the lake bottom feeds on this organic matter, decomposing it, and releases methane gas in the form of bubbles.
As the bubbles rise towards the surface of the lake in the winter time, they become suspended in the ice. It creates one-of-a-kind “stacks” of frozen bubbles.
In addition to the bubbles, the water level changes contribute unique cracks, ridges and patterns on the ice. The unusual characteristics combine to make extraordinary displays that entice photographers from all over the world.
GETTING TO LAKE ABRAHAM
If you are not already in the area and will be flying in, choose either Edmonton or Calgary airport. Both of these airports are about equal distance, three and a half hour drives, up into the lower hills of the Canadian Rockies.
Once you get there, it will not be hard to find Lake Abraham as there is only one road in and one road out. The David Thompson Highway, or Hwy 11, runs between Banff and Jasper National Parks. The lake will be in view for over 15 miles along Hwy 11.
The most popular route is from Lake Louise as it is about an hour and a half from Lake Abraham. Head north along Icefields Parkway and at Saskatchewan River Crossing you will take a right turn onto Hwy 11.
It is important to know that this area is isolated. Whatever vehicle you are driving needs to be roadworthy. Fill up with gas at the last station in Nordegg and pack food and beverage items just in case.
BEST TIME TO VISIT
Lake Abraham freezes over in mid to late December, but the ice bubbles are at their best a bit later in the season.
The best time to visit Lake Abraham to see the frozen bubbles is from mid January to early February. If you go earlier, the water may not be solidly frozen and later in the year it will either be covered in ice cleat marks or will have begun to thaw and be slushy. .
You will want to know that the ice is solid enough to support your weight. Winter temperatures do fluctuate in Canada, which impacts the ice forming.
Keep an eye on the weather in Canada, and keep your travel dates flexible to ensure that you go when the ice is about a foot thick. This gives the bubbles a chance to form and build up. In addition, the cracks on the lake will have had the chance to create the depth that makes for fascinating photos.
WHAT TO EXPECT
While the frozen lake bubbles will be what draws you to Lake Abraham, don’t forget to look up. You will be at the foot of the spectacular Canadian Rockies that are a majestic formation in themselves.
If you do not already have a camera, invest in one that will be able to create these once-in-a-lifetime pictures and give you memories that last. You will not want to leave these shots to your phone.
Consider a camera with a polarizing filter to help cut out glare. The winds across the lake make the surface much like a polished mirror. A wide angle lens will help you capture the mountains that flank the lake.
As was mentioned earlier, the frozen bubbles are methane gas that are trapped in the ice. This gas, if released, is highly flammable. Remember that as you are out on the lake, and don’t smoke!
It will be quite windy at Lake Abraham as the winds, called chinooks, blow through the lake area. These winds blow the snow from the lake and leave the surface of the ice polished.
The chinooks can be quite strong, so it is best to keep your gear with you at all times. Otherwise your gear could be blown across the frozen surface of the lake. You will need to wear crampons, or ice cleats, on your boots to be able to stand on the surface of the lake.
Know that you will be in a rural area. There are no nearby convenience stores or gas stations. Orient yourself with maps of the area before you venture out, as the GPS on your phone will have no signal and cell service will be spotty, if it is available at all.
If you have the least doubts about your ability to find your way around, go with an experienced guide that does know their way around. Don’t go venturing to this area alone. Go with friends or on a group tour that has an expert guide.
Lake Abraham is not a Provincial park, so there will not be any rest areas on the lake itself. Just before you get to Preachers Point, in a car park just after Township Road 355, there is a public bathroom.
Wear the right clothing and have the right equipment. Even with the sun shining, the wind chill can be formidable. Wear winter clothing with thermal layers underneath.
You will need thick winter gloves and consider hand warmers to put inside your gloves. Sturdy winter boots, with a full insole warmer, along with ice cleats are a must. Get a good pair of spikes that grip the ice.
A warm hat, and a face mask to guard against the chinooks blowing across the lake is a necessity. Remember that it is better to have an abundance of winter gear and not need it, than to need it and not have it.
PLACES TO FIND FROZEN BUBBLES
Abraham lake is huge, just over twenty square miles! Listed below are some of the more popular spots on the lake to look for frozen bubbles.
Preacher’s Point: The most visited spot, Hwy 11 runs right by this section of the lake. There is a staging area where you can park your car and walk down to the lake.
Cline Landing: The water is shallow in this area and so it freezes over quickly.
Belly of Abraham: The wind often sweeps this area clean and the ice can be very clear in the part of the lake.
Hoodoo Creek and David Thompson Resort: Two spots that often yield great views of the fantastic bubbles.
This phenomenon is absolutely stunning. While it may require more effort and planning to get there, it is well worth the effort. We live in a beautiful world with majestic and unique vistas to discover. At Lake Abraham, you will be able to experience both the majesty of the Canadian Rockies and unbelievable uniqueness of the frozen lake bubbles.