A few years ago, Abraham Lake took the internet by storm with its amazing frozen ice bubbles. Since then, many of us locals have been visiting David Thompson Country to try and catch the best frozen bubbles in the ice.
Over the years, we’ve tried to catch the ice bubbles at their peak, and to be honest, we’ve had mixed results. If you don’t get there at exactly the right time, it’s not uncommon for the ice to be covered by a thick layer of snow!
But! With enough perseverance and attempts, we’ve had some successful trips too! It’s a long trip out to Abraham Lake, but when you get there and you’re completely surrounded by bubbles, it’s a pretty good feeling! It’s probably the most unique experience in the Canadian Rockies!
Here’s everything you need to know about finding Abraham Lake’s frozen bubbles, and our top tips for making the most of your trip.
What are the ice bubbles at Abraham Lake and how are they formed?
Ice bubbles are typically found wherever there are frozen lakes, but they are particularly common in the man made frozen lakes in Alberta. This is because methane bubbles are formed from decomposing organic matter (logs, plants etc), and this tends to be readily available under flooded lakes that were once dry land!
So, as the underwater logs and plants rot, they produce methane gas. This slowly floats and bubbles to the top of the lake. When there’s a layer of ice over the lake, the bubbles can’t escape and get trapped underneath. Then, another layer of ice will form around the ice bubbles, trapping it in place in the ice. More bubble slowly continue to appear throughout the winter, so gradually layers and layers of bubbles will appear in the ice as it gets thicker and thicker.
This leads to some incredible shapes and patterns in the ice, which is what we’re all chasing when we go to Abraham Lake!
Where are the ice bubbles at Abraham Lake?
Ok, so first, the all important question. Just where the hell do you find the bubbles on Abraham Lake?
Easy, right? Actually Abraham Lake is around 30km long, and finding the bubbles can be a bit of a challenge if you don’t really know where to look.
The first tip, is that the bubbles are usually found in denser concentrations in shallower water. Shallow water prevents the bubbles from dispersing too much before they reach the surface. The edges also tend to freeze earlier!
So, knowing this, we don’t really have to trek too far out onto the frozen lake. For the most part, there are actually two good spots to see the bubbles right by the shore.
This location is found right at the South Western end of Abraham Lake (the end closest to the Banff end), next to the (no surprise here) Preacher’s Point campground.
This area is more of a wide, shallow stream where the lake turns back into the Saskatchewan River, so it creates absolutely incredible bubbles in the ice.
It’s also usually the first part of Abraham Lake to freeze over (because it’s so shallow), so this part usually freezes extremely early in November.
Abraham Lake Ice Bubbles View Point
This next point doesn’t have a location, but someone has very kindly put a pin on google maps that pinpoints exactly where you need to park – Google ‘Abraham Lake Ice Bubbles View Point”.
This is roughly halfway between Rocky Mountain Heli and Windy Point. The access point is very obvious when you get there.
Typically if the weather is good, the area is packed with photographers and explorers and it’s quite obvious where you’ll need to park to see the frozen methane bubbles.
When is the best time to visit Abraham Lake to see the Ice bubbles?
Without wanting to state the obvious, clearly you have to visit Abraham Lake in Winter to be able to see the frozen bubbles. But to have the best luck, you’re going to want to visit earlier in the winter.
Generally speaking, you’ll have the best chances of seeing bubbles between November and February, but the length of the viewing window can vary substantially from year to year.
Generally speaking, Preachers Point freezes very early in November (as mentioned earlier), however it’s also around this time that we get our first snowfall. If we’re very lucky, the time between preachers point freezing and the first snowfall is several days or weeks, but we’ve been out some years within 24 hours and they’re already snow covered!
This is why we rely very heavily on our up to date Instagram research. By that I mean, watch stories that are geotagged very closely, and as soon as someone posts a video that says it’s frozen, be ready to run out the door at a full sprint! Easier said than done, but usually word spreads pretty quickly when it freezes over, and it pays to be on top of it when it happens otherwise you might miss out.
The rest of Abraham lake tends to freeze much much later. We’re talking late December or even early January, so there tends to be a bit of a break between when you can Preachers Point and when you can visit the other spot.
This spot tends to be viewable for a bit longer because the main part of Abraham Lake is extremely windy and often any new snow will be blown off again within a couple of days. It’s only on years where there’s a big dump of snow that the bubble viewing window closes prematurely.
With that being said, typically by March or April the amount of snow build up is too much even for the biggest wind storms, so you’ll probably want to visit sooner if possible.
When is the best time of day to visit the ice bubbles at Abraham Lake?
Honestly, as I love to take photos, I generally like to visit for sunrise. It’s one of the few valleys that’s wide enough to catch an early sunrise and not get blocked by huge mountains. Sunsets at Abraham Lake tend to be a little less impressive.
Having said that, if you really want to see the ice bubbles in all their glory, I would actually recommend going a little later in the day once the sun hits them properly. It’s quite hard to get the full effect until the sun is a little higher in the sky!
This year (2023) we were super lucky with the weather and managed to go a couple of times in January and February before the snow arrived and covered everything. Fortunately it’s so windy that it tends to blow the snow right off the ice unless there’s a huge blizzard.
What are the weather conditions like at Abraham Lake?
If I could sum it up in one word, it would be WINDY. The wind at Abraham lake is seriously no joke, especially in winter. The wind whips through the valley at high speeds and can almost knock you over at times.
In all the times I’ve visited these spots, I don’t think I’ve ever experienced it without high winds. This can be particularly problematic if you visit in winter on a cold day, because the wind chill can freeze you in seconds if you’re not wearing the right gear!
On the other hand, I’ve also been pleasantly surprised by the weather at Abraham Lake, and it doesn’t usually seem to correlate with the weather on the Icefields Parkway.
I’ve had visits where it’ll be snowing or raining hard the entire way, and then as soon as you hit the David Thompson Highway, the clouds part and the sun comes out!
My advice? Don’t always trust the weather forecast for specific weather, but do trust it for the temperatures you should expect.
Do you need any special equipment to see the ice bubbles?
Short answer, no, but having ice spikes or ice cleats would be a really good idea. As the lake is a reservoir, the water level tends to drop massively over winter. This means that the ground along the shoreline tends to be sheet ice that slants downwards towards the new, lower water level.
Without ice spikes, you might find yourself sliding full speed down to the lake! Throw in a bit of wind and you might find it challenging to get back to your car! This year we saw a bloody trail back to the car, so I’m guessing someone slipped on the ice and bashed themselves. It’s a good idea to have ice spikes!
I’d also recommend hats, gloves, hand warmers and face coverings for very cold days, because the wind can be absolutely brutal!
Finally, I would recommend bringing a snow shovel, a car brush and potentially some jugs of water. While the wind does blow a lot of the snow away, sometimes a shovel comes in handy when the bubbles are buried. A car brush is great for dusting away the snow on the ice, and a jug of water can be great to pour onto the ice and make the bubbles look crystal clear!
Be warned though, the water tends to then freeze on top of the ice and then make the bubbles less clear again within a few seconds. Make sure you’re ready with your camera!
I should also mention that much of Abraham Lake is located in crown lands, meaning the normal National Park rules don’t apply. This means you can actually legally fly your drone in certain parts, particularly near Preachers Point.
Having said that, you’ll want to be very careful with your drone, as the wind is not your friend here!
Other things to know about Abraham Lake
Just as a safety precaution, I’d recommend visiting in a group. I’d also recommend not going too early in the season when the ice is still thin.
As I mentioned earlier, the water level changes massively throughout winter, so sometimes the falling water level can leave deep holes under the ice which would prove impossible to get out of if you fell in. Stick to the shallow areas and exercise caution as you step out onto the ice!
How to get to Abraham Lake
Abraham Lake is actually very easy to reach from either Banff, Jasper or Red Deer. It’s still quite a long drive from Calgary (around 4 hours), but many people still make the pilgrimage.
Ice bubble tour companies have actually started popping up in Red Deer, as it’s one of the closest major cities to Abraham Lake.
If you don’t have any transport, this may be an option for you! Unfortunately there is no public transport to Abraham Lake. Your best bet is to rent a car or drive yourself there!
From Banff, the drive is approximately 2hr 9 minutes, and 185km.
Red Deer is almost exactly the same, at 2hr 10 minutes, and 210km (more highways and higher speed limits!).
Jasper, again, is approximately 2hrs 25 minutes and 203km
From Calgary, the drive is approximately 3hr 32 and 343km
From what you can see, Banff, Jasper and Red Deer are all roughly equidistant from Abraham Lake and Nordegg, so it makes virtually no difference if you decide to make a day trip from any of those locations.
Can you stay near Abraham Lake?
Yes, actually the nearest town of Nordegg has quite a few remote, cabin style accommodations, and we actually really enjoyed staying there one time. It makes for a really relaxing night away from the hustle and bustle of Banff.
With that being said, there is almost no infrastructure in Nordegg aside from a gas station, so you’ll have to bring your own supplies.
What else is there to do near Abraham Lake?
Abraham Lake and Nordegg is actually a really nice area to explore, particularly in the summer. There are some beautiful hikes that all overlook the stunning Abraham Lake, and it’s a great way to escape the crowds.
There are also several things to do in winter as well, and it’s a great place to spend the day. Visiting Crescent Falls and Siffleur Falls is a great way to see a bit more of the area, and you can even take a flight with Rocky Mountain Heli, which is based just on the edge of Abraham Lake. There are also now several Via Ferrata Routes that you can take on by yourself (they do require climbing equipment and some climbing ability).
Have an awesome time exploring the amazing Abraham Lake; I hope you can find some bubbles!