Did you know: Alberta is home to what’s become world-renowned as a “Bubble Lake?”
It’s actually home to several bubble lakes, but the one that everyone refers to as *the* Bubble Lake is Abraham Lake, which is located near the town of Nordegg, Alberta, along the David Thompson Highway.
Abraham Lake is located almost the exact same distance from Edmonton or Calgary, Alberta’s two big cities. If you’re driving to the Bubble Lake from Edmonton, you’re looking at a 3 and a half hour drive south west. From Calgary, a 3 and a half hour drive north west. It’s not even really that close to other picturesque, Alberta mountain spots like Jasper or Banff (over a 2 hour drive from each of those spots as well).
When I first blogged about Alberta’s Bubble Lake in 2017, the post became one of my top blog posts of all time, and to this day, I still get messages from people all over the world who are planning a trip to Canada and want to know more information about how to get to the Bubble Lake! The international attention was primarily a result of the Bubble Lake receiving coverage online in The Guardian, Smithsonian Magazine, Canadian Geographic, Places to see in your Lifetime, and Buzzfeed, to name just a few publications.
The attention is very well-deserved (in my opinion).
The Bubble Lake is an incredible spectacle!
And if you go when it’s not too snowy, you’re guaranteed the most stunning ice skating experience.
I wanted to provide an update to my original post this winter, with some new photos recently shared by my mountain adventure friends (shared with their permission), and some more tips for your adventure!
So if you’re planning a trip to Alberta’s Bubble Lake this (or any winter), use this blog post as a guide.
Travel Guide: Exploring Alberta’s Bubble Lake (Abraham Lake) – Know Before You Go
When to visit the Bubble Lake
When you visit will vary each year depending on how early winter weather arrives, and how soon it starts to warm up. Your best bet for visiting is likely anywhere between December through April.
My first visit to the Bubble Lake was during a February, but my adventure friends’ James and Ashleigh (who are the pawrents of Adventure Cat Gary) recently visited in late November and it was amazing (see amazing photos), however only the far end of the lake was frozen enough for them to feel comfortable skating on at that point. James says you’re probably good to visit until May, because the ice is generally still frozen until May each year, but to be really safe and ensure maximum frozen lake time, I’d say December through April. My friends at AMA Travel have also told me that January/February is usually best for full frozen lake and least cloudy bubbles (but you want to also watch for snowy days too).
You’ll notice the difference in bubble lake / lake colour depending on when you go (and how the weather is). See my photos throughout this post the bubbles are not as brilliant blue as when James and Ashleigh went.
SAFETY REMINDER AND DISCLAIMER: As with any frozen lake situation, please be very careful. Check out these ice safety tips from the Canadian Red Cross! Remember you’re visiting the Bubble Lake at your own discretion. The weather and temperatures shift all the time so use your best judgment (and the Red Cross tips) when deciding if you should skate or walk across the lake.
Where to stay when visiting the Bubble Lake
If you’re coming into Alberta from outside of the province, you’ll likely want to choose Edmonton or Calgary as your home base first (I’m assuming. I would certainly want to explore Edmonton or Calgary if I was visiting Alberta lol). It just depends on what you’re planning on doing before or after your visit.
The Bubble Lake is typically done as a day trip, as the nearest town you could stay in is likely Nordegg, Alberta (located about 30 minutes away). However, staying in and around Nordegg or the Rocky Mountain House area (RMH is about 1 hour away) might be a fun “small town Alberta” experience for you to try as well.
Otherwise set up base in Edmonton or Calgary and then make driving to the Bubble Lake one of your adventures for the day. But it’s just about how you plan it! I’ve also suggested to people who email me that they could spend a couple days in Edmonton or Calgary first, then do the Bubble Lake, then from the Bubble Lake head to Banff, Canmore, or Jasper for a few more days of mountain adventure!
If you want to spend time in Canmore/Banff or Jasper areas, check out my related blog posts:
How to get to the Bubble Lake
From Edmonton, Alberta, drive 339 km (or 3 hours and 27 minutes) south west of the city.
From Calgary, drive 344 km (but also strangely still exactly 3 hours and 27 minutes) north west from the city.
You’ll end up driving along the ‘David Thompson Highway‘ and from Edmonton, you know you’re going the right direction if you have passed Rocky Mountain House and Nordegg. From Jasper you could also head to the Bubble Lake travelling south east on the Icefields Parkway. Honestly, set it up in your Google Maps and you won’t really have an issues finding the Bubble Lake.
There are a few places along the highway (and along the lake) where you can pull in to walk down to the lake, but the most popular and spacious parking spot for getting to the lake is a place called Preacher’s Point. It’s located on the very west end of the lake.
When we visited for the first time, there were about six other vehicles parked at Preacher’s Point. Along the drive we had seen some other cars randomly parked along the highway, so assuming those people had also stopped to visit the lake but we just felt more comfortable with the actual designated parking lot.
Why are there “bubbles” at the Bubble Lake?
Abraham Lake is actually a man-made lake, first created in 1972 as part of construction of the Bighorn Dam (according to the Town of Nordegg).
The bubbles are actually methane gas, trapped in the lake. Apparently it’s highly flammable (but frozen) gas and as the gas bubbles closer to the surface throughout the year before the lake freezes over, it gets trapped until the spring thaw. Its typically beautiful, blue colour is caused by rock flour (as with other popular glacial lakes in the Rocky Mountains).
Depending on what day you go, you might not get as brilliant blue or as much visible lake. For instance, when we went in February, it had just snowed quite a bit so there was a fair bit of snow on the lake and not really a clear enough space to go skating or see large sections of bubbles. When James and Ashleigh went, they got almost all frozen lake and bubbles—hardly any snow! I would say their conditions are far more ideal for your Instagram photos, but our visit still yielded some great imagery, plus—whew, the view of those mountains will never not be stunning.
Other fun fact: Abraham Lake is named after Silas Abraham, an inhabitant of the Saskatchewan River valley during the nineteenth century. The name was picked after the province ran a naming contest across the province asking students to suggest names that took into account “historical significance, prominent persons, geography and topography, and the value of the lake.”
And Abraham Lake is not the only ‘Bubble Lake’ in Alberta!
You can also find these ice bubbles at Lake Minnewanka or Vermilion Lakes, both located outside of Banff. They are a bit easier to get to (in terms of being much closer to amenities and because most people who are mountain adventuring tend to be staying in the Banff / Canmore / Jasper region anyway), however I have less guarantees about the beauty or consistency of their bubbles.
What to bring and what to do at the Bubble Lake
Let’s be clear. If you’re visiting the Bubble Lake, your primary goal is probably to take lovely, Instagrammable photos of your experience. So you will certainly get that! Bring your camera and you’re going to have a great time. But for a six-hour drive (there and back), you probably want to make the most of your trip by bringing skates to also go ice skating on the lake.
My main purpose for my first visit to Abraham Lake was to see it, marvel at it, and take lots of photos – which I did – so I was quite pleased and felt that it was well worth the drive. We didn’t get to skate because of all the snow when we went, so that was a bit disappointing, but I still checked off my purpose: see the stunning bubbles and take photos of and with it.
There’s not a whole lot more to do at the lake beyond that, so do know that going in to this trip. Mike for instance has no interest in going back to the Bubble Lake, lol. (so, your Instagram Husband would probably feel the same).
A few more tips to visiting the Bubble Lake
- Consider whether you’re going on a day when there’s just been a fresh dump of snow and then maybe not go—if you want to be able to see more bubbles and skate! However if your timing is limited, and it has recently snowed, go anyway. You’ll still marvel at this one-of-a-kind lake.
- Bring your skates (or snowshoes, if it has been snowing) to extend your stay and play!
- Bring your camera (but make sure you’ve got a firm hold on it because it is slippery!) I definitely dropped my camera a couple of times, oops.
- Consider your timing. 6+ hours in a day can be exhausting and if you don’t head out early then you’re going to get back to Edmonton or Calgary fairly late (if that’s the itinerary you planned). But just make sure you have factored enough room to play. We were probably only at the lake for an hour. Add skating and you’d likely need at least 2 hours to be comfortable.
- Pair the bubble lake with another adventure! There’s a few different Abraham Lake experiences you can check out via Travel Alberta including ‘Ice Falls and Ice Bubbles’ ‘Crescent Falls and Ice Bubbles’ or a ‘Siffleur Falls Winter Hike’ depending on how adventurous you are. Those packages cost money though, whereas taking yourself to the Bubble Lake will be free (minus your time and gas).
- Bring your dogs (or adventure cats!) for added adventure (bigger dogs will likely do better than smaller dogs, especially if there’s a lot of snow and wind). We took our dogs Olive and Artie and Artie had much more fun than Olive (who mostly got blown away by wind and couldn’t see past all the snow lol).
- Dress for the weather! There were bursts of wind when we went and they were biting. Be prepared.
- Consider crossing the whole lake. We saw others attempting this, but we walked closer to the middle and then made our way back.
- Consider checking out the lake at multiple points (look for the Preacher’s Point sign, where we stopped, but there were at least 2 other spots where we saw cars parked and people heading down. Not sure if those would have offered even better views or not but if you’ve got time, try it!)
- Take lots of photos! (you might want to get right down to the frozen floor for best bubble angles) Top looking down shots really work here as well.
- Consider exploring around the lake— that could mean stopping in for a bite to eat in Nordegg or Rocky Mountain House or make it a longer trip as you head out to Jasper or even Banff (depending on your itinerary).
- Be sure to understand ice safety! Read the Canadian Red Cross’ ice safety tips before you go.
Check out a few more photos below from both the visit Mike and I had in 2017 as well as the recent visit my friends James and Ashleigh had (with their adorable pets Duke and Gary—who is quite famous on Instagram if you aren’t already following him!)
You can also check out some more beautiful photos of the lake on the Instagram feed here.
If you have any questions, feel free to message me!
I’m itching to get back to the Bubble Lake this winter (2020) and will update this post (and my Instagram) with more photos when I go!