For just two months a year, you can see ice bubbles at Abraham Lake. Here’s where to find them and how to view them safely.
The ice bubbles on Abraham Lake are a fleeting phenomenon only seen for a couple months each year. Why is Abraham Lake bubble central? Persistent wind keeps the lake clear of snow, so you can see the magic of methane in the aquamarine waters (don’t worry, it doesn’t smell). Grab your microspikes and camera, and see what all the fuss is about!
Abraham Lake Ice Bubbles Trip Report
After enjoying the sunrise at Preacher’s Point, we headed down the highway to Cline Landing to see the Abraham Lake ice bubbles for the first time. As we wondered if we were in the right place and if the ice was thick enough to walk on, the ranger drove onto the lake on a quad. Not long after we stepped from snow onto clear ice, bubbles began to appear underfoot. Some were big, and some were small, but what amazed us most of all was how clear the ice was. Peering into the depths, we could see columns of bubbles and water moving below the ice!
The fascinating ice bubbles are formed from decaying plants, and are made of methane. As the lake freezes, bubbles are trapped in the ice, and eventually, there are layers of bubbles suspended in ice! Going back to the gas in the bubbles… My kids asked why there was no fart smell, then answered their own question (the bubbles are trapped in the ice). Of course their next question was “Can we light them?” and the answer is a definite no! Methane bubbles can explode, so do not smoke on the ice or have a fire on the lake. (See this Australian Academy of Science | Exploding Bubbles video at 2 mins 40 seconds if you don’t believe me.)
Although ice bubbles are pretty common in frozen Canadian lakes (like Lake Minnewanka), they’re often covered in snow so it takes a bit of work to see them. Abraham Lake, however, is always windy, so you are almost guaranteed to see ice bubbles in winter. If it has snowed recently, David Thompson Country Tourism recommends waiting a couple days so the wind can clear the snow off the ice; then you should be good to go.
Next, we headed to the Abraham Lake Ice Bubbles parking. Since it was extremely busy, we walked down the shore (east) to find our own patch of ice. There’s a drop-off near shore so the water gets deep quickly allowing you to see the turquoise water through the ice. It was absolutely amazing sitting on the crystal-clear ice surrounded by mountains. We found columns of bubbles, hundreds of delicate quarter-sized bubbles, and bubbles bigger than our heads.
The kiddos may not have loved tent camping in the cold (gale-force wind made it hard to enjoy the fire for long), but they agreed it was worth it to see the ice bubbles! We saw a herd of bighorn sheep near the road too!
Know Before You Go
- Ice must be at least 10 cm / 4″ thick to walk on, or at least 15 cm / 6″ thick if there are many people on the ice. You should check the ice with an ice screw or drill before you venture out too far, especially if it’s early/late in the season or if it has been warm for several days.
- Ice thickness can vary within a small area, especially since Abraham Lake is a reservoir, so stay close to shore and carry a rope just in case. See our Pond and Lake Ice Safety Tips for more information.
- Traction devices are a must so you don’t slip and fall. We recommend Kahtoola Microspikes (Available from Amazon, MEC, and Camper’s Village), or Hillsound Trail Crampons (Available at Amazon, Hillsound, and Sport Chek) are recommended.
- It’s very windy on the lake, so dress warm!
- There’s no cell phone service around the lake, so download Google Map Directions before you go and leave a trip plan with someone at home (where you’re going, the route you took, and when you expect to be back). If you’re planning on hiking, download or print coordinates/maps/route descriptions.
- If you have a tripod, hang a heavy backpack from it or have someone hold it so it doesn’t blow away (we recommend using a lens hood and UV/Skylight filter to protect your lens in case your tripod tips over).
- You can avoid the crowds by staying overnight and getting onto the ice early!
When to Go
January and early February are the best times of year to see the ice bubbles at Abraham Lake. Use caution in early January if December was warm. Also, try to time your trip between snowfalls so the ice won’t be snow covered. So remember – ski on a powder day, and drive to Abraham Lake on a dry day.
Where to See Ice Bubbles / Where to Park
There are tons of places to see ice bubbles south of Windy Point*, but three of the best (all on Google Maps) are as follows:
- Abraham Lake Ice Bubbles Parking: By far the busiest spot, but from here you can get the classic shot of Mount Michener with ice bubbles in the foreground.
- Abraham Slabs: There is an outhouse and parking lot here.
- Cline Landing: Park on the shoulder and walk 100 metres down to the lake – don’t drive down; there is a huge snow trap on the steep access road!
Note: Abraham Slabs and the Abraham Lake Ice Bubbles parking are more photogenic than Cline Landing because the water is a brilliant turquoise color (due to being a lot deeper). At the end of January, there were no bubbles to be seen at Preacher’s Point due to huge ice heaves.
Parking is limited, so if one area is busy, drive down the road to the next spot.
*Do NOT go on the ice on the north end of the lake! Abraham Lake is a reservoir and water does not freeze well near the dam (because the water level is always fluctuating).
What if the ice bubbles are covered in snow?
If you don’t see ice bubbles at the Abraham Lake Ice Bubbles parking or Abraham Slabs, clear off some snow with a shovel, then pour water over the bubbles to see them better. OR, enjoy the mountain views, and photograph frost or ice formations near shore, or watch bighorn sheep (from a distance)! There are several great hiking trails near the lake too; scroll down for more info.
What to Bring
Kahtoola Microspikes (Available from Amazon, MEC, and Camper’s Village), or Hillsound Trail Crampons (Available at Amazon, Hillsound, and Sport Chek) are required. We also recommend some rope and a self-inflating life jacket just in case someone falls in. When we visited (end of January), the ice was 1.5 feet thick, but conditions can change quickly in warmer weather.
Warm clothes are a must, and hot drinks or soup will warm you up after taking pictures in the wind. It’s also a good idea to pack extra food in case the roads are bad and you’re delayed. The nearest gas station and store is in Nordegg, half an hour from the ice bubbles parking area.
Abraham Lake is located on the David Thompson Highway (AB-11), approximately three hours from Calgary. Road conditions are best if you go via Hwy 2 and Rocky Mountain House, but the scenery is spectacular on the Icefields Parkway (Hwy 93N). If you choose the latter, check 511 before you go to make sure the highway is open. Avalanche control closures are common in winter.
See The Best Stops on the Icefields Parkway and start planning your roadtrip now! Peyto Lake is a good, short hike on the way to/from Abraham Lake.
Where to Stay
Random camping is permitted at Preacher’s Point (best suited for trailers/camper vans – mostly open field), Abraham Cove, Abraham Slabs, and Allstones. Note that you will need to purchase an Alberta Public Lands Camping Pass ($20 for 3 nights or $30/year) in advance. Campers must be totally self-sufficient, and pack out all trash. There are outhouses onsite only; no water, picnic tables, or tent pads.
If you’d prefer warmer accommodations, there are a few hotels and a hostel open year-round. See David Thompson | Where to Stay for more information.
Hiking Trails in David Thompson Country
If you would like to do a hike before you go home, some hikes recommended by David Thompson Country include Whitegoat Falls (2.6 km), Cline River Falls (3.4 km) and Coral Creek (8.9 km).
More hikes to try:
- Allstones Creek (4.8 km) is wonderful in winter – you can hike the frozen creek to small icefalls!
- Or you could drive to beautiful Crescent Falls and walk 300 metres to the viewpoints (lower parking lot is closed in winter).
- To see hoodoos and a small cave, try Hoodoo Creek Trail (5.2 km).
All distances are round trip.
Be safe and have fun! It’s not every day you can see ice bubbles in glass-like ice!