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Visit Ice Bubbles at Abraham Lake – How to Find and Photograph

A woman in a brown coat sits on a frozen blue-green lake. Air bubbles are bright white frozen into the ice all over. She is facing away from the camera and looking towards mountains in the background. Her light brown hair is in a messy bun.

You may have seen the instagrammable photos of this amazing Alberta lake, but did you know it is also an affordable and relatively un-touristy place to visit? For the Canadian Rockies, Abraham Lake is about as budget as it gets!

Read on for everything you need to know about this bucket list destination!

Where is Abraham Lake?

Abraham Lake (sometimes called Lake Abraham online) is located in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, outside of any National Parks. This means you do not need a park pass to visit!

The lake (which is actually a reservoir) is very remote. The nearest town is Nordegg, but in the Winter there are very limited services there. If you are flying to Alberta to visit, you will want to fly to either Edmonton or Calgary. Both are 3.5 hours from the lake.

 

A beautiful mountain scene at Abraham Lake. Rocky mountains form the background and the frozen blue lake stretches in front of it. In the middle of the picture the ice has moved up the beach in big pale blue sheets. In the foreground are some river type rocks and snow. The sky is overcast with fluffy darker grey clouds above the mountains.
The ice and snow almost has a painterly effect – Abraham Lake, Alberta

 

Where to Stay Near Abraham Lake

I recommend staying in the somewhat-nearby town of Rocky Mountain House. There are several affordable hotel options here, as well as places to eat, and grocery stores. There is also a Canadian Tire, which is handy if you forget any of your gear!

 

 

Hotels in Rocky Mountain House

We have stayed at both the Best Western and the Voyageur Inn.

The Best Western is what you expect: Clean and nothing fancy.

We definitely would not recommend the Voyageur Inn! Despite good ratings on Google and Booking.com, it was pretty dirty and our door didn’t even seal closed. (A big deal in Canadian Winter!)

There are several hotel chains here, so pick whatever suits your budget. You should have no problem finding something for around $100 Canadian per night. There is no best location as RMH is pretty small, and you can get anywhere in a few minutes.

 

Is Rocky Mountain House in the Rocky Mountains?

Unfortunately, the name “Rocky Mountain House” is a bit deceptive. It is certainly the gateway into the Rocky Mountains, but you will not have mountain views here. The first you will see of the mountains is about a half hour towards Abraham Lake.

 

Winter Camping at Abraham Lake

If you have appropriate gear, the brave can also winter camp at Abraham Lake.

You will be surprised by how many people go camping out there in the dead of Winter! The lake shore area beside the highway is a designated public land use zone, which means that camping is free.

If you decide to try camping, take your time to choose a spot out of the wind. Abraham Lake is known for extremely high winds, and in winter temperatures this can quickly become dangerous. The far end of the lake is typically a little less windy.

The small gas station at Nordegg has an excellent selection of camping equipment if you forget anything.

(I have never tried camping in the winter, so please get some real advice first as far as safety equipment and all weather gear!)

 

A highway stretches out from the camera into the distance. Above the road in the far off distance are magnificent rocky mountains. The top of their white caps are lit up orange and pink in the sunrise. The sky is pale blue at dawn, with wispy orange and pink clouds. Above the mountain in the left side of the shot, float some thicker grey and pink clouds. Evergreens line each side of the highway from Rocky Mountain House to Abraham Lake.
A first look at the mountains on Hwy 11 between Rocky Montain House and Abraham Lake

 

Getting to Abraham Lake, Alberta

From Rocky Mountain House, getting to Abraham Lake is easy! It is about an hour and 15 minutes driving, all on Highway 11 (the highway that goes through RMH.) You really can’t get lost. This highway will take you past the lake, and all the photoshoot spots are actually right beside the highway! 

 

A gorge in a cove at Abraham Lake. Rocky mountains and pine trees form the background. Ice clings to the side of the gorge in thick sheets. In the foreground some leafless shrubs and a short pine tree frame the photo. The sky is pale blue with fluffy clouds above the distant mountains.
A cove at Allstones Lake staging area – near the north end of Abraham Lake

 

When to Visit Abraham Lake to See Ice Bubbles

The best time of year to visit Abraham Lake and see good quality ice bubbles is from January until mid-February. After that, I am told the ice can start to get cloudy.

I’m sure this doesn’t happen overnight, so if you are local to Alberta and can plan according to the weather, pick a warmer weekend. The Explore Nordegg website occasionally updates ice conditions here.

You can always skip the planning and book a tour through the website as well!

 

A long portrait photo of ice bubbles at Abraham Lake. The bubbly blue green ice stretches out to the horizon which is framed by snow capped rocky mountains.

 

Best Time of Day to Photograph Ice Bubbles

Serious photographers will tell you that sunrise and sunset are the best times to photograph the ice bubbles. Winter in Canada makes for short days, so if you plan ahead you can easily stay out there for both.

When we visited in late February, sunrise was at 7:45 am and sunset around 5:00 pm. The first day we left our hotel too late and missed sunrise by a few minutes. The next day we got there on time and the colours of the ice and bubbles really do look great before the sun is up.

 

In the early light of dawn, Abraham Lake is a frosty blue green colour with scattered snow. on the opposite shore some ghostly pine trees without needles sit in front of the darkness of a mountain, covered with patches of snow.
Abraham Lake colours at dawn

 

For a casual photographer, an overcast period, or later in the day would still create amazing photos, so don’t worry too much if you aren’t on time. Being winter, the sun never gets high in the sky, but on a clear day in mid-morning the glare off the ice does make pictures more challenging.

Times to avoid: Try to avoid from about noon to sunset. The area starts to get really busy which makes parking along the highway more challenging and dangerous. There will also be a bunch of people in your shots, which is not ideal!

 

A closeup of bright white ice bubbles, springing up from the green-blue water of Abraham Lake. Frosty cracks are scattered in the foreground. A large white bubble in the middle is perfectly in focus.

 

Pro tip: Do try to be out at or near sunrise because that is when you will find the serious bubble hunters, and their vehicles will give the best spots away!

What Causes These Ice Bubbles?

The air bubbles trapped in the ice of Abraham Lake are actually methane.

The methane is produced by decomposing matter at the bottom of the lake (mostly plants.) As the lake freezes over in the winter, the bubbles are trapped in the ice, which turns into layers of frozen bubbles as winter goes on and the ice gets thicker.

Why are there more bubbles in Abraham Lake than other lakes?

I really wanted to know why Abraham Lake specifically has so many methane ice bubbles. After all, most lakes will have decomposing matter at the bottom. The answer was hard to find! I read that it is somewhat common in northern lakes, which doesn’t really explain much. 

One proposed reason is that these northern lakes never used to thaw completely, but now due to climate change they do. That doesn’t really hold true for Abraham Lake, because it is a man-made reservoir, and has only been around since 1972.

I finally found this article by NASA, that suggests it is actually the thawing permafrost under the lakes that is releasing the extra methane. Which I guess makes sense.

What To Do Between Ideal Photo Times

“So there is nothing out there, but we should stay out ALL day and avoid going on the lake in the afternoon??”

Well….yes.

The good news is that there are plenty of pit toilets in the area, so you don’t need to be worried about facilities. The mountains are absolutely beautiful, as is the lake, so there are plenty of opportunities to take beautiful photos away from the other bubble hunters.

An arctic looking shot of the frozen Abraham Lake. Snow capped mountains rise above the far shore of the white-blue frozen lake. The near shore wraps from in front of the camera, around to the right side, jutting out in a point in the middle. The "beach" area is scattered with larger rocks and snow. The ice gathers along the edges of the shore and shines bright in the early morning light. The sun is hidden behind streaking white and grey clouds above the mountains. To the left side of the shot, part of a nearer mountain is black and pokes into the frame.

Drive to Lake Louise

We took the opportunity to visit Lake Louise for lunch! It is only an extra hour and 15 minutes driving from the far end of the lake. That might sound like a lot, but the drive along the famous Icefields Parkway alone is worth it!

This does enter Banff National Park, so you will need to buy a park pass at some point. Sometimes the booth on one side is closed, so you will pay whenever you drive through another one. Lake Louise will also be crazy at this time of year (when is it not?) but it’s a pretty easy way to check off a bucket list item, and see Lake Louise in the Winter.

A cloud partially obscures the sun above some intimidating blocky mountains. The mountains are white with snow, and slightly faded into the background as snow falls. In the foreground, skinny pine trees stand tall and dark against the mountains.

Part of the beautiful drive on the Icefields Parkway to Lake Louise

We had lunch at The Station in Lake Louise, which is a restaurant located in a historic railway station (no longer in use.)

 

Inside "The Station" restaurant, which is a historic railway stations building. A man with a beard sits across the table from the camera. He has a questioning face and holds a fork above his plate. Dishes are scattered on the table in between. His chair rests beside a wall on the left of frame that is covered in large framed photos. His black coat hangs on the chair behind him. The back wall is narrow wood planks, with 3 very tall windows. Below the windows is a bar. Between the man's table and the bar, an empty table and chairs sit in the middle of the room. The floor is original hardwood.
Lunch at “The Station” in the village of Lake Louise

 

Visit a Frozen Waterfall

If you don’t want to do the extra driving, nearby Crescent Falls is only about a 15 minute drive from Abraham Lake.

The actual waterfall is just a short hike from the parking lot. There are two or three viewing platforms above the falls with a decent view.

You will see that a lot of people risk it all to hike down to the bottom of the falls for a picture, which I thought was a legitimate hike until we got to it.

It is not.

Getting to the bottom of Crescent Falls is only possible via a steep icy hill with lots of warnings (that Jason still convinced me to try) and I wrecked my pants sliding partway down it. We quickly realized that we wouldn’t be able to get back up if we did make it to the bottom and settled for views from the top.

Hopefully knowing this saves you some time (and beloved Lululemons!)

 

A photo of Crescent Falls in Alberta. An impressive frosty aqua waterfall is frozen and covered in snow, stretching from the top wall of a rocky canyon to the frozen pool below. In the centre of the pool, below the water fall, an oval section of the water is not frozen and you can see the water flowing through it. The water is dark and blue. In the foreground to the top right, an evergreen tree pokes into the photo.
Crescent Falls – The water still flows behind the icy wall

 

You could also spend the afternoon looking for bubble spots and marking them for later when the lighting is better.

 

Best Photo Spots

Before we went I had dutifully saved a map of bubble locations from another blog. Unfortunately, it would seem that the bubbles move around from year to year and only one of the locations from that map had bubbles: Preacher’s Point.

 

An glacial looking ice feature at Preacher's Point on Abraham Lake. A man in black with a black hat stands facing slightly away from the camera looking off into the Rocky Mountains across the lake. Mountains jut out behind him as well. He stands on a sheet of aqua blue ice, approximately 2 feet thick. The ice abruptly ends above a snowy section that occupies the right side of the photo. The sun shines above him, obscured by a few white and grey clouds. The rest of the sky is blue.
An interesting ice feature at Preacher’s Point

 

Abraham Lake Ice Bubble Spot #1 – Preacher’s Point

Preacher’s Point is the most popular and easiest to access bubble spot. It will also come up on a Google map search, so no special marking required!

There seems to be bubbles at this spot every year. I think because it is quite shallow and weedy. If you remember, the “air” bubbles are actually methane created by decomposing plants under the water, so it makes sense that this happens here.

Preacher’s Point has a lot of really interesting ice patterns and you can see right to the bottom of Abraham Lake in most places. However because it’s so shallow, you won’t really get the dark turquoise photos that you are probably thinking of.

 

Blue-white ice bubbles from above at Preacher's point. The ice is crystal clear and you can see to the bottom of the lake. The sun casts tiny rainbows onto a few of the bubbles in the ice. A small patch of snow pokes into the left side of the photo.
The sun makes a rainbow on the lighter ice bubbles in the shallows of Preacher’s Point

 

At Preacher’s Point we saw the most diversity in ice! Big sheets, ice frozen in waves, ripples, bubbles, and geometric patterns. It is also where most people gathered in the afternoon. Some even came to skate!

 

Ice Bubble Spot #2

For the deeper water where you can see the beautiful dark blue/green ice with white bubbles, we found a spot by paying attention to where the early birds were. The second day we went to the same spot and were totally alone out there.

 

A woman in a brown coat sits on a frozen blue-green lake. Air bubbles are bright white frozen into the ice all over. She is facing away from the camera and looking towards mountains in the background. Her light brown hair is in a messy bun.

 

Here is the spot we had luck with:

 

Necessary Gear for Viewing Ice Bubbles

 

Did you notice that my top secret ice bubble spot is near “Windy Point?”

That’s no joke!

Abraham Lake is pretty much always windy. Lucky for us it was an unseasonably warm weekend, so the gale force winds and ice being pelted at us didn’t do any serious damage.

I did actually start blowing away when I was kneeling on the ice for pictures! It’s unfortunate, but if you are out there on a day that is really cold, you might not be able to get the pictures you want if you don’t gear up. In those high winds frostbite would not take long.

 

The gusty winds blow snow and ice wisps across the dark blue-green ice. Bright white bubbles are frozen in the ice in the foreground. In the faded background, a large patch of snow sits on the ice, with snow swirling around it.
Ice and snow blowing across the frozen lake

 

You will need:

  • Gloves that are touch screen compatible for your phone
  • Hat or hood 
  • Good winter jacket

Possibly something to cover your face

You should also dress in layers so that you can comfortably lay or kneel on the ice to get the best angles.

I don’t own snow pants (ridiculous, I know) so I wore leggings under jeans and was okay on the ice, but again, it was only about 0 degrees C.

 

A focused shot of a crystal clear piece of ice, shaped like a large gem, shining in the sun on top of the snowy and pebbly ground. The frozen ground fades into the background and shines in the sun, stretching to the out of focus mountains. The sky is blue with fluffy white and grey clouds.
Abraham lake is full of beautiful icy surprises

 

I have never had a problem with my phone dying in the cold before, but it happened here the very first time we went on the ice in the wind.

If we were to go back, I would bring a hand warmer for my pocket. Instead I had to give my phone to Jason to warm up in his inside pocket between shots! Just in case, I would also bring a power bank next time.

If you are bringing a real camera you will want to bring extra batteries.

 

One more thing that you will absolutely need, is ice cleats!

We packed cleats for the hike to Crescent Falls, not realizing how difficult it would be to get down to Abraham Lake in the good photo spots. Thanks goodness we brought them! I just had little ones and Jason still needed to help me around, so you want something with actual teeth like he brought. Similar to these.

 

A tall man with a beard, wearing jeans and a black jacket with the hood pulled up, peers into the distance. The chains of his ice cleats are visible over the toes of his boots. He stands on a bubbly sheet of ice that covers a hill. A snowy mountain with small evergreen trees in front of it, stands in the background against a pale blue sky.
My smug husband in his industrial grade ice cleats

 

Ice safety

Another good reason to check out where the locals and serious photographers are, is for safety. Nothing like having someone else test the ice!

Abraham Lake is a very strange lake, in that a lot of rivers and streams flow into it, and even when the lake is frozen, the river still flows around the edges in some spots!

We were shocked to see open moving water near the shore when the ice is clearly FEET thick just a short distance away. Be very careful around the shoreline to walk where you are SURE that it is safe. 

With the ice being as thick as it is in most places, you are unlikely to fall through, but in the cold and wind you do NOT want to get wet!

 

A far away shot of the lake, across from a mountain range, taken from a grassy slope, the edge of which is visible on the whole left side of the photo. A white arrow points to a circle highlighting two dark patches in the ice. Text reads "open water" in the foreground a piece of the photo is enhanced and zoomed in to illustrate that the dark patches are a river, still flowing, with frozen lake all around it.
You can see that the darker patches in this photo are spots where the river still flows

 

There is no cell service out at the lake, so take any and all sensible precautions to not do anything dangerous. I also would not go alone for the same reason.

 

A crystal clear, pale blue section of ice with river rocks on the bottom beneath. The ice has many cracks and forms a wavy peak in the middle.
Another spot where the ice is not as thick. Here we could see the water moving underneath!

 

We had an amazing trip out to Abraham Lake!

Beyond the ice bubbles that we came for, we were amazed by ALL of the variations and patterns in the ice. Everything from bold cracks to delicate little geometric shapes. Even if you miss the clearest bubble season, there are still so many amazing things to see and photograph.

 

This stretch of the Rocky Mountains from Abraham Lake to Revelstoke, BC is actually my favourite! In the summer it is just full of breathtaking glacier-fed lakes and mountains, right beside the road! If you have an opportunity to visit in the warmer seasons, it is well worth it.

 

Pinterest Pin: Bold text reads "Abraham Lake Ice Bubbles." A closeup of bright white ice bubbles, springing up from the green-blue water of Abraham Lake. Frosty cracks are scattered in the foreground. A large white bubble in the middle is perfectly in focus.
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