The most illustrious frozen methane bubbles in Canada are found along the Kootenay Plains of Alberta. Finding the world famous frozen ice bubbles on Abraham Lake is most definitely a winter bucket list item for many.
It’s a magical experience walking on clear blue ice overtop of layered frozen air pockets trapped in the ice.
Abraham Lake is the best spot to view these bubbles in Alberta – because it gets so windy here, the snow doesn’t usually stick to the ice (compared to other lakes in the rockies), creating a clear canvas for excited visitors.
But, Abraham Lake is a huge lake, clocking in around 32 kilometers (20 miles) long, so finding the bubbles takes some advanced planning.
We’ve visited this area a couple of times to view the bubbles, so here’s what you need to know and what you can expect (hint – it gets much colder than you think)!
Please read the guide in full, as there are many safety tips and things to consider before you head out. With this post I am not encouraging anyone to walk on frozen ice, but I know people are going to do it anyway, so this is for information only and to encourage visitors to recreate safely in the outdoors.
(This post contains affiliate links, including Airbnb, meaning if you click through and make a purchase I may make a small commission. I only share information about things I know, love and trust!)
How to Get to Abraham Lake
Abraham Lake is located along Highway 11, also known as the David Thompson Highway. It’s a very scenic road.
The lake is exactly 3.5 hours driving distance from either Edmonton or Calgary. No matter where you’re coming from, you basically need to head directly west from Red Deer, and you will reach one of the main viewpoints in a little over 2 hours.
The last town with services (a couple gas stations, restaurant and hotel) is Nordegg, which is about a 30 minute drive before you park for the bubbles.
If you’re planning to visit Jasper, it would also be fun to take the long way and stop off at Abraham.
Best Access Points for Viewing the Ice Bubbles
I recommend staying closer to the west end of the lake for the best access points. The ice is less stable the closer you get to the dam on the east end.
Google Maps now has most of the viewing points mapped out by name. I don’t recommend going out onto the ice anywhere between the start of the dam and the Windy Point marker.
Unfortunately you can’t view the ice bubbles on Abraham Lake from the shore or the side of the road. You do have to walk out onto the ice a bit further out. There are pockets of them all over the lake.
Many photos online make it look like they’re everywhere, but this is not the case. You do have to be a bit strategic.
Allstone Cove for Ice Formations
If you’re coming from east, the Allstone Cove and Allstone Lakes Trailhead is the first good viewpoint you’ll come across. This is a neat spot to hop out from the car and take a look down at the ice below you, but it’s too steep to hike down from here.
Hoodoo Creek Area
Next is from the Hoodoo Creek area to the google map pin called the Abraham Lake ice bubbles viewpoint. This is the Belly of Abraham, and you’ll likely notice a lot of people stop here to saunter out onto the ice.
Due to the uneven nature of ice, this lake is not good for ice skating, but some years we do get lucky – and if it’s a good year, then the Belly of Abraham is the best location.
Further south is Cline Landing where it’s much shallower and easy to access the lake. Although this comes with a higher chance of being snow covered.
Finally, Preacher’s point is at the far east end – one of the most popular areas to access the bubbles, so it does get crowded here.
If you happen to be visiting in the early stages of the lake freezing over, this is the best chance for fing bubbles.
To photograph the ice bubbles with the mountains in the background, sunrise and sunset are the best times. Otherwise midday is perfect for taking photos of the ice bubbles and to find pops of turquoise colored ice.
Lastly, if you’re not confident enough to brave the ice yourself, I highly recommend booking a guided ice bubbles tour with Pursuit Adventures who know this lake inside and out.
Safety and Tips for Visiting Abraham Lake in Winter
Be Ice Aware
The most important thing you need to know about visiting Abraham Lake in the winter is that the water levels fluctuate frequently, since this is a dammed reservoir and not technically a lake.
This is why you can expect to see massive ice heaves, ice waves, and even changes viewability of the ice bubbles.
When the water levels change underneath you, the water could be either right below the surface or several feet below the surface – meaning if you fall through the ice you could fall through several feet of air before hitting the water.
Dress Warmer Than You Think
Expect lots of wind!
When you do arrive at the lake, dress very warm before you head out. The glacier wind cuts through this valley and is very cold.
By this I mean you need a winter parka, a warm toque, scarf or neck warmer, thick mittens and warm winter boots. Layering is the best way to stay warm.
Ice Cleats and Boots
You will also have to carefully walk down a small bank to get access to the frozen lake, so you will have a much better time exploring if you have a set of ice cleats.
Not only is ice hard to walk on ice, but this lake has very uneven surfaces that creates ice heaves & chunks and frozen waves. While these natural phenomena are very fun to observe, they’re difficult to navigate without grip and traction.
If you feel safe enough to walk on the ice, remember that the bubbles to compromise the integrity of the ice around you. They are frozen pockets of air.
Therefore, when searching for bubbles, I recommend looking for small patches of small bubbles and avoid larger bubbles or entire areas that are covered in them.
Monitor the Road Conditions
Also check road conditions before you venture out. Since this is a remote location, there aren’t many services around, and you could encounter road closures due to avalanche control or motor vehicle accidents.
Make sure your vehicle has winter tires (all season are not enough) and a vehicle emergency kit.
Better yet, double check this road trip packing list to make sure you have everything you need.
Finally, make sure to pack a lunch or a bunch of snack since there aren’t many services nearby. This is not a developed area for tourism (yet).
Best time to Visit Abraham Lake in Winter
Abraham Lake is usually frozen by late December, and the perfect window for ice bubble season seems to be from mid-January to mid-February. Of course, this could change year to year.
We’ve had the best luck visiting early to mid-January a couple years in a row.
I would not advise visiting earlier in the winter season than this. After early to mid-February the ice starts to become too cloudy to see the bubbles.
Ideally, wait until there’s a cold snap of a week to ten days where the temperature is at least -15 Celsius or more.
Conversely, once the lake is frozen for some time, a warm spell can reverse the thick ice and create very dangerous conditions.
What Causes the Bubbles in Abraham Lake?
These ice bubbles or frozen air pockets are caused by tiny pieces of organic matter that sinks to the bottom of the lake. Slowly and over time, bacteria eat away at this decaying matter and this produces methane. When the timing is right, the methane bubbles can become trapped as the water freezes and becomes suspended in the ice.
If you’re making a special trip to visit the ice bubbles, I recommend planning to stay overnight in the area for at least a night or two.
The weather conditions here change almost hourly. So when you first arrive, the lake could be completely snow covered, but totally clear by the next morning if a big wind picks up.
Also, staying overnight allows you to view and capture this natural jewels in the best light (sunset and sunrise).
As an added bonus, by staying here, your hosts know everything about the current ice bubble conditions and can give you all kinds of tips about what else you can do in the area during your stay.
Plus, the suites have a kitchen to cook your own meals and they’re dog friendly.
Staying in and close to Nordegg is also a great option (the Miner’s cafe has the BEST pie). There are lots of great little cabins you can rent.
I love this secluded log cabin (pictured above) complete with a cast-iron wood stove.
And if these places are booked up, I invite you to check out the full list of my favorite cabin stays in Nordegg and around Abraham Lake.
>> You might also like: 16 Places for a Romantic Getaway in Alberta (unique and affordable ideas)
Winter Hiking Near Abraham Lake
The region you’re in is called David Thompson Country, and it’s a gorgeous area on the eastern slopes of the Canadian Rockies. There are some beautiful waterfalls and nice hiking trails here.
Cline River Canyon is a 3km (return) hike and is considered easy for most skill levels.
Crescent Falls are some of the most impressive falls not only in this area, but all of Alberta.
The hike to Siffleur Falls includes a fun suspension bridge and some majestic canyon views.
If you’re venturing out, make sure you’ve got all the day hike essentials (full packing list).
Other Places to Find Ice Bubbles in Alberta
Ice bubbles have been spotted on other lakes in Alberta, but this will change every year as temperature changes and the amount of snow is always different. These are some places closer to Banff in which ice bubbles have been spotted in the past:
- Lac Des Arcs near Exshaw
- Gap lake
- Vermilion Lake
- Spray Lake
Stay safe out there and have fun! Let me know if you find them!
If you’re up for a longer road trip, check out my guide to an off the beaten path winter road trip through the Canadian Rockies in Alberta and B.C.
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