When my son showed me photos of frozen ice bubbles trapped in Abraham Lake in Alberta Canada, I was ready to hop on a plane. I had never seen anything like it and it was just one of those things I NEEDED to see in person! Definitely a bucket list adventure that is so unique! But, the idea of going to Canada in the dead of winter wasn’t very appealing to this California girl who can’t drive in weather other than sun. Since the only time you can see the Abraham Lake frozen bubbles is in winter, we boarded a plane and took our chances.
Why Do Abraham Lake Ice Bubbles Exist?
The incredible looking ice is a polished window to trapped frozen methane bubbles. The decaying plants below the surface, release the methane gas that is normally invisible but in winter, the bubbles get trapped in the ice. The result is absolutely beautiful and almost hard to believe when you are walking on the frozen lake.
How to Get to Abraham Lake Alberta
Abraham Lake is located on the North Saskatchewan River in the Canadian Rockies in Clearwater County, Alberta. It’s a remote area that is located approximately 2 hours from Banff, just outside the Banff National Park boundary. It was our #1 of Top Things to Do in Banff in Winter. You can just do the visit on a day trip.
From Banff or Lake Louise
Take the AB 93 exit toward Jasper/Rocky Mountain House for 76 km. Turn right onto AB 11 East for 32 km. Make a right into Preachers Point. It’s hard to see so drive slowly and look for other cars. The turn off is just past where everyone parks. Set Google Maps to Preachers Point for guided navigation.
12 Tips For Visiting Abraham Lake Frozen Bubbles
There are some unique attributes about Abraham Lake Alberta in Winter. It’s one of those places where you need to know the scoop ahead of time to find the frozen ice bubbles.
1. Check ahead to see if snow has accumulated on the ice
The best time of year to see the bubbles is late December to February. The lake needs to be frozen without snow collecting on top of it or you won’t be able to see it. My hot tip is to use Instagram to check the current conditions. Look up #abrahamlake, click recent and look for photos were taken the same day. Ask about the conditions in the comments. Most people will respond.
We almost didn’t get to go because the ice was covered in snow for our whole trip to Banff. On our last night, I found some people on Instagram that were able to confirm the wind had carried away the snow. We woke up at 4am, headed there for sunrise and voila – best bucket list moment ever!
2. The Best View Spots for Abraham Lake Ice Bubbles are Preachers Point and Windy Point
Preacher’s Point is the closest spot to Icefields Parkway and the first photography location you’ll get to on David Thompsons Highway (AB 11). Windy Point is 23 km towards Nordegg and has a terrific view of Mt. Mitchner. At both of these locations, you have a great chance of seeing the bubbles.
3. Other Ice Bubble Viewpoints Around Abraham Lake
- Cline’s Landing
- Belly of Abraham Shoreline
- The area between Hoodoo Creek and David Thompsons Resort
4. If You Go for Sunrise, Arrive 30 Minutes Ahead of Time
Photographers come from all over the world to Alberta to take sunrise and sunset photos at Abraham Lake. If you want to do the same, make sure you get there at least 30 minutes before sunrise happens. You need time to walk out on the ice and set up. Sunrise and sunset are the beautiful times here for landscape photography but it’ll mean driving in the dark. If it’s too much for you, you can still take great photos during the day.
5. Take Safe Driving Precautions Seriously – This is Canada in Winter
Check road conditions before you head out. Make sure your car has AWD and winter tires. Visit with a full tank of gas. You can also refuel in Nordegg. You don’t want to get stuck in a Canadian winter. The roads to get to Abraham Lake are not big Alberta highways. Set your GPS before you go. A lot of the area doesn’t get cell reception. You should be able to get cell service at the Windy Point parking lot.
6. Bring Some Photo Equipment to Improve Your Photos
Whether you are into landscape photography or not, you will want to take killer photos when you’re there. A tripod is especially helpful if you are shivering and need something to steady your photos. If the tripod is heavy or has spikes, it’s better so it doesn’t blow away. If you plan to video, bring a microphone to cut down on the wind noise. You can check out our Banff video here.
7. Make Sure The Ice is Solid Before You Walk Out
Safety at Abraham Lake is a real concern. You need to make sure the ice has frozen solid before you walk out on it. You are ideally looking for ice that’s 1 foot thick for safety and the best frozen bubbles pictures. If you see moving water underneath, the conditions aren’t right. If you are going at the beginning of Winter or Spring, exercise extreme caution and watch out for snowy patches that could be hiding thin ice.
8. Bring Ice Cleats
Not only is the ice slippery, getting on it without ice cleats is very difficult. At the edges, the ice has ripples and is buckled. It is also a downhill walk to get on the ice. Let’s just say it took me longer to get on the flat part of the ice than anything else 😂 It was one of those moments where you look like an idiot because you are stepping very carefully knowing that you are about to get seriously hurt but to everyone else you look like someone new to walking.
RELATED POST: TOP THINGS TO DO IN BANFF IN WINTER
9. Wear Clothing Rated for Extreme Cold
The cold that you will probably experience out on the ice is real. I was wearing a California type of winter jacket – so stupid, I know! I was also wearing jeans, no base layer, and Hunter rain boots (thankfully with a fleece liner inside). Basically I was the poster child for how not to dress.
You need a coat that’s rated to go below 0 degrees Fahrenheit. Wear boots that are lined. Definitely bring really warm gloves. If you really plan to stay out on the ice at sunrise, sunset or astro photography, wear ski pants and a base layer. If you’re just snapping some Instagram photos during the daytime, your pants are not as much of a concern.
10. Bring Hand Warmers
Even if you think you’ll be warm enough, bring hand warmers. They were the saving grace of the whole trip. I bought a 20 Pair Hand Warmer value pack and put them in my gloves and boots. It’s such an inexpensive item that’s a lifesaver! You can also use hand warmers near your camera batteries so they function properly.
11. Consider Taking a Winter Photography Workshops
We booked a photo guide and the conditions were bad so we had to cancel. When we found out the wind had picked up and cleared the ice, we decided to go on our own. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the proper gear and we were too cold to spend more than an hour at Abraham Lake. My son was literally shaking, which is not unusual here. If we had been better prepared with our gear, we could have stayed longer for more interesting photos.
12. Stay Overnight if you Want Extra Time or are Worried About Driving
Gear You Need to See Abraham Lake Ice Bubbles
You will need some gear for this visit. It is very slippery and can be extremely cold. Whatever it says the temperature is outside, knock off at least 10 degrees for wind chill. The windy conditions can also blow your camera around. When you take photos, your gloves will probably come on and off and leave your hands almost frozen. I’m not trying to scare you but trying to prepare you. Bring the right gear. If the cold is too much, go in the middle of the day.
- Ice cleats – There are a variety of quality levels but these are good quality at a decent price on Amazon. You need ice cleats or you will slip. It’s also very hard to get onto the lake without them because the edges are frozen ripples and hard to navigate.
- High Quality winter gloves – If you have ski or snowboard gloves, they should be fine. Driving gloves or mittens won’t cut it.
- Hand Warmers – I used these in my gloves and shoes. They’re inexpensive and a total lifesaver in cold weather.
- Fleece Lined beanie or warm hat.
- A high quality parka for women or Men’s Parka for Extreme Cold and waterproof snowboard or ski pants. My favorite dream parka here. An affordable excellent choice here.
- Face Mask – If you are a photographer out there for hours this face mask is inexpensive and you’ll be glad you have it.
Where to Stay Near Abraham Lake Alberta
We stayed in Lake Louise and I would assume most people do the same. You can visit Abraham Lake as a day trip. The drive is 1.5 hours and the lodgings in Lake Louise are so much nicer. There’s also more to do around Lake Louise. The main reason you would opt to stay at Abraham Lake is that you want to do sunrise, sunset or astrophotography.
- Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise – The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise is a great hotel and it has plenty of activities right on site. The rooms are spacious and comfortable. The staff was wonderful. The views are incredible. For such a big hotel, they really do a great job.
- Lake Louise Inn – A good lower price accommodation. One of our nights was already booked at the Fairmont so we stayed here and it was a pleasant surprise. It’s very clean and the restaurant is great. Book their newly remodeled rooms. The older rooms have bad reviews online.
- Aurum Lodge – The nicest place to stay at Abraham Lake but expensive for what it is. Still, it’s clean, has nice views, well located and the owner has great ice bubble photography tips.
- H1 Rampart Creek Hostel – Very basic hostel lodging with bunk beds that people say is very clean.
- H1 Nordegg – Another hostel
- David Thompson Resort – I hesitate including this place because the reviews but in a pinch, you might be glad to know about it. The also have a campsite.
Abraham Lake Frozen Ice Bubble Hunting is Awesome!
Visiting Abraham Lake and seeing the frozen ice bubbles is something we will never forget. It’s such a bucket list experience and even though it was so cold, it was the coolest adventure. We hope you get a chance to go see them. Please let us know if you have any questions in the comments. Check out other fun Things to Do in Banff in Winter. Most people go to Banff in summer with a zillion tourists and don’t realize how much they’re missing in winter.
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dunnNovember 1, 2020 at 11:51 am
thank you so much for sharing!!! its 5 AM Alberta time heading out now 🙂
MP AllegaertJanuary 12, 2020 at 11:03 pm
Always love your travel tips, Jenifer! And the Banff video is awesome. Keep the adventures coming in 2020.
JeniferJanuary 13, 2020 at 2:59 am
I’m so glad you liked the video. We’re trying to add more video so people can tell what it’s like to be there.
JenniferJanuary 9, 2020 at 2:00 pm
Those bubbles are so cool!
JeniferJanuary 9, 2020 at 5:22 pm
I know, right!!