If you are planning, or have planned, a trip to the Canadian Rocky Mountains, you probably automatically think of visiting Banff National Park and Jasper National Park…which you should. You’ll probably start in Banff, hit up Lake Louise then drive up Highway 93, the Icefields Parkway, up to Jasper through the Columbia Icefield (or the opposite way ending in Banff). It’s one of the most gorgeous road trips in the world (more about it in the next blog post!). Along the route, between Lake Louise and Jasper National Park, there’s an intersection called the Saskatchewan River Crossing. This is the junction between the Icefields Parkway (Hwy 93) and Highway 11, also known as the David Thompson Highway. Most people drive straight through and onward to Jasper but I want to tell you about a detour that’s well worth the extra time!!
It’s called Abraham Lake. It’s about 30 kilometers down Highway 11 and will only take you an extra 45 minutes to an hour to drive there and back and continue on! You could also easily do this as a day trip from Banff if you so desired. The highway is well maintained in the winter and is along the Kootenay Plains Ecological Reserve. The best time to visit here is in the winter time. Why? Bubbles!!
I’m telling you…this is one of the coolest places I’ve ever seen. Where do these bubbles come from!? They come from methane gas! It’s actually a man-made lake that is fed by the North Saskatchewan River. These pearl-like frozen bubbles form under the ice on the lake’s surface. It’s an incredible phenomenon that results from decaying plants on the lake bed releasing methane gas. It’s literally the result of bacteria farting!! Methane is usually super flammable but if it’s trapped under ice, it will create these bubbles that are suspended in animation just below the surface as the lake begins to freeze. “The visual effects formed by the resulting stacks of bubbles, frozen while rising toward the surface, combined with the clear blue water, have made Abraham Lake a popular destination for photographers and nature observers” (Wikipedia). It’s a winter wonderland surrounded by mountains along with fascinating features that you can’t get enough of.
The best time to visit Abraham Lake is in the winter in January, February or March. It’s best when the ice is completely solidified and the colder it is, the better the bubbles will be. Chinooks, or warm temperature fluctuating winds, can affect the freezing of the ice and cause it to become opaque. It’s often VERY windy out here and very cold as well. These frigid blasts create a crystal clear top layer of the ice while it’s forming which helps give the best visual of the methane bubbles. Not only are there bubbles forming everywhere, but there are also huge cracks in the ice all throughout the lake. The methane is trying to escape to the surface before it gets trapped which results in a magical uneven surface. I think it’s SO neat!
The drive itself to Abraham Lake is gorgeous enough to make it worth the drive. We went on New Year’s Day and we were lucky to have a beautiful clear day with mild winds. The highway was snow covered but we passed a snow plow on our way back to Jasper so by afternoon it for sure would have been a better drive. I honestly don’t think we passed any other vehicles; the highway was so dead!
We stopped at a place called Preacher’s Point which is the closest part of the lake to the highway. It was a rough little drive in 4×4 in the truck to get through all the snow and then we walked down the steep hill to stand on top of the lake. There were 2 other couples and a dog far out on the ice. It was so cool to walk around and see all of the bubbles and cracks in the ice. We took a bunch of pictures then drove a bit farther up the highway to an area that had a couple of cars parked at. Here, someone had cleared a large patch of snow off the ice so you could get a really good look at the ice.
It’s absolutely breathtaking!! I think it took us a total of 1.5 hours to go there and back and take pictures and walk around. We then continued along the Icefields Parkway up to Jasper which will be in the next post! If you are travelling to Banff National Park in the winter, I highly recommend you add this as a stop in your travels. It’s something that pictures can’t do justice and you have to experience for yourself.
Thanks for reading!