Abraham Lake, Alberta, Canada

Lake Locations:

Canada - Alberta -

Also known as:  Lake Abraham

Abraham Lake is Alberta’s largest reservoir, gracing the Kootenay Plains area of the Canadian Rockies’ front range. The reservoir, created by damming the North Saskatchewan River in western Alberta, stores spring run-off for later use in hydroelectric generation. Because the rapidly-changing lake levels aren’t conducive to major water-based recreational purposes, there is little development along the lake. Instead, recreation around Abraham Lake is focused on ecology, nature trails and outdoor activities. The lake was created in 1972 when the dam was constructed by the former Calgary Power Company, now TransAlta. A contest to name the resulting lake ended in the selection of the name in honor of Silas Abraham, an early inhabitant of the Saskatchewan River Valley.

Abraham Lake is in view for over 15 miles along scenic David Thompson Highway, or Hwy 11, that runs between Rocky Mountain House and Banff and Jasper National Parks. The climate and ecology of the Kootenay Plains is quite different from that of much of the surrounding area. Because the Plains are directly east of the high peaks of the Rockies, this area gets very little rainfall most of the year. The area is sheltered from much of the more extreme weather conditions existing in the mountains, and the temperature tends to remain warmer with less snow many years. The water of Abraham Lake is the milky blue seen in most glacial lakes due to rock flour carried down the river from the glaciers above during the spring melt. Steep cliffs line much of the long narrow lake, with hardly more room along the western shoreline than is needed for Hwy 11. A few businesses exist here, including the Cline River Heliport, but most of the land is public, open to exploring. The vivid blue lake against the backdrop of the nearby mountains offers a varied and awe-inspiring view from every perspective and is a favorite of photographers.

Fishing is possible here, although there is no official boat launch. Several areas along the shoreline provide ample areas to launch smaller boats, and the shoreline near the dam is often considered one of the best spots for fishing. The lake holds an abundance of brook trout, cutthroat trout and sunfish. Rocky underwater ledges and uneven terrain hide the bigger fish and make anglers work for their dinner. Below the dam, the Saskatchewan River holds sucker, rainbow trout and char. Much of the narrow shoreline is accessible to fishing from the bank, and numerous inlets offer the best fly fishing. All anglers over age 16 must obtain a fishing license from Alberta Fish and Wildlife which are sold in most sporting goods stores and at many resorts in the area. Local fishermen warn against attempting to ice fish on Abraham Lake, as rapid draw-downs for hydro production often leave the ice suspended many feet above the water-a very unstable situation.

In recent years, Abraham Lake has become a popular destination for nature observers and photographers each winter due to an unusual natural phenomenon which becomes evident after ice forms. Because this area receives little snow, the lake ice is clear and offers great visibility. The blue hue also remains in the ice. A large number of methane bubbles released by plant life on the bed of the lake become frozen in suspended animation within the ice upon rising toward the surface. This results in unusual abstract ‘stacks’ of successive frozen bubbles. The water level changes create unique cracks, ridges and patterns within the ice each winter, making it an attractive photographic subject- but quite dangerous for the inexperienced to venture out upon. A local guide is suggested for safety.

Abraham Lake is a challenge among expert kite-boarders; the nearly constant wind down the length of the lake allows them to gain considerable reach and speed. These athletes warn that this is definitely dry-suit water, as the water is always cold. Most have someone with a personal watercraft nearby, because having to swim to shore would be unpleasant if not impossible in the low-temperature water.

Nearly the entire lakeshore is public land in one of several divisions. The far southern end of the lake is a part of Kootenay Plains Provincial Recreation Area. No motorized vehicles are allowed on the trails within this area, and some areas are completely off-limits for ecological reasons. Farther north along the eastern shore, Bighorn Dam Area is part of the Bighorn Backcountry Recreation Area. A small section along the eastern shoreline is encompassed within the Douglas Fir Natural Area. The rest of the eastern shoreline and a considerable amount of adjacent land is a network of hiking trails with selected areas open to ATVs, horseback riding and cycling. Primitive camping is allowed in some of the areas, with a loosely-organized camping area near the dam providing pit toilets and drinking water. Both the Bighorn Dam Visitors Center and an information kiosk provide maps and regulations for each area. A popular trail leading from the dam leads hikers to scenic Tershishner Falls. One area near the north edge of the lake is First Nations Reserve land. This is not public property and is not open to the casual hiker, although permission can be obtained for arranged visits.

Several resort lodges are located near the lake and offer all types of outdoor recreation to their guests. Some specialize in horseback trail riding, pack trips, hunting or fishing trips, helicopter tours, canoeing, rock climbing and tours of the national parks nearby. Guided hunting for black bear, bighorn sheep or mountain goat can be arranged. One local bed-and-breakfast overlooking Abraham Lake specializes in eco-tourism and leads photography tours combined with classes. Other lodges in the area offer guided fishing on Abraham Lake and other trout waters nearby. The closest town, a few miles east along Hwy 11, is the old-new town of Nordegg. The town was originally built in the early 1900s as a mining town to house coal miners at the local Brazeau Collieries Mine. The mine closed in the 1950s, and the town nearly became a ghost town until efforts were raised to restore it as a tourism center. Nordegg boasts one of the first golf courses in Alberta, a nine-hole course first laid out in 1916 and recently refurbished to welcome golfers again.

When faced with having the old mine fixtures torn down for reclamation, the Nordegg Historical Society was formed to save the historic edifice from destruction. The Brazeau Collieries Mine Site and the Nordegg Heritage Museum were created. Now guided tours into the mine and a museum of historic coal mining memorabilia offer visitors an interesting look at the lives of the coal miners early in the last century. Nordegg serves as unofficial gateway to Abraham Lake. Several outfitters, lodges, hostels and guest cottages are located near Nordegg and mark the starting point for numerous hiking and mountain biking trails into the surrounding area. Festivals and events such as the Canadian Rockies Cowboy Festival and the Canadian Rockies Bluegrass Festival draw more visitors each year. Nordegg has become one of the growing vacation communities east of the Rockies.

Real estate is still available. The allure of lovely mountain views, many small lakes and ponds, lots of hiking trails, ample cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, and the ease of access on Hwy 11 all serve to make Nordegg one of western Alberta’s best-kept secrets. Only two-and-a-half hours from Red Deer and four hours from both Calgary and Edmonton, Abraham Lake is an easy distance for a weekend escape or a longer vacation. Perhaps a visit to Abraham Lake and its scenic surroundings is in your future.

*TransAlta has not yet made other statistical information available.

Things to do at Abraham Lake

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Swimming
  • Canoeing
  • Golf
  • Camping
  • Hiking
  • Rock Climbing
  • Biking
  • Cross-Country Skiing
  • Snowmobiling
  • Horseback Riding
  • Hunting
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • National Park
  • Museum

Fish species found at Abraham Lake

  • Brook Trout
  • Char
  • Cutthroat Trout
  • Rainbow Trout
  • Sucker
  • Sunfish
  • Trout

Abraham Lake Photo Gallery

Abraham Lake Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Artificial Reservoir, Dammed

Water Level Control: TransAlta

Surface Area: 13,248 acres

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 4,400 feet

Completion Year: 1972

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Trophic State | LakeLubbers

Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


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Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


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Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


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Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


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Completion Year | LakeLubbers

This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

You can find many of the the world's newest reservoirs on LakeLubbers. Many of the world's oldest reservoirs appear on the last page of that list.


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Water Volume | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


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Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


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Average Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


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Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


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Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


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Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

You can find many of the world's highest-elevated lakes on LakeLubbers. Lakes with the lowest elevations (known by LakeLubbers) are shown on the final page of that list.


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Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


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Surface Area | LakeLubbers

This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


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Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

"Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


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Lake Type | LakeLubbers

There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

- A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

- A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

- A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

"Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


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