Cold Lake, Alberta & Saskatchewan, Canada

Lake Locations:

Canada - Alberta - Saskatchewan -

Also known as:  Big Fish Lake (historical)

It’s hard to believe that a water body named Cold Lake would be a summer water sports paradise, but this large lake on the Alberta-Saskatchewan border is exactly that. Located 175 miles northeast of Edmonton, two-thirds of the lake lie in the province of Alberta, with the other third in Saskatchewan. The lake is accessible to summer water sports enthusiasts and to winter sports fans. The City of Cold Lake is a major destination for lake tourism. Both Alberta and Saskatchewan have provincial parks along the lake, protecting the majority of the shoreline. Two First Nations Reserves make other small portions unavailable to development, keeping the shoreline natural and in many areas accessible only by boat. One of the largest lakes in Alberta, Cold Lake is noted for the size of its lake trout, explaining the historical name of Big Fish Lake attached to it in times past. A record 52-pound trout was once caught here, and eager anglers have been trying ever since to match that catch.

Over 92,000 acres of water surface have made Cold Lake attractive to water lovers since the days when major trading companies had fur trading posts here. One sailing club still holds weekly races among its members; although most of their craft are larger keeled boats, they have a system of handicapping that gives even the smaller craft a fighting chance to win. Cold Lake is popular among power boaters, water skiers and tubers, along with sailboarders and wake-boarders. The marina at Cold Lake is the largest inland marina in western Canada and maintains 250 berths for overnight, weekly and monthly rentals. The marina offers fishing licenses, recreation equipment, boat rentals, fishing tackle, water skis and an excellent lakeside restaurant. It is here that visiting anglers arrange for fishing and power boat charters from local proprietors. The City of Cold Lake naturally becomes the home base for lake visitors.

Cold Lake is deep, reaching 325 feet. The depth allows for a large variety of fish to inhabit the water including walleye, sauger, yellow perch, northern pike, lake trout, lake whitefish, cisco, burbot, white sucker and longnose sucker. Ice fishing is popular during the winter. The large lake freezes completely, usually in December, and remains frozen until at least March. The ice fishermen are usually after the big lakers, although they can also catch perch, pike and other species. Fishing licenses from both Alberta and Saskatchewan are honored everywhere on the lake. Trophy pictures of family anglers with a huge lake trout adorn the den walls of many a regular Cold Lake ice angler. Several hotels and bed-and-breakfasts cater to these sportsmen year round. A handful of bed-and-breakfasts overlook the lakefront in the City of Cold Lake. The Cold Lake Municipal District is located on the lakeshore and provides alternate lodgings for those who enjoy camping close to nature. A swimming beach, picnic grounds, lookout platforms, drinking water and showers are all provided. Other camping and swimming areas are located within several areas of the Cold lake Provincial Park.

Both Cold Lake Provincial Park and Saskatchewan’s Meadow Lake Provincial Park have camping and picnicking on the lakeshore. Meadow Lake, however, offers only remote primitive camping at the lake, with full service camping areas in other areas of the large, popular park. Cold Lake Provincial Park encompasses several areas along the shoreline on the north, west and south sides of the big lake. These hold full-service campgrounds, swimming areas, fish cleaning stations, car-top boat launch, playgrounds, a dump station and many trails, both marked and unmarked. The area is considered ideal for bird watching with the trails providing access to marshes and forest stands. A full 11.5 kilometers of trails in the park cover a variety of terrain and provide excellent cross-country skiing, hiking and mountain biking opportunities.

Cold Lake comprises one end of the Iron Horse Trail. Built on a former railway easement, the Iron Horse has the distinction of being the longest continuous recreational trail in Alberta. The trail is open to motorized vehicles and connects to the Trans Canadian Snowmobile Trail-a popular winter sport here. Even limited downhill skiing is provided for in a small snow park located between the City of Cold Lake and the main section of the provincial park. Although the surrounding landscape is relatively flat, provisions have been made for beginning and intermediate downhill skiing, and lessons are available.

The City of Cold Lake is part of the municipal district of Bonnyville with two distinct sections: the part called North Cold Lake is on the lake itself, while South Cold Lake is a bit farther south along the Kingsway Highway. Between the two sections, every necessary service is provided for with hotels, shopping, golf courses and cultural venues. South Cold Lake has developed outside the gates of Canada’s busiest fighter pilot training base. A large international training event called Maple Flag brings allied and Canadian pilots to Cold Lake each spring and allows the larger community to view some of the world’s most sophisticated military equipment. The aerial displays are breathtaking. The 4 Wing base is an integral part of the Cold Lake community and provides the valuable expertise of trained military engineers and staff to community development projects.

Maple Flag is just one of the events that draws visitors to the Cold Lake area. The Agricultural Society produces a full season of rough stock events such as the Cold Lake Buck Off, Rodeo & Chuckwagon races and a Bull-a-rama, leaving no doubt that Cold Lake is truly a western community. In addition, Cold Lake offers a number of cultural activities that will please most visitors. The Cold Lake Museums are a series of four museums housing an Aboriginal Gallery, Heritage Gallery, Oil and Gas Gallery, and Air Force Museum which are all connected by a covered walkway. Several visual and performing arts groups produce exhibits and performances open to the public.

Located at the south end of the increasingly productive tar sands near Fort McMurray, Cold Lake is experiencing a booming energy production economy. Housing is becoming limited with oil production employees and visitors to 4 Wing. New condos and apartment complexes have been built to accommodate all of the new residents. Real estate is still available, but very little will be found directly along the lakeshore. A few private rentals are available on occasion but may take some effort to locate. The area is still very popular with birders, fishermen, snowmobilers, campers and boaters. There’s still plenty of open water and plenty of fish and fun for everyone. So, make time in your schedule for a visit to Cold Lake. Like so many others, you’ll fall in love with this vibrant community surrounded by unspoiled wilderness and acres upon acres of pristine water.

Things to do at Cold Lake

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Ice Fishing
  • Boating
  • Sailing
  • Swimming
  • Beach
  • Water Skiing
  • Golf
  • Camping
  • Campground
  • Picnicking
  • Hiking
  • Biking
  • Downhill Skiing
  • Cross-Country Skiing
  • Snowmobiling
  • Horseback Riding
  • Birding
  • Provincial Park
  • Museum
  • Playground
  • Shopping

Fish species found at Cold Lake

  • Burbot
  • Cisco
  • Lake Trout
  • Northern Pike
  • Perch
  • Pike
  • Sauger
  • Sucker
  • Trout
  • Walleye
  • Whitefish
  • Yellow Perch

Cold Lake Photo Gallery

Cold Lake Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Not Dammed

Surface Area: 92,160 acres

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 1,755 feet

Average Depth: 164 feet

Maximum Depth: 325 feet

Drainage Area: 2,371 sq. miles

Trophic State: Mesotrophic

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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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