Word is starting to get out – Abraham Lake camping and hiking adventures are some of the best in the Rocky Mountains. You can camp near this beautiful lake for free and enjoy lovely mountain scenery and wonderful hiking trails without paying the fees associated with entering a national park. Bighorn Backcountry, also known as David Thompson Country, is one of the prettiest places in Canada.
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About Abraham Lake and David Thompson Country
With a surface area of nearly 54 square kilometres, Abraham Lake is Alberta’s largest man-made reservoir. It lies east of Banff and Jasper National Parks in Bighorn Backcountry, also known as David Thompson Country. It is 145 kilometres southwest of Rocky Mountain House and about 60 kilometres southwest of Nordegg. Like other Rocky Mountain lakes, it has a beautiful blue color. The lake was created in 1972 when the Bighorn Dam was built. Highway 11, also known as the David Thompson Highway, runs through this area. Several free camping areas are located along the edge of Abraham Lake and there are other campgrounds nearby. There are also lovely trails for hiking throughout this region and plenty of other opportunities for recreation. Surrounded by mountains and filled with wildlife, this area is absolutely beautiful. Alberta’s Bighorn Backcountry is an area of public lands that includes more than 5,000 square kilometres (1.2 million acres) of land.
Related: Read our post Allstones Lake – Adventure in Bighorn Backcountry to learn more about another hiking and camping area close to Abraham Lake.
Who was David Thompson and Why is this Region Named for Him?
David Thompson has been called the greatest land geographer who ever lived. He was a British-Canadian fur trader, surveyor and mapmaker who was employed by the Hudson’s Bay Company beginning in 1784 and the North West Company starting in 1797. Over the course of his career, he traveled 90,000 kilometres across North America and mapped 4.9 million square kilometres along the way – including the region that surrounds Abraham Lake. David Thompson mapped much of Alberta and many places, structures and organizations in the province bear his name.
Alberta Public Lands Camping Pass – Crown Land Camping – New for 2021
As of June 1, 2021, a Public Lands Camping Pass is required to random camp on public land along the Eastern Slopes of the Rocky Mountains from Grande Prairie to Waterton Lakes National Park. This includes the area around Abraham Lake. The fee is $20 for a 3-day pass or $30 for an annual pass. It applies to campers over the age of 18. There are some exemptions for Indigenous people, low income individuals and others. The Alberta government says the funds raised from the pass will be reinvested in the region to improve recreation experiences and help conserve these beautiful landscapes. Visit the Public Lands Camping Pass website for more details.
Random Camping at Abraham Lake
There are several camping areas along the edge of Abraham Lake where you can camp without a permit or the associated fees. Some of these areas have pit toilets, but there are no other facilities. There is also no cell signal or Wi-Fi in this area. One popular camping area can be found at the well-signed Preacher’s Point staging area. You’ll have almost no amenities when you’re random camping, but you’ll also get the opportunity to camp in a beautiful place for free. Preacher’s Point is easy to access and the access road is reasonably good. You’ll also find several other primitive camping spots along Abraham Lake. The dirt roads leading into these sites can be a little rough and pitted. Travel very slowly.
Tips for Random Camping at Abraham Lake
It should be noted that during the COVID pandemic, bathrooms are not being maintained and could even be closed. It’s a good idea to bring your own portable toilet. Bring your own toilet paper and hand sanitizer if you plan to use the public bathrooms. You should also bring your own drinking water. This camping area is incredibly popular in the summer months and you’ll want to arrive early to get one of the best spots. It can be windy in some sites right beside Abraham Lake. Look for a spot that provides a little shelter. You should familiarize yourself with the government regulations and information about random camping in Alberta before you go.
What is a Non-Serviced Recreation Site?
The camping areas surrounding Abraham Lake are classified as non-serviced recreation sites. This means there is no one hired to come in and pick up garbage and toilets are not maintained very often. Make sure you pack out everything you bring in and leave no trace of your visit behind. We try to carry out our own garbage as well as any additional garbage we find. People who leave garbage behind create a hazard for the environment and for wildlife. Abuse of these areas could lead to the end of free camping and recreation for everyone.
Nearby Campgrounds and Accommodations
There are a number of other campgrounds in this area that are regularly maintained and offer more amenities. Alberta Parks operates the Kootenay Plains Provincial Recreation Area, which is located one kilometre north of the Siffleur Falls staging area. Two O’Clock Creek campground has 20 unserviced campsites and six walk-in tent sites. There is a Cavalcade Group Camp for group camping. There are pit toilets, a water pump (you should boil the water before drinking it), a picnic table at each site, firewood and some sites also have access to picnic shelters. David Thompson Resort also has a campground with coin operated showers, flush toilets, an onsite restaurant, laundry, Wi-Fi and more. They also rent RV units and there is an onsite hotel. You could also check out Aurum Lodge or HI Nordegg Hostel if you prefer to sleep in a bed.
Need a Little Comfort with Your Camping? Read our post about How to go Glamping in Alberta.
Kootenay Plains Ecological Reserve is a Sacred Place
Alberta Parks campgrounds and facilities are located in the Kootenay Plains Ecological Reserve. This area near Abraham Lake has been an important hunting and trading area for Indigenous people for thousands of years. Archaeologists have found the remains of camps that date back 5,000 years in this area. You may see sun dance ceremonial sites and sweat lodges as you hike near the Kooteney Plains and in other areas in Bighorn Backcountry. These religious sites should be respected and allowed to return to nature.
Best Hikes Near Abraham Lake
There are so many good hiking trails in Bighorn Backcountry! Some of my family’s favorite hikes include Siffleur Falls, Allstones Lake, Allstones Creek, Crescent Falls, and Landslide Lake Interpretive Fire Trail. Other popular trails include Landslide Lake Trail, Kinglet Lake (Tuff Puff), BATUS Canyon and Glacier Trail. BATUS Canyon is also popular with rock climbers. Check out the links above to find more details about some of these hikes. In our experience, Alberta Parks staff at the Two O’Clock Creek campground and the group camping area are a wonderful resource for information on local trails. There are also several books on the topic – including the one below.
Abraham Lake Hiking Tips
Some of the trails near Abraham Lake are challenging and hiking poles can be helpful. Take plenty of water. Be prepared for all kinds of weather – especially if you’re hiking to a high elevation. Good hiking boots can also make a huge difference when it comes to your comfort level.
More Great Hiking Trails in David Thompson Country: Read our post, Crescent Falls Hike – Family Fun in Summer and Winter.