Lake Athabasca, Canada

Lake Athabasca (French: lac Athabasca) is located at 59° N, in the Canadian provinces Saskatchewan and Alberta. 74% of the lake is in the former province, and 26% in the latter. The lakebed formed as a result of glacial erosion, and sits on old precambrian rocks on the Laurentian Plateau.

Lake Athabasca Stats

Lake NameLake Athabasca
Surface area7528.730
Maximum depth124.0
Average depth20.6
Lake typeGlacial
Catchment area291489.30
InflowsAthabasca River, William River, MacFarlane River, Colin River, Fond du Lac River
OutflowsRivière des Rochers to the Slave and Peace rivers
Shore length2540.35
SettlementsFort Chipewyan, Uranium City, Camsell Portage, Fond du Lac
Residence time1503.8
FrozenOctober to June
Average discharge1196.006
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The lake was discovered in 1771 by the English explorer Samuel Hearne and was initially called Lake of the Hills. This was changed 7 years later, in 1778, into Athabasca, which means "where there are plants one after another" in the Cree language. The name of the homonymous river was recorded for the first time in 1790 by Peter Fidler as the Great Arabuska. Peter Fidler, a surveyor for the Hudson’s Bay Comany also gave the name to Fidler Point, on the lake’s North shore. By 1820, the lake was already referred to as Athabasca by George Simpson.

Gold fields around the lake have always been a mirage, which also led to the development of several settlements on the northern shore between 1934 and 1942. Two of these settlements have pretty suggestive names: Eldorado and Goldfields. However, the area soon changed its profile, when in 1953 highly concentrated Uranium was discovered. So, another settlement called… Uranium City sprung up. Even though the last mine was closed in 1980, the northern shore was heavily contaminated by mining activities, and the effects can still be felt today. There is also a large oil sands mining operation nearby, which is suspected to have increased the pollution levels in the lake.

Geography and Hydrology

Athabasca is also the name of the river that flows into the western part of the lake, which boasts a basin 152,000 sq km in area and a length of 1321 kilometers. The lake is also fed by the Peace River. The lake’s waters flow northward into the Great Slave Lake through Slave River and the Mackenzie River systems, and it eventually reaches the Arctic Ocean. Its surface area of 7,850 square kilometers and maximum depth of 124 meters make it the largest and deepest lake in both Alberta and Saskatchewan provinces. It is also the 8th largest lake in Canada.

The North shore is rugged and is comprised of crystalline Archean rocks. The southern shore has great beaches and sand dunes that are derived from the Athabasca basin.

One of the oldest European settlements in Alberta, Fort Chipewyan, is found on the West side of the lake. This is also the place where the Rivière des Rochers begins its northward journey along the boundary of the Wood Buffalo National Park, Canada’s largest national park. Near the community of Fond du Lac, the lake is only about 1 kilometer wide at its eastern section. Its most easterly point is the also the mouth of the Fond du Lac River.

The eastern section of the lake narrows to a width of about 1 km (.6 miles) near the community of Fond du Lac located on the northern shore then continues to its most easterly point at the mouth of the Fond du Lac River. Lake Athabasca is a remnant of the vast Lake McConnell, along with lakes such as the Great Slave Lake and the Great Bear Lake.

The largest active sand dunes formation North of 58° is adjacent to the lake. The dunes run for around 97 kilometers and are in some spots 31 meters high. The Lake Athabasca Sand Dunes have been designated a "Provincial Wilderness Park" since 1992.


Here are the tributaries of Lake Athabasca: Fond du Lac River (277 km), Otherside River, Helmer Creek, MacFarlane River, Archibald River, William River, Ennuyeuse Creek, Dumville Creek, Debussac Creek, Jackfish Creek, Claussen Creek, Old Fort River, Crown Creek, Athabasca River (1,231 km), Colin River, Oldman River (363 km), Bulyea River, Grease River and Robillard River.


Lake Athabasca hosts 23 species of fish, among which: lake trout, walleye, northern pike goldeye, yellow perch, cisco, lake whitefish, burbot, arctic grayling, longnose sucher, white sucker, etc. The world record lake trout was caught here in 1961, with a weight of 46.3 kg.

The lake is part of the Peace-Athabasca Delta, a biologically diverse wetland the size of Prince Edward Island, which is an important migration point for various bird species such as the whistling swan, the whopping crane, various geese and ducks, etc.


The lake is well-known for great fishing.

Lake Athabasca Map