Pine Lake

Basic Info
Map Sheets83A/3, 4
Lat / Long52.0666667, -113.4500000
52°4'N, 113°27'W
Area3.89 km2
Max depth12.2 m
Mean depth5.3 m
Dr. Basin Area150 km2
Dam, WeirNone
Drainage BasinRed Deer River Basin
Camp GroundPresent
Boat LaunchPresent
Sport FishNorthern Pike, Walleye, Yellow Perch
Trophic StatusEutrophic
TP x56 µg/L
CHLORO x18.8 µg/L
TDS x475 mg/L
Photo credit: unknown


Pine Lake is a long, narrow lake set in an attractively wooded valley 35 km southeast of the city of Red Deer. Its location midway between the cities of Calgary and Edmonton makes it a very popular destination for recreational users throughout the summer and for ice fishing in the winter. To reach Pine Lake from Red Deer, take Highway 2 south for 8 km, then turn east on Highway 42 and drive for about 25 km to the north end of the lake (FIGURE 1).

The name "Pine Lake" recalls a very colourful chapter in Alberta's history. In about 1830, Blackfoot Indians raided a sleeping band of Cree Indians on the east shore of the lake and killed every man, woman and child in the camp. Only one Cree warrior survived, having been away hunting at the time. This lone man painted his face black in mourning, then set out to avenge his family and comrades. Stealthily creeping into camp at night or ambushing individuals, he managed to kill and scalp many of his enemies. For years afterwards both tribes avoided the lake in the belief that the region was haunted by ghosts of the murdered Cree. A contorted old pine tree grew near the shore and the lake was named Ghostpine or Devil's Pine Lake. Stories also report a headless horseman rising out of the swamp southeast of Pine Lake, then galloping along high banks in the light of the full moon (Elnora Hist. Commit. 1972; Holmgren and Holmgren 1976). The name "Devil's Pine Lake" is on an 1892 survey map and in an 1894 Northwest Mounted Police report, but when the post office opened in 1895, that name was thought to be "too cumbersome" and it was shortened to Pine Lake (Elnora Hist. Commit. 1972). The creek draining the lake is still named Ghostpine.

Settlers arrived in the area in the early 1890s, and the recreational potential of Pine Lake was soon recognized; it is now one of Alberta's most intensively developed lakes. In 1984, approximately 35% of the shoreline was developed, including five institutional camps and eight commercial operations with motel, hotel and campsite facilities. There were also 121 seasonal cottage lots (96 developed), 93 grouped country residential lots and 20 isolated country residential lots (Marshall Macklin Monaghan West. Ltd. 1984). Only 1% of the shore is Crown land and the only public access to the lake is at a small Alberta Transportation and Utilities day-use area at the north end of the lake (FIGURE 2). This area includes a picnic shelter and a boat launch. There are five other boat launches on the lake at commercially operated resorts. There are no government-operated campgrounds on Pine Lake, but there are 6 commercially operated campgrounds offering a total of 1,080 campsites (Alta. Hotel Assoc. 1988).

The water in Pine Lake is nutrient-rich and becomes green with algae by midsummer. The lake is very popular for water skiing, power boating, swimming, and fishing for northern pike and yellow perch, especially during midsummer weekends. Conflicting opinions on "appropriate use" of the lake and levels of overcrowding led to the development of a management plan for the lake in 1977 (Red Deer Reg. Plan. Commis. 1977). One recommendation was for strict control of boating, including zoning the lake for maximum speeds. Another recommendation was for monitoring of water quality, which was thought to be deteriorating. Subsequently, the lake's water quality was studied in 1978, 1979, 1984 and 1989 by Alberta Environment. As of 1988, however, boating conflicts had not been resolved. Regulations in effect that year prohibited all boats from the swimming areas and restricted power boat speeds to 12 km/hour in posted areas (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. 1988). To protect the northern pike population, angling is not permitted in Ghostpine Creek or any of the streams flowing into Pine Lake for a designated period each spring (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. 1989).

Drainage Basin Characteristics

The drainage basin area of Pine Lake is very large, almost 40 times the area of the lake (Tables 1, 2). Much of the northwest portion of the basin is a type of hummocky moraine called knob and kettle terrain, a patchwork of tiny pothole lakes that formed when lumps of glacial ice disrupted the even deposition of glacial till. When the ice lumps finally melted they left the potholes, or kettles. The heaps of gravel that accumulated around the ice lumps now form small hills, or knobs. In this type of terrain, much of the runoff is trapped in the potholes and seldom reaches major water bodies like Pine Lake. Therefore, the effective basin for Pine Lake may be much smaller than the apparent basin. The low ridge of hills along the southwest edge of the basin rises 110 m above the lake to an elevation of 1,000 m and the hills on the northeast edge rise to about 960 m. The bedrock in the area is Paskapoo Formation, which underlies a thick layer of glacial till in most of the basin, but outcrops on some steep slopes and escarpments bordering the lake (Pedol. Consult. 1980).

The drainage basin is part of the Groveland Subregion of the Aspen Parkland Ecoregion (Strong and Leggat 1981). Soils are typically well-drained Orthic Dark Brown and Black Chernozemics, some Dark Gray Chernozemics with Gleysols in low-lying, poorly drained areas and Organic soils in wet sedge-marsh areas (Bowser 1951; Pedol. Consult. 1980; Strong and Leggat 1981). The native vegetation is predominantly rough fescue grass on dry, south-facing areas and aspen-dominated woodlands on some north slopes and level areas. White spruce grow on cool, damp, north-facing slopes and willows and sedges grow around wetlands. In 1988, half of the basin had been cleared for agriculture, primarily for cereal crop production or mixed farming, and 48% remained uncleared. Approximately one percent of the basin had been developed for cottages and commercial resorts; almost all of this development is along the shore of the lake.

Lake Basin Characteristics

Pine Lake is a serpentine lake with a maximum length of 6.4 km and a maximum width of 0.8 km lying in a narrow glacial meltwater channel. There are two basins: the north basin has a maximum depth of 9.1 m and the south basin has two areas with maximum depths greater than 12 m (FIGURE 2). There is a shallow shelf around most of the shore where the water is less than 1.5-m deep. The maximum depth of aquatic plant colonization in this lake is approximately 4 m (Hamilton 1980); 25% of the area of the lake is shallower than this depth (FIGURE 3).

A large proportion of the littoral zone has a gravel or sand substrate (Hamilton 1980). Beaches are scarce (850 m total length), are generally narrow and weedy, and tend to be located in small bays (Marshall Macklin Monaghan West. Ltd. 1984). Sand has been imported to many of the beaches near resorts. The shoreline has eroded in several locations and some property owners have installed structures to retard the process.

Pine Lake is fed by several intermittent streams, most of which enter the northern half of the lake. Groundwater inflow to the lake has not been quantified but is likely significant. The outlet stream, Ghostpine Creek, flows out of the south end of the lake, then into Threehills Creek just before Threehills Creek enters the Red Deer River near the city of Drumheller. The residence time of water in the lake is estimated to be nine years (TABLE 2). However, as some inflow enters the lake near the outlet at the south end, the effective residence time in most of the lake may be longer.

The level of Pine Lake is fairly stable compared to that of many Alberta lakes. From 1966 through 1987, the maximum historic elevation, recorded in 1986, was 1.06 m above the short-lived minimum elevation recorded in 1967 (FIGURE 4). From 1977 to 1987 the level varied only 0.6 m. Pine Lake's users, particularly cottage and resort owners, have periodically expressed concern that water levels are either too high or too low. Studies conducted for Alberta Environment have recommended that if a decision is made to regulate the lake, the target lake level should be close to the natural elevation (Hamilton and Bayne 1984; Marshall Macklin Monaghan West. Ltd. 1984).

Water Quality

The water quality of Pine Lake has been a concern to recreational users since the early 1970s and was the major impetus for the Pine Lake Management Plan (Red Deer Reg. Plan. Commis. 1977). Water quality was monitored by Alberta Environment in 1978, 1979, 1984 and 1989 (Alta. Envir. n.d.[a]; Hamilton 1980; Hamilton and Bayne 1984). The disposal of sewage from commercial and institutional resorts was also investigated (Alta. Envir. 1972), as were feedlots near the shore (Masuda 1974).

Pine is a freshwater lake. The water is well-buffered and the dominant ions are bicarbonate, sodium and sulphate (TABLE 3).

The lake water is thermally stratified during calm periods in the summer, as on 11 July 1984 (FIGURE 5). When the lake is stratified, the dissolved oxygen concentration decreases in the water near the bottom, and the water may become anoxic in the lowest metre or two. When the lake mixes during windy periods, this anoxic water mixes with the upper layers. This can result in fairly low dissolved oxygen concentrations throughout the water column, as on 1 September 1984 (FIGURE 5). Prolonged windy periods increase the dissolved oxygen concentration throughout the water column, as on 17 September 1984. In the winter, dissolved oxygen is depleted by bacterial decomposition of organic matter in the sediment. Anoxic conditions develop near the bottom of the lake but the dissolved oxygen concentration in the upper part of the water column remains fairly high (14 February 1978, FIGURE 5). Winter or summer fishkills due to low dissolved oxygen concentrations are not a problem in Pine Lake (Hamilton 1980; Lowe 1989).

Pine Lake is eutrophic. By midsummer, chlorophyll a concentrations are high and the water is a murky green (TABLE 4, FIGURE 6). The total phosphorus concentration rises through the summer as a result of phosphorus released from the sediment, especially during periods when water near the sediment becomes anoxic. In 1984, chlorophyll a concentrations in Pine Lake were almost double those in 1978 or 1979 (Hamilton and Bayne 1984). Low dissolved oxygen concentrations over the sediment and subsequent high phosphorous concentrations in the water column are factors that enhance blue-green algal abundance in Pine Lake (Trimbee and Prepas 1987; 1988). Although the water quality of the lake apparently worsened from 1978 to 1984 despite the rise in water levels, it is not yet possible to determine if this is indicative of a long-term trend or if one of the years represented an extreme year in the normal variation of algal populations.

Most of the phosphorus entering the lake from external sources likely comes in the runoff from cleared agricultural land. The input from septic systems on the lakeshore is difficult to assess, partly due to the uncertain efficiency of sewage disposal systems of cottages and resorts on the lake. A brief 1973 survey of three feedlots adjacent to the lake found that although streams flowing into the lake were high in nutrients, little enrichment could be detected within the lake; however, sampling was done during a dry period when runoff was low (Masuda 1974). Much of the phosphorus in the lakewater is likely released from the sediment, especially when the water near the substrate becomes anoxic.

Biological Characteristics


During an Alberta Environment study in 1978, the abundance of each group of algae was determined for three sites in Pine Lake on six sampling dates (Hamilton 1980). The dominant species were those common in eutrophic lakes. The spring algal peak in May was primarily composed of diatoms (Asterionella formosa, Fragilaria spp., Melosira sp. and Stephanodiscus hantzschia) and cryptomonads (Cryptomonas sp.). The summer peak was dominated by blue-green algae (Anabaena sp. and Aphanizomenon flos-aquae) and diatoms.

Aquatic macrophytes were mapped by Alberta Environment in August 1979 (FIGURE 7). The macrophyte community in Pine Lake is extensive; only a few rocky areas in the southern portion are devoid of plants. Submergent species grew to a depth of 4 m. Northern watermilfoil (Myriophyllum exalbescens), large-sheath pondweed (Potamogeton vaginatus) and Richardson pondweed (P. richardsonii) were the dominant species. Emergent vegetation occurs along most of the western shore; the most common species is cattail (Typha latifolia).


One zooplankton sample was collected by vertical haul net in August 1979 by Alberta Environment. Dominant species were Daphnia galeata mendotae, Ceriodaphnia lacustris, Chydorus sphaericus, Mesocyclops edax and Diaptomus oregonensis.

There are no data on the benthic invertebrates in Pine Lake.


There are nine species of fish in Pine Lake: northern pike, yellow perch, walleye, burbot, white sucker, lake chub, fathead minnow, Iowa darter and brook stickleback (Norris 1984; Roberts 1987). The lake supports a sport fishery but not commercial or domestic fisheries.

Northern pike and yellow perch are the mainstay of the sport fishery. Test nets in January 1985 caught six pike and eight perch. The largest pike was 51.4 cm and the largest perch was 27.0 cm. Yellow perch are so abundant in Pine Lake that they are occasionally netted there for stocking in other Alberta lakes. Walleye, which were stocked annually from 1960 to 1963 and 1971 to 1974, are thriving and becoming increasingly available to anglers (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. n.d.). In 1985, Fish and Wildlife Division caught 85 walleye in one sweep of a 30-m seine. There were representatives of most year-classes in the haul, indicating that walleye are reproducing successfully in Pine Lake (Lowe 1989). To speed the establishment of a good walleye sport fishery, an additional 115,000 fingerlings were introduced in 1988.

Localized fish kills of yellow perch were reported in Pine Lake in the 1980s. The cause was found to be caudal peduncle disease, a condition caused by the myxobacterium, Cytophagia psychrophila. It strikes perch during and following spawning in late April and May. Affected perch develop red sores in the vicinity of the base of the tail, and severely afflicted fish die. The disease seems to disappear when the water warms in late May (Lowe 1989).


Pine Lake provides moderate waterfowl nesting habitat, especially at the south end and in weedy bays. Intense recreational development has restricted waterfowl use of the central portion of the lake.

J.M. Crosby


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Norris, H.J. 1984. A comparison of aging techniques and growth of yellow perch (Perca flavescens) from selected Alberta lakes. MSc thesis. Univ. Alta., Edmonton.

Pedology Consultants. 1980. Soil survey and land suitability evaluation of the Pine Lake study area. Prep. for Alta. Envir., Ld. Conserv. Reclamation Div., Edmonton.

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-----. 1988. The effect of oxygen depletion on the timing and magnitude of blue-green algal blooms. Verh. Internat. Verein. Limnol. 23:220-226.