Peerless Lake

Basic Info
Map Sheets84B
Lat / Long56.6666667, -114.5833333
56°40'N, 114°34'W
Area82.6 km2
Max depth35.4 m
Mean depth14.6 m
Dr. Basin Area338 km2
Dam, WeirNone
Drainage BasinPeace River Basin
Camp GroundPresent
Boat LaunchPresent
Sport FishLake Trout, Northern Pike, Yellow Perch, Lake Whitefish
Trophic StatusNo Data
TP xNo Data µg/L
CHLORO xNo Data µg/L
TDS xNo Data mg/L
Photo credit: Alberta Recreation and Parks


Peerless Lake, with its beautiful, natural beaches, is a large, deep lake set in the pristine wilderness of north-central Alberta. It is named for the peerless, or unequalled, beauty of its water (Holmgren and Holmgren 1976). The lake is located in Improvement District No. 17, about 450 km north of the city of Edmonton and 220 km north of the town of Slave Lake. To reach the lake from Slave Lake, take Highway 88 (formerly Highway 67) north to the hamlet of Red Earth Creek and continue east on Secondary Road 686 to the settlement of Peerless Lake (FIGURE 1). The roads from Slave Lake to Peerless Lake are gravelled, except for the 55 km of Highway 88 north of Slave Lake, which is paved.

The settlement of Peerless Lake, which is situated on the northeastern corner of the lake, is a tiny community that supported a population of only 252 people in 1986. The only other local population centre is the settlement of Trout Lake, located on the south shore of nearby Graham Lake (FIGURE 1). In 1986, 290 people inhabited this community (ID No. 17 n.d.). The main occupations of the residents of both centres are commercial fishing in fall, trapping in winter and fighting forest fires in summer (Smith 1970).

Public access to the lake is available at three locations: in the settlement, in East Peerless Lake Forest Recreation Area, and at the channel between Peerless and Graham lakes (FIGURE 2). East Peerless Lake Forest Recreation Area is an Alberta Forest Service campground located on the eastern shore, 5 km south of Peerless Lake settlement (FIGURE 2). The campground is open from May to the end of September and is used mainly by anglers. Its facilities include 10 campsites, pump water, a boat launch and a beach. Over most of the lake there are no boating restrictions, but in posted areas, power boats are limited to maximum speeds of 12 km/hour (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. 1988).

Peerless Lake is unique because it supports one of the few lake trout populations in Alberta that is readily accessible by road. Trout are the main draw for the sport fishery and lake whitefish are the main harvest for the commercial and domestic fisheries. There are no sport fishing regulations specific to the lake, but general provincial regulations apply (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. 1989). Aquatic vegetation grows densely in shallow areas of the lake, primarily at the south end. Large flocks of ducks, as well as geese and loons, use the lake as a staging area during migration.

Drainage Basin Characteristics

The drainage basin of Peerless Lake is small relative to the surface area of the lake (ratio of 4:1; Tables 1, 2). Water drains into the lake mainly from the north. The main sources of inflow are a creek that flows from Goodfish Lake, several unnamed streams and precipitation. The outlet, at the south end of the lake, is a slow-flowing creek that drains into Graham Lake. From there, water eventually flows to the Peace River via the Trout River, which is a tributary of the Wabasca River.

The watershed consists of hummocky moraine characterized by knob and kettle topography. Small areas of flatter undulating moraine also are present. The surficial deposits are primarily moderately stony, clay loam till, with lesser amounts of glaciolacustrine deposits. The glaciolacustrine materials were deposited when the lake basin was much larger during the last ice age some 12,000 years ago (Alta. Envir. 1978). Extensive areas of organic deposits form the secondary type of surficial materials, and tracts of gravelly glaciofluvial deposits, clayey lacustrine deposits and nearly level beach sands also occur (Leskiw 1976).

The drainage basin, which is part of the Moist Mixedwood Subregion of the Boreal Mixedwood Forest (Strong and Leggat 1981), consists of heavily forested, unpopulated land. A diverse array of forest-soil relationships has developed in response to variations in surficial deposits and drainage conditions, and the effects of forest fires. Trees grow in pure stands as well as in complex mixtures throughout the area. Their maturity ranges from recent regrowth after burning to overmature. Trembling aspen, which grows on hummocky well-drained sites, is the most abundant tree and is typically underlain by Gray Luvisols, the dominant soil type in the area. White spruce is the climax species on these soils, but its spread has been impeded by forest fires. Other tree species include jack pine, balsam poplar, balsam fir and white birch (Leskiw 1976).

Extensive areas of peat bogs and muskegs occur in low-lying, poorly drained sites. They represent the initial stages of a succession from wet meadow to grassland to a climax vegetation of either black spruce/Sphagnum moss or other wooded communities, including tamarack and swamp birch (Ceroici 1979). Terric Mesisols, which are the soils that develop on these organic deposits, cover the second largest area after Gray Luvisols. They are characterized by layers of peat to a depth of 0.5 to 3 m (Leskiw 1976).

All of the land in the Peerless Lake watershed is owned by the Crown. The land is mostly in its natural state, and is used by the local residents for hunting and trapping. The harsh climate, poor soil types, varied topography and insect pests pose severe limitations for commercial crop and livestock operations. Forage for domestic livestock, mainly horses, is supplied by introduced grasses found along roadways, airstrips and seismic lines, and in a few small, dispersed natural sites (Alta. En. Nat. Resour. 1977). Petroleum exploration sites are scattered throughout the area (Ceroici 1979).

Lake Basin Characteristics

Peerless Lake is 16.6-km long and 9.5-km wide at its widest point. The lake is oriented in a northwest-southeast direction that parallels the path of the prevailing summer winds and it is subject to sudden storms and constant wind action. The northern part of the lake basin is much deeper than the shallow southern bay. The slope of the lake basin is steepest in the northwest corner of the lake and most gradual near the outlet (FIGURE 2). A small island is located off the central portion of the eastern shore.

Alberta Environment first recorded water levels at Peerless Lake in 1982 (Alta. Envir. n.d.[b]). The water levels are referred to an assumed benchmark rather than geodetic elevation and in 1985, the assumed reference mark was changed (Envir. Can. 1985-1988). Thus, comparisons of annual water levels between the two periods are not possible.

Water Quality

Water quality analyses for Peerless Lake are few; measurements were made by Fish and Wildlife Division biologists in 1968 and 1980 (Smith 1970; Schroeder 1980). As well, in 1974, Alberta Environment measured groundwater quality as part of a water supply study that was conducted to develop potable groundwater sources for residents of the area (Alta. Envir. 1978).

The limited water quality data available (TABLE 3) suggest that the lake has fresh water (total dissolved solids of 140 mg/L; Smith 1970), that is not as alkaline or as hard as the water in many Alberta lakes. The water supply study determined that the water in shallow wells (maximum depth of 9.1 m) adjacent to the lake was a calcium-bicarbonate type and acceptable for domestic needs. These results may reflect the dominant ionic composition of the water in Peerless Lake.

Peerless Lake is deep and becomes thermally stratified during summer (FIGURE 3). The limited data indicate that, in the deepest part of the lake, dissolved oxygen may become depleted during the open-water season and remain at low levels after the water column mixes in fall. For example, on 3 October 1980, after the water column had mixed, the concentration of dissolved oxygen was only 7.8 mg/L at the surface and 1.2 mg/L below a depth of 27 m (FIGURE 3). It is possible that the deeper water becomes anoxic during winter. Dissolved oxygen concentrations in the surface layers, however, must be sufficient to support the fish population, as winterkills have never been reported (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. n.d.).

Total phosphorus and chlorophyll a data for Peerless Lake have not been collected, so it is not possible to determine the lake's trophic status. In 1968, the Secchi transparency extended to 2.1 m in the north end of the lake and 1.8 m in the south end. It is likely that the lake is fairly low in productivity.

Biological Characteristics


The phytoplankton community was surveyed briefly by Fish and Wildlife Division biologists in July 1968 (Smith 1970). The dominant species was the green alga Ulothrix sp.; the dinoflagellate Ceratium sp. was second in abundance. Diatoms and the blue-green alga Nostoc sp. were present in low numbers. No recent data are available.

In 1968, rooted macrophytes grew in considerable numbers in shallow areas of the lake, primarily in the south end (Smith 1970). Species composition and depth distribution were not studied in detail.


No data are available for the zooplankton or benthic communities in Peerless Lake.


Ten species of fish have been reported in Peerless Lake: lake whitefish, cisco, lake trout, northern pike, white sucker, longnose sucker, burbot, yellow perch, spottail shiner and lake chub (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. n.d.). The lake whitefish are infested with cysts of the tapeworm Triaenophorus crassus.

Peerless Lake is known for its lake trout sport fishery. Anglers fish almost exclusively for this species, and northern pike and yellow perch are caught incidentally (Alta. En. Nat. Resour. 1977). The busiest fishing seasons are spring and fall; anglers come to the lake mainly from Edmonton, Slave Lake, High Prairie and Peace River (Walty 1988).

The domestic fishery operates year-round; the target species is lake whitefish (Schroeder 1988). Lake trout are caught as well, mainly in the fall, but sometimes during the summer and winter. The size of the domestic fishery appears to be increasing; the average number of domestic licences issued was 16 for the 1981/82 and 1982/83 seasons, compared to 27 for each season from 1983/84 to 1988/89.

A commercial fishery has operated since at least 1942, when records were first kept (Alta. Rec. Parks Wild. 1976). The primary commercial catch is lake whitefish but there have been incidental catches of lake trout, northern pike and, since the early 1970s, suckers, burbot and cisco. Walleye, which were probably migrants from Graham Lake, were caught until 1962/63 but have not been recorded since. The largest annual commercial harvest (70,836 kg) was taken in 1945/46. It consisted of 43,044 kg of lake whitefish, 26,127 kg of lake trout and 1,665 kg of northern pike. From 1951/52 to 1958/59, the catches of lake trout exceeded those of lake whitefish (Alta. Rec. Parks Wild. 1976). Commercial operations were stopped from 1963/64 to 1967/68 (except for 1965/66) to allow the declining number of lake trout to recover. The commercial fishery resumed in 1968/69, and since that time, the annual commercial limit has been 40,000 kg of lake whitefish, 900 kg of lake trout and 1,200 kg of northern pike (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. n.d.). To ensure that overharvesting of lake trout does not occur again, the fishery is restricted to particular depth zones and times. To increase the harvest of lake whitefish and simultaneously reduce that of lake trout, commercial fishing is allowed only in October when lake whitefish congregate on their spawning grounds (Schroeder 1980). Commercial fishing is restricted to shallow areas, the common habitat of lake whitefish, and is not permitted in deep areas, the preferred habitat of lake trout. During a cold autumn, however, lake trout move from the deep water to the shallows, which have cooled, and are inadvertently caught by the commercial fishery. The control measures on the fisheries have resulted in a stable lake trout population (Schroeder 1988).


Peerless Lake is used primarily as a staging area for migratory waterfowl and is not of major importance as a nesting or breeding ground (Alta. En. Nat. Resour. 1977). Large flocks of migrating ducks, including Bufflehead, Lesser Scaup and White-winged Scoters, and smaller numbers of Mallards and Pintails, have been observed on the lake. Flocks of Canada and Snow geese, as well as small groups of Common Loons, are common visitors in the fall. Summer residents on the lake include Red-necked Grebes and White Pelicans. Bald Eagles have nested on the east side of Graham Lake and the south end of Round Lake (FIGURE 1) and a pair of Ospreys may have settled in the vicinity of Round Lake. American Kestrels and Marsh Hawks are regular residents of the Peerless Lake area, and Golden Eagles, Gyrfalcons and Red-tailed Hawks have been sighted (Alta. En. Nat. Resou r. 1977).

The small, narrow island located in the northern portion of Graham Lake (FIGURE 1) provides important summer habitat for a large number of terns and gulls. The birds feed offshore of the island and use the island for resting and nesting grounds (Alta. En. Nat. Resour. 1977).

Although the Peerless Lake region provides excellent upland game bird habitat, only two species, Spruce Grouse and Ruffed Grouse, have been found in the area. Hunting pressure on these birds is minimal; the main harvest occurs as hunters pursue moose (Alta. En. Nat. Resour. 1977).

Other wildlife within the Peerless Lake area include moose, black bears, mule deer and wolves. Moose, which are hunted in the region north of the lake, are the most important big game species. They provide the basis for domestic and guided hunting. The black bear population appears to be large; they usually are taken while hunters are in pursuit of moose. Mule deer numbers are low (Alta. En. Nat. Resou r. 1977).

Thirteen mammal species are harvested by the trapping industry from the Peerless Lake area: beaver, muskrat, mink, weasel, fox, coyote, wolf, lynx, fisher, otter, red squirrel, pine marten and wolverine. Skunk is also present (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. n.d.).

L.G. McIntyre


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-----. n.d.[b]. Tech. Serv. Div., Surv. Br. Unpubl. data, Edmonton.

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-----. . 1988. Alta. For. Ld. Wild., Fish. Wild. Div., Peace River. Pers. comm.

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