Buck Lake

The contents of this online version has not been altered or modified from the original 1990 publication. It is reasonable to assume that much of the data e.g. water levels, camp grounds/boat launches, etc. is out of date. For updated or additional information on any of the lakes in this atlas please go to Environment Alberta's water web site.

Basic Info
Map Sheets83B/15, 83G/2
Lat / Long53.0000000, -114.7500000
53°0'N, 114°45'W
Area25.4 km2
Max depth12.2 m
Mean depth6.2 m
Dr. Basin Area233 km2
Dam, WeirWeir
Drainage BasinNorth Saskatchewan River Basin
Camp GroundPresent
Boat LaunchPresent
Sport FishWalleye, Yellow Perch, Northern Pike, Lake Whitefish
Trophic StatusEutrophic
TP x40 µg/L
CHLORO x18.1 µg/L
TDS x127 mg/L
Photo credit: unknown


Buck Lake is set amidst gently rolling hills in the County of Wetaskiwin, 105 km southwest of the city of Edmonton and 70 km north of the town of Rocky Mountain House. The nearest large population centre is the town of Drayton Valley, 30 km to the northwest. To reach the lake from Edmonton, drive south on Highway 2 for 65 km, then west on Highway 13 for 80 km. Secondary roads branching from Highway 13 provide access to all sides of the lake (FIGURE 1).

Prior to 1900, the region surrounding Buck Lake was covered by a spruce and pine forest and the Cree who lived there called the area Minnehik, which means "Place of the Pines" (Buck L. Hist. Book Commit. 1981). Buck Lake was named Bull Lake on the Arrowsmith map of 1859 (Holmgren and Holmgren 1976).

The first white people to visit the area were fur traders. In 1799, John MacDonald travelled up the North Saskatchewan River and built Rocky Mountain House, and a few years later, Boggy Hill trading post was built near the present site of Drayton Valley (Lindsay et al. 1968). J.B. Tyrrell, who traversed the old pack trail from Buck Lake to Rocky Mountain House, wrote in 1887 that the lake was "said to contain large whitefish of particularly fine flavor", which were supplied to the Hudson's Bay Company post at Rocky Mountain House (Tyrrell 1886). The first settlers arrived in the region soon after 1900. Local sawmills were a major employer in the early part of the century, but by the 1930s the larger trees had been harvested (Buck L. Hist. Book Commit. 1981). Intensive drilling for oil and gas followed in the 1950s, and at present, drilling rigs dot the countryside.

The largest recreation facility on the lake, Buck Lake-Calhoun's Bay Provincial Recreation Area, is located on 374 ha of Crown land on the east side of the lake (FIGURE 2). It is operated by Alberta Recreation and Parks and offers 75 campsites and pump water (Friebel 1989). The hamlet of Buck Lake, known as Minnehik prior to 1954, is located on the southwest shore (FIGURE 2). In 1986, the hamlet had 91 residents. Every year in early July, the hamlet holds a popular rodeo, the Buck Lake Stampede, which is attended by more than 3,000 people. Buck Lake Campground, an Alberta Transportation and Utilities facility, is located in the hamlet. It offers 10 campsites, picnic tables, a picnic shelter, a boat launch and a small beach. As well, Alberta Environment operates a day-use area beside the weir on Bucklake Creek at the north end of the lake. Facilities include picnic tables and a boat launch.

Buck Lake is popular for swimming, boating and year-round fishing. Over most of the lake there are no boating restrictions, but in posted areas either motor boats are restricted to speeds of 12 km/ hour, or all boats are prohibited (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. 1988). Sport fish species found in the lake include lake whitefish, walleye, northern pike and yellow perch. Buck Lake, Rat Lake, and Mink Creek and its tributaries are closed to sport fishing for a period during April and May each year (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. 1989). Since 1967, an annual fish derby organized by the Breton and District Fish and Game Association has been held on the lake during June. The commercial fishery has operated since 1938; its main catch is lake whitefish. Buck Lake also supports a domestic fishery.

Late in summer, the lake becomes quite green as concentrations of blue-green algae in the water increase. As well, aquatic vegetation such as bulrushes and pondweeds grow densely in many areas. These plant beds provide spawning habitat for fish and nesting cover for waterfowl but they are frequently removed by local residents because they interfere with boating and swimming.

Drainage Basin Characteristics

Buck Lake is situated north of the divide between the North Saskatchewan River drainage basin, of which it is part, and the Red Deer River drainage basin to the south. Buck Lake's drainage basin is about 9 times the size of the lake (Tables 1, 2). Most of the water flowing into the lake arrives from the south via Mink and Muskrat creeks (FIGURE 1). Mink Creek flows into Rat Lake before entering the southeast bay of Buck Lake. As well, two unnamed creeks flow into the eastern shore. The outlet, Bucklake Creek, flows from the north end of the lake into Modeste Creek and then into the North Saskatchewan River.

The land around Buck Lake is flat to undulating. It rises in gently rolling hills from about 882 m near the water's edge to more than 1,036 m in the southern part of the drainage basin at the divide. The main soils throughout the watershed are moderately well-drained Orthic Gray Luvisols of a clay-loam to loam texture (Lindsay et al. 1968). These soils developed on the glacial till overlying the Paskapoo Formation. The main soils in a large area of land directly south of the lake and a second area to the northwest are Orthic Humic Gleysols and Organics.

Buck Lake's watershed is part of the Boreal Foothills Ecoregion (Strong and Leggat 1981). The dominant trees are trembling aspen, balsam poplar and lodgepole pine on well-drained to moderately well-drained Gray Luvisols. Secondary succession is by white spruce. The main trees on imperfectly drained Gleysolic soils are lodgepole pine, which is invaded by black spruce and, at times, white spruce. On poorly drained to very poorly drained Organics and Gleysols, black spruce, willows and sedges predominate.

Most of the southern portion of the drainage basin is wooded, but in many places the land has been cleared for grazing and cultivation of mixed grains (FIGURE 1). The cleared areas generally have an agricultural rating of fair to fairly good arability, whereas the uncleared areas are rated poor to fair arability or pasture and woodland (Lindsay et al. 1968). Portions of two grazing reserves are present in the watershed: Medicine Lake Provincial Grazing Reserve abuts Buck Lake Indian Reserve 133C in the southeast corner of the drainage basin, and a portion of Buck Mountain Provincial Grazing Reserve is located in the northern section of the drainage basin. Industrial development is related to the coal and petrochemical industries. The Pembina Oilfield is located beneath the watershed and a number of oil and gas wells dot the countryside. Natural gas is extracted at the Buck Lake gas plant, located west of the hamlet.

Almost 40% of the lakeshore is owned by the Crown, mostly along the north and east shores (FIGURE 2). Much of the Crown land bordering the north shore is part of Buck Mountain Provincial Grazing Reserve. The County of Wetaskiwin owns land on two sides of the southeast bay. Since the mid-1960s, development of the privately owned portion of the shoreline has increased markedly. In 1966, there were only 29 cottages on the lake, but by 1986, 6 subdivisions had been created. Of the 240 lots in these subdivisions, 75 had been developed, 65 with seasonal residences and 10 with permanent residences (Battle R. Reg. Plan. Commis. n.d.; Co. Wetaskiwin n.d.).

Lake Basin Characteristics

Buck Lake is a large, shallow lake with a single basin that slopes gradually to a maximum depth of 12.2 m in its centre (TABLE 2, FIGURE 2). The bottom sediments are sand where the water is less than 8-m deep (FIGURE 3), and boulder and gravel in localized areas around the perimeter of the lake. In deeper water, the sediments are mainly silt.

The elevation of Buck Lake has been monitored since 1958 (FIGURE 4). The maximum elevation, 882.57 m, was recorded in 1965 and the minimum elevation, 881.20 m, was recorded in 1966. This large fluctuation (1.37 m) caused concern among local land-owners, as the hamlet of Buck Lake, which is situated on very flat land, has often been flooded. In response to these concerns, Alberta Environment installed a weir on Bucklake Creek in September 1966. Water levels have stabilized since the weir was built. From 1980 to 1987, the range in lake levels was 0.64 m. A fluctuation of this size would change the lake's area by about 5% (FIGURE 5).

Water is withdrawn from the lake by a West Coast Petroleum pumping station on the south shore just east of the hamlet. The station was first licenced in 1984, and is allowed to withdraw a maximum of 1.02 x 106 m3/year. Withdrawals began in 1986, and averaged 0.59 x 106 m3/year in 1986 and 1987 (Alta. Envir. n.d.[e]).

Water Quality

Buck Lake's water quality was monitored by the University of Alberta in 1981 (Prepas 1983) and by Alberta Environment through 1983 and 1984 and during the winter of 1985 (Alta. Envir. n.d.[b]).

The water in Buck Lake is well-buffered and fresh, and the total hardness is relatively low for a prairie lake. The dominant ions are bicarbonate and calcium (TABLE 3). The lake is shallow and is frequently mixed by wind during the open-water season. Weak thermal stratification occurs periodically during the summer (FIGURE 6) and the concentration of dissolved oxygen over the sediments can fall to low levels (FIGURE 7). The dissolved oxygen concentration at the surface, however, remains quite high. In winter, the deeper water can become anoxic, as in February 1985, but the dissolved oxygen concentration in the upper layers of water is adequate to support the fish population (FIGURE 7).

Buck Lake is eutrophic. Average total phosphorus and chlorophyll a concentrations are moderately high (TABLE 4). In 1983, the highest levels of these two variables were recorded in September (FIGURE 8). This indicates that phosphorus is recycled from the sediments in late summer, as was found in the 1981 study. During late summer the water is quite green, but generally the water clarity is very good, as indicated by the high Secchi depth values in 1983 (FIGURE 8).

Biological Characteristics


The phytoplankton community in Buck Lake was sampled by Fish and Wildlife Division in 1948 (Miller and Macdonald 1950) and by Alberta Environment in 1983 (Alta. Envir. n.d.[b]). In 1983, algal biomass was low (less than 2 mg/L) until September, when the maximum biomass (5.9 mg/L) was recorded (TABLE 5). Biomass remained high into October and then declined by early November. Cryptophytes were the dominant group from mid-May to mid-July. During May, one species, Cryptomonas erosa reflexa, accounted for 47% of the total algal biomass. By June, C. ovata had become dominant, and during July, C. ovata was codominant with Ceratium hirundinella, a dinoflagellate (Pyrrhophyta). C. hirundinella is a species often found in alkaline, eutrophic lakes. During August and September, when phosphorus concentrations in the euphotic zone increased dramatically (FIGURE 8), blue-greens were the dominant algae (Trimbee and Prepas 1987; 1988). By September, one blue-green species, Aphanizomenon flos-aquae, accounted for 90% of the total algal biomass. This species remained very common into October, along with the diatom Stephanodiscus niagarae (Bacillariophyta). In November, S. niagarae constituted 83% of the total biomass.

The macrophyte community was sampled by a researcher from the University of Alberta in July 1969 (FIGURE 9). Rooted emergent species grew mostly at depths of 2 m or less. The most widely distributed species were common great bulrush (Scirpus validus) and Sago pondweed (Potamogeton pectinatus). Along some parts of the lakeshore, cottage owners used herbicides or mechanical harvesters to remove macrophytes.


The zooplankton in Buck Lake was sampled by Fish and Wildlife Division in 1948 (Miller and Macdonald 1950). A species of Daphnia (Cladocera), Diacyclops bicuspidatus thomasi (Copepoda) and Keratella sp. (= Anuraea sp.) (Rotifera) were found in abundance, whereas Polyarthra sp. (Rotifera) was seen occasionally.

Monthly or bimonthly samples of the benthic invertebrate community were taken with a 15-cm Ekman dredge between July 1970 and July 1971 (Bidgood 1972). Midge larvae (Chironomidae) were most abundant on silt substrates and scuds (Amphipoda) and aquatic earthworms (Oligochaeta) were most abundant on sand. Caddis fly larvae (Trichoptera), phantom midge larvae (Chaoborus sp.), aquatic earthworms, clams (Pelecypoda) and snails (Gastropoda) were also well represented. The largest wet weight biomass of invertebrates was found on sand substrate in the fall. For most months sampled, Buck Lake had higher numbers of benthic invertebrates on all substrate types than Pigeon Lake, which was sampled at the same time.


Ten species of fish have been reported in Buck Lake: lake whitefish, walleye, northern pike, white sucker, burbot, yellow perch, trout-perch, brook stickleback, Iowa darter and spottail shiner. Lake whitefish in Buck Lake spawn from late September throughout December on a boulder, rubble and sand substrate, which makes up about 15% of the lake bottom (FIGURE 3, 9). In spring, walleye use the same spawning grounds that whitefish use in the fall (Bidgood 1972). White sucker and some northern pike migrate up tributary streams to spawn, whereas other pike spawn in the lake.

Fishing is popular on Buck Lake, which is managed for recreational, domestic and commercial fisheries. There are no catch data for the recreational and domestic fisheries. The commercial fishery opened in 1938, but records have been kept only since 1942 (Alta. For. Ld. Wild. n.d.; Alta. Rec. Parks Wild. 1976). The main catch of the fishery has always been lake whitefish, but small numbers of white suckers, burbot, northern pike, yellow perch and walleye are also taken. The largest total catch, 139,000 kg, was taken in 1960/61 by 1,603 licensees. From 1980/81 to 1987/88, an average of 557 licences were issued and the mean total catch was 22,750 kg/year. Most (98%) of this catch was lake whitefish.


Bird species that have been sighted on Buck Lake include Mallard, Gadwall, Blue-winged Teal, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, Lesser Scaup, Red-necked Grebe, Western Grebe, American Coot, Ring-billed Gull, Franklin's Gull, Common Tern and Wilson's Phalarope.

Osprey nest on the western shore. A major limitation for waterfowl is a shortage of resting areas and an increasing number of disturbances by recreational users of the lake. As well, emergent vegetation and nesting cover continue to be removed from the lakeshore (Ducks Unltd. (Can.) n.d.).

M.E. Bradford


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-----. n.d.[b]. Envir. Assess. Div., Envir. Qlty. Monit. Br. Unpubl. data, Edmonton.

-----. n.d.[c]. Tech. Serv. Div., Hydrol. Br. Unpubl. data, Edmonton.

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-----. 1989. Guide to sportfishing. Fish Wild. Div., Edmonton

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Buck Lake History Book Committee. 1981. Packhorse to pavement: Buck Lake history. Buck L. Hist. Book Commit., Buck Lake.

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Holmgren, E.J. and P.M. Holmgren. 1976. Over 2000 place names of Alberta. 3rd ed. West. Producer Prairie Books, Saskatoon.

Lindsay, J.D., W. Odynsky, J.W. Peters and W.E. Bowser. 1968. Soil survey of the Buck Lake (NE 83B) and Wabamun Lake (E1/2 83G) areas. Alta. Soil Surv. Rep. No. 24, Univ. Alta. Bull. No. SS-7, Res. Counc. Alta. Rep. No. 87 1968. Univ. Alta., Edmonton.

Miller, R.B. and W.H. Macdonald. 1950. Preliminary biological surveys of Alberta watersheds 1947-1949. Alta. Ld. For., Edmonton.

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Strong, W.L. and K.R. Leggat. 1981. Ecoregions of Alberta. Alta. En. Nat. Resour., Resour. Eval. Plan. Div., Edmonton.

Trimbee, A.M. and E.E. Prepas. 1987. Evaluation of total phosphorus as a predictor of the relative biomass of blue-green algae with emphasis on Alberta lakes. Can. J. Fish. Aquat. Sci. 44:1337-1342.

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

Tyrrell, J.B. 1886. Canada geological and natural history survey, annual report: Report on a part of northern Alberta. Dawson Brothers, Montreal, Quebec.