6 Awesome Things About Garibaldi Lake (You Probably Didn’t Know)

Garibaldi Lake is the jewel of Garibaldi Provincial Park. Its emerald waters and prehistoric peaks are one of the most popular Squamish attractions for visitors, and, in 1920, when the park was created it was only the second park to be protected by special statute in British Columbia.

This post is part of a small series on Garibaldi Provincial Park, we hope it serves to deepen your curiosity for the Sea To Sky region and helps you fall in love with it a little bit more.

If you don’t have time for the 18km (6-8 hour) hike you can get an incredible aerial view of the Garibaldi Lake and the provincial park from our Whistler Backcountry Air Safari flight ($259).

All of the photos in this post were taken on our Whistler Backcountry Air Safari guided scenic flight.


The Barrier in Garibaldi Provincial Park

1. Garibaldi Lake was formed when lava flows blocked the valley


Garibaldi Lake is surrounded by a group of nine, small andesitic stratovolcanoes and basaltic-andesite cones. The lake was formed when lava flow from Mount Price and Clinker Peak volcanoes blocked the valley causing a natural dam around 9,000 years ago. Now known as “The Barrier”, the dam has continually trapped meltwater from Sentinel Glacier and Sphinx Glacier forming what we now call Garibaldi Lake. The lava dam is over 300m thick and about 2 km wide.


Looking down on the bright turquoise colour of Garibaldi Lake near Squamish and Whistler, BC in summer from a scenic flight plane

2. The turquoise colour of the lake’s water is due to glacial flour


Glacial streams and lakes are characterized by their high sediment concentrations. This sediment can range in size from pieces as large as boulders to a distinctive fine-grained material called rock flour, or glacier flour. Generated by glacial erosion, rock flour, often less than one micro-metre in diameter, becomes suspended in meltwater making it appear cloudy (sometimes known as glacial milk).


3. If The Barrier fails Garibaldi Lake would empty through Squamish


The unstable lava formation of The Barrier has unleashed several debris flows in the past – most recently in 1855-56 forming a large boulder field called Rubble Creek. In 1981 concerns about The Barrier’s instability due to volcanic, tectonic, or heavy rainfall prompted the provincial government of British Columbia to declare the area below unsafe for human habitation, leading to the evacuation of Garibaldi village.

Should The Barrier completely collapse the full force of Garibaldi Lake would be released downstream, causing damage in the Cheakamus and Squamish Rivers and potentially major damage to the town of Squamish. Once the water reaches the Howe Sound there is the possibility of an impact-wave that would reach as far as Vancouver Island.

4. Garibaldi Lake has lava outcrops called Battleship Islands


Garibaldi Lake sits in a deep subalpine basin and the surface of the lake is nearly 1,500m above sea level. Dotted along the northwestern shores are a series of lava outcrops called Battleship Islands, several of which have been connected to the shore by simple man-made stone causeways.

Mount Price

5. Mount Price was formed in three stages dating back 1.2 million years


Mount Price (the volcano responsible for The Barrier) is one of three principal volcanoes in the southern segment of the Garibaldi Volcanic Belt. The formation of Mount Price began 1.2 million years ago when the first volcanic event deposited lava and pyroclastic rocks on the floor of the crescent-shaped basin. The second stage occurred about 300,000 years ago when the region’s volcanic activity shifted westward and constructed Mount Price in a nearly-symmetrical formation. Later, in the third and final phase, about 9,000 years ago, the eruption that was responsible for the The Barrier also formed the crater now known as Clinker Peak.


Garibaldi Lake frozen

6. Garibaldi lake freezes over in the winter


Every winter Garibaldi Lake freezes over solid. The turquoise colours that dominate the views in the summer are replaced by deep dark blacks as the glacial melt stops and the lake begins to freeze. Then the first snowfall of the year paints the lake white, making the entire area look completely pristine. The frozen lake also makes access to the far reaches of the lake accessible for backcountry enthusiasts. However, due to the varying nature of winter temperatures the timing of the lake freezing is unreliable leading to the age old question for backcountry enthusiasts…. “Is garibaldi Lake frozen yet?”

And that’s the end of our first post on the magnificent Garibaldi Lake Provincial Park. If you have any amazing facts or photographs that you’s like us to include, please share them with us on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram directly or using the hashtag #SeaToSkyAir.


Anderson, James. D (2011) British Columbia’s Magnificent Parks: The First 100 Years, Harbour Publishing Co. Ltd
Cannings, R & Cannings, S (2015) British Columbia: Natural History of Its Origins, Ecology, and Diversity With A New Look At Climate Change

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