The black tusk near whistler

Mountains, Volcanoes

The Impressive History & Geology of The Black Tusk Near Whistler

It’s difficult to travel the Sea to Sky Highway without taking note of the renowned stratovolcano, The Black Tusk. We are fortunate to fly around and over this magnificent spire almost daily, and it never ceases to amaze us. The Black Tusk lies within Garibaldi Provincial Park, standing at an impressive 2,319 m (7,608 ft) above sea level, and is roughly 37km north of Squamish and 19km south of Whistler. It is one of the most recognizable mountains in the Garibaldi Ranges of the Coast Mountains, and is part of the Garibaldi Volcanic Belt, a segment of the Canadian Cascade Arc. Knowing more about the history and geology of the tusk makes it all the more impressive to gaze upon!

Indigenous History of The Black Tusk

The Black Tusk is known to the Squamish people as t’ak’t’ak mu’yin tl’a in7in’a’xe7en, meaning
“Landing Place of the Thunderbird,” and to the L’íl’wat as Q’elqámtensa ti Skenknápa, meaning “Place where the Thunder Rests.” It is said to be named after the supernatural bird Thunderbird, and its jagged shape and black colouring are said to be due to either the Thunderbird’s lightning or its talons crashing into the peak. [1]

Geology of The Black Tusk

The geology of The Black Tusk is a treasure trove – what we see today is the result of an explosive history, creating one of the most magnificent spires in the world.

Formation of Black Tusk

The Black Tusk is a remnant of an extinct andesitic stratovolcano which formed between 1.3 and 1.1 million years ago. After glacial dissection, renewed volcanism produced the lava dome and flow that formed its summit around 170,000 years ago. According to Natural Resources Canada, The Black Tusk was likely the conduit for lava within a cinder-rich volcano, with the loose cinder having eroded away, leaving only the hard lava core. This exposed lava rock is loose and friable, and its black colour gives the mountain its name and character. Cinder Cone, located east of The Black Tusk, produced a 9 km (6 mi) long lava flow during the late Pleistocene or early Holocene. [2]

Geological Features Surrounding The Tusk

At the summit of The Black Tusk, you can look north and see the smaller Empetrum Peak, and look east to see the previously mentioned Cinder Cone. There are also two large cirques carved into the northeastern and northwestern flanks of the broad cone below the lava pinnacle of the mountain are currently home to two significant glaciers. These glaciers start at an elevation of 2,100 m (6,890 ft) and flow northwards to below 1,800 m (5,906 ft). Due to the crumbling nature of the Tusk’s rock, the glaciers are heavily covered in rocky debris. [3]

Volcanic Activity in the Area

The Black Tusk is part of a chain of volcanic peaks stretching from southwestern British Columbia to northern California, which was formed over the past 35 million years due to the subduction of the Juan de Fuca, Gorda and Explorer plates beneath the North American Plate at the Cascadia subduction zone. While there’s no risk of the Black Tusk erupting again, it might surprise you to know that there are still two dormant volcanoes that have the potential for eruption, Mount Garibaldi in Squamish and Mount Baker in Washington. You can learn more about those here

How to See the Black Tusk

If you’re looking for a peek at The Black Tusk, technically, you don’t have to go far! As we mentioned, you can get a glimpse of it as you drive up and down the Sea to Sky Highway. However, there are several other ways to get a more up-close-and-personal view of the impressive spire. In the summer, you can actually hike to the Tusk, and we’ve done some research to help you get there. You can read more in our blog to find out everything you need to know before you go. One of our personal favourites, and the most accessible to all, is to fly over the Tusk and take in the impressive angles of the spire from above. Our Whistler Backcountry Air Safari is a great way to not only experience the views from above but learn more about The Black Tusk from a new perspective.


[1] Whistler Museum https://blog.whistlermuseum.org/2014/12/07/the-black-tusk/
[2] “Catalogue of Canadian volcanoes – Black Tusk”. National Resources Canada.”
[3] “Garibaldi: Where Fire Met Ice”. Geological Survey of Canada.”


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