The Barrier at Garibaldi Lake on a sunny day with blue sky

Day Trips From Vancouver: The Barrier at Garibaldi Lake

In Squamish Activities by Vicky Farrand

You may have noticed that we write about Garibaldi Lake a lot. Mostly for two reasons first, it’s iconic. The unforgettable turquoise waters, glacier views, volcanic peaks and surrounding wildflower meadows make it one of the most beautiful lakes in BC. It has been called the “crown jewel” of Garibaldi Provincial Park by travel writers and it is one of the must-do day trips from Vancouver for residents and visitors. Secondly, and our most favourite reason, is because the geological story of this region is simply fascinating. It has an origin story dating back over 250 million years and the mountains around the lake are still moving today, rising skyward at a rate of 1 -4 millimetres per year!

The Barrier at Garibaldi Lake: A Quick History

One of the most astounding facts about the Barrier is that there would be no Garibaldi Lake without it. The Barrier is a natural lava dam that formed over 10,000 years ago following an eruption at Mount Price, one of the 9 volcanoes that surround Garibaldi Lake. It is reported that the Barrier is holding back 1 trillion litres of glacial melt and rainwater that has drained into the 250-meter deep valley since the dam’s formation.

The Barrier at Garibaldi Lake on a sunny day with blue sky

Should the natural materials of the Barrier ever fail, Steve Quane, a researcher from Quest University estimates that the potential energy of the water releasing from 1400m of elevation would be around 200 times that of the energy released by the bomb on Hiroshima.

Squamish has so much to offer for people looking for day trips from Vancouver. If you’d like to learn more about the Barrier, it’s history and how it was formed, watch this short documentary from the students of Quest University

Day trips from Vancouver: how to get to the Barrier at Garibaldi Lake

The Barrier is on the east side of Garibaldi Lake. Hikers can get a nice view of the sheer cliff face of the lava dam just after the 5km marker on the Garibaldi Lake trail. As you can imagine this hike is incredibly popular in the summer months, so expect crowds on weekends and holidays between July and August.

Looking down on Garibaldi Lake in the summer from a small plane

Garibaldi Lake hiking trail

The Garibaldi Lake hike is a full day activity for best suited to intermediate or advanced hikers with backcountry experience.

  • 19 km (11 mi) round trip
  • 6.5 hours
  • 3020 ft (920 m) elevation gain
  • High point 1500 m (4910 ft)
  • Intermediate

See the Barrier and Garibaldi Lake from the air

To truly appreciate the Barrier, you have to see it from the air. Getting a birds-eye-view of the volcanoes that surround Garibaldi Lake really puts the Barrier into perspective. It’s hard to imagine what 1 trillion litres of water looks like in a 250-meter deep valley until you’ve flown over it and see it with your own eyes. You can see the Barrier on our 50-minute Whistler Backcountry Air Safari sightseeing flight that covers over 550 sq kms of backcountry wilderness.

Book a Whistler Backcountry Air Safari here