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The Underwater ‘Treasures’ of Pavilion Lake in British Columbia’s Cariboo

Located halfway between Cache Creek and Lillooet, Pavilion Lake is a brilliantly hued body of water with plenty to explore both above and below the water.

We love to use Pavilion Lake as a paddle destination when camping at nearby Marble Canyon Provincial Park (read our blog) . On our most recent trip, we paddled approximately half the distance along the highway side of the lake, and clocked a trip of around seven kilometres. The highway side of the lake is a mix of waterfront cabins and steep banks going up to the highway. On my next trip, I hope to explore the other side of the lake where there are a couple of boat-access-only properties but mostly it is untouched forest.

Rare Microbialites Attract Scuba Divers a Pavilion Lake | Kim Walker

Pavilion Lake is a popular summertime destination and the limited areas of waterfront that are accessible from the highway (and not private property) can get busy. Kayaking offers visitors the opportunity to get away from the crowds and find a little solitude on the water.

While the steep limestone cliffs and colourful water provide a beautiful destination above the water, Pavilion Lake is internationally known for what lays below the surface.

Diving at Pavilion Lake | Kim Walker

In the mid 1990s, strange structures below the surface of the water were scientifically identified as microbialites – rare calcareous structures likely produced by microbial communities, which are estimated to have started forming 11,000 years ago. Researchers believe the microbialites are similar to some of the earliest life forms on Earth, dating back 500 million years. Pavilion Lake has been studied extensively via the Pavilion Lake Research Project (PLRP), a joint effort between the University of British Columbia and NASA.

Microbialites are Rare Structures Found Under the Waters of Pavilion Lake | Kim Walker

Recreational scuba divers can visit Pavilion Lake and explore three areas with microbialite structures. The North and South dive sites are accessible along the side of the highway down to a depth of 40 metres. The most popular diving location, called Island to Sky Blue, is where we have done the bulk of our diving. This site covers all the areas around the island and the former Sky Blue Water Resort. Divers can explore down to a depth of 40 metres. The remainder of Pavilion Lake is designated a Special Features Zone and no diving is permitted in order to further protect the fragile microbialite structures.

Underwater at Pavilion Lake | Kim Walker

With proper training and equipment, diving at Pavilion Lake is a truly unique experience. The microbialites are reminiscent of coral and the water, particularly in the shallows, can look quite tropical. That is more or less where the comparison ends, though, as the water temperature at Pavilion Lake can be very cold!

Diving at Pavilion Lake | Kim Walker

For those who are not certified or prepared to dive in the cold water, Pavilion Lake remains an excellent destination for kayaking, canoeing, or paddle boarding. While gliding across the surface of the water and enjoying the spectacular mountain views, keep the treasures that lay below in mind and make sure to do your part to protect this fragile ecosystem.

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Published: August 31st, 2022

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