A sedimentological and geochemical study of the Lago Enol sequence (Cantabrian Mountains, northern Spain), together with detailed geomorphological mapping, provides a first record of glacier evolution and climate change over the last 40 ka in the Picos de Europa National Park. The Enol glacier retreated from its maximum extent prior to 40 ka BP as demonstrated by the onset of proglacial lacustrine sedimentation in two glaciated depressions: the Comella hollow to the north (before 40 ka BP) and the Lago Enol (before 38 ka BP). These results support previous evidence that the maximum extent of southern European glaciers occurred earlier than in northern Europe. Alternation of homogeneous and laminated proglacial sediments during the glacier retreat illustrate a dynamic glacial evolution during the Marine Isotope Stage (MIS) 3 (40–26 ka BP). A slight warming is detected at 26 ka ago with the change from proglacial sediments (in a lake located in contact to the glacier) to glaciolacustrine sedimentation (in a non-contact or distal lake). Finally, the onset of organic-rich sediments took place at 18 ka ago. This last transition occurred in two phases, similarly to the North Atlantic Last Termination, suggesting a link between North Atlantic Deep Water formation oscillations and palaeohydrological variability in the Cantabrian Mountains. Copyright © 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.