Tonquin Valley

Jasper National Park

Point-to-point overnight trek through wildlife-rich valleys beneath soaring mountains, featuring the Amethyst Lakes in Jasper National Park.

Hiking Difficult

Distance
40 km
Ascent
1.1 km
Descent
1.3 km
Duration
1 day +
Low Point
1.5 km
High Point
2.2 km
Gradient
Tonquin Valley Map

Tonquin Valley is a 2-4 day trek in the Jasper backcountry that finds some of the most incredible alpine scenery imaginable--huge blue pools of Amethyst Lakes set beneath the glaciated pinnacles of The Rampart Range, in a valley studded with wildflowers and teeming with wildlife. The journey to reach it is a reward of its own, travelling through broad forested valleys and over a high pass beneath huge peaks.

Description

Camping requires advance permits with Jasper National Park, and the wilderness environment necessitates careful preparation for bad weather, bear safety, muddy trails, and mosquitos. Completing the full distance from Cavell to Portal also requires organizing a vehicle shuttle. The work is well worth it for swaths of Rocky Mountain scenery to yourself and chances at spotting the endangered woodland caribou around the stunning Amethyst Lakes in Tonquin Valley.

Cavell Trailhead to Amethyst Lakes

Only a few steps into the trail comes the first really great view--Cavell Lake reflecting the snowy peaks of Mt. Edith Cavell. Pause to take this in, then continue on your way up the valley. The trail ascends gradually and remains mostly in the trees for the next several kilometers, but you’ll catch a glimpse of the mountainsides through occasional gaps and at creek crossings. Enjoy the scenery and shade of the tall conifers and keep an eye out for wildlife.

Astoria campsite is at km 7.1, located at a scenic clearing along the river. In another 1.4 km is the junction with Trail 106 to Chrome Lake, to the left. This is a sensible alternate route if you are staying at Sunrise Point Camp (km 19.4), otherwise continue ahead on the main trail.

Beyond Astoria, the trail begins to climb much more steeply via switchbacks that peek out over talus-covered slide paths on the slopes of Oldhorn Mountain. The switchbacks are brief and then turn into a rolling traverse of the mountainside where rocky meadows grant your first great views of The Ramparts--massive toothy peaks that rise straight up from the Tonquin Valley. Switchback (km 13.8) and Clitheroe (km 17.2) camps are along this stretch.

At Clitheroe Camp, Trail 106 rejoins and the route heads downhill through the forest for just 2 more kilometers before emerging on the glorious shore of the Amethyst Lakes. This is the highlight setting of the entire journey. The large pool of the Amethyst Lakes and several smaller ponds reflect their proud backdrop of The Ramparts. Wildflowers bloom in abundance. Wildlife you may see in the meadows include elk, moose, and maybe even the endangered woodland caribou.

The trail passes along the east side of the valley at the forest and meadow edge. Amethyst Camp (km 20.4), with the most popular sites along the route, is in the middle of the valley, and two backcountry lodges sit at either end of the main lake.

Amethyst Lakes to Portal Trailhead

From the lakes the trail continues north briefly before turning east at Maccarib Camp (km 23.8) and following a creek up another valley of beautiful, wide meadows with more chances of spotting caribou. The meadows steepen and become more alpine in character as you near Maccarib Pass. The pass, practically on the treeline at a lofty 2210 m, rewards with wildflower displays framed by craggy peaks all around.

The trail descends rocky terrain on the other side of the pass to re-enter the forest at Portal Camp (km 34.6). Here the trail runs alongside Portal Creek, which it more or less follows for the remainder. This valley leads downward for 10 more kilometers to the trailhead.

The trail travels through open woodland along the creek for a few kilometers before a short climb onto rocky, barren slopes where it traverses for another few kilometers with “final hurrah” views of Aquila Mountain and Lectern Peak across the valley, and Perevil Peak above. Eventually you’ll dip back down to the creek in the forest, which becomes denser as you continue to lose elevation. The journey ends at Portal Trailhead, after a total of 43.3 kilometers in the wild Northern Rockies backcountry.

Sources: https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/pn-np/ab/jasper/activ/passez-stay/arrierepays-backcountry/sugg-sentierstrip-ideas/Tonquin https://www.inafarawayland.com/tonquin-valley-backpacking-guide/ http://www.zentravellers.com/hiking-in-tonquin-valley/ http://www.greatoutdoors.com/published/tonquin-valley

Difficulty

Difficult

Hiking trails where obstacles such as rocks or roots are prevalent. Some obstacles can require care to step over or around. At times, the trail can be worn and eroded. The grade of the trail is generally quite steep, and can often lead to strenuous hiking.

Medium Exposure

2 out of 4

The trail contains some obstacles such as outcroppings and rock which could cause injury.

Remoteness

2 out of 4

Away from help but easily accessed.

Best time to visit

June, July, August, September

Features

  • Alpine
  • Wildlife
  • Picturesque
  • Wild flowers
  • Water features
  • Forestry or heavy vegetation

Similar routes nearby

Guidebooks in this area