A Stunning Hike in Jasper’s Tonquin Valley

Tonquin Valley offers some of the most spectacular scenery that the Canadian Rockies have to offer. Located in Jasper National Park, there are a few different hikes in the valley, but our favourite is to hike to Amethyst Lakes for a phenomenal view of the mighty Ramparts.

The trail can be done as an unconnected circuit, leaving a car at both ends, or as an out and back. We decided to do it as an out and back from the Portal Creek Trailhead. This route meant we would go over the scenic Maccarib Pass.

From the Portal Creek parking lot the trail enters a forest of lodgepole pine and follows Portal Creek up the valley. Before long, the trail climbs above the river to reach an open scree slope on the side of Peveril Peak. The hike spends a lot of time on this slope and because it is above the trees there are amazing, unimpeded views all the way to the pass.

It had been raining for a few days before we were there so the ground was quite muddy. We spotted huge grizzly bear tracks that were easy to see in the wet ground. The fresh tracks seemed to follow the trail for much of the day so we were on high alert.

At the end of the scree slope the trail reaches a large meadow. The open landscape allows lovely 360° views. Ahead of us we could see the stately Ramparts standing tall above the other peaks. Looking back we had a pretty view of Portal Creek Valley where we had just been.

If you want to stretch the trip out, you could stay in either Portal Creek or Maccarib campgrounds located on either side of the pass. We continued on as we were going all the way to Amethyst Lakes.

As we climbed through the meadow on the way to the pass we enjoyed more views of Portal Creek and the Ramparts as they poked above the other mountains. There was a little snow near Maccarib Pass (2210 m) which is not uncommon even in mid July.

On the other side of the pass we spotted a lone mountain caribou. It seemed fitting since Maccarib is an Indigenous word for “caribou”. He didn’t seem to be too worried about us so we stayed still and quietly watched it graze for a few minutes. Mountain caribou are a subgroup of woodland caribou and are a threatened species. The Tonquin Valley is one of three areas in Jasper where herds of mountain caribou live. Parks Canada monitors them and has many programs in place to protect the caribou.

Soon after seeing the caribou we arrived at Amethyst Lakes and were treated to a breathtaking view of the majestic Ramparts. Living up to its name, the mountain stands as if it were a defensive wall protecting Amethyst Lake. Reflecting off the flat lake, the sheer rock wall of the Ramparts is stunning and worth every step to reach it.

Amethyst Campground is the most scenic campground in the area. It’s located on the edge of the lake with gorgeous views of the Ramparts. The weather wasn’t great when we were there which meant we were alone and had the campground and the views to ourselves.

There are a few other lakes and viewpoints in Tonquin Valley, so we stayed an extra night to enjoy the area. Our favourite was Surprise Point. It lived up to its name with a stunning view of the Ramparts from a different angle.

We returned back to our car on the same trail. It was a quick 235 m climb to Maccarib Pass, and then downhill for the rest of the day.

Details On Portal Creek Trail

This is a relatively easy hike. Although long, much of the time is spent above tree line allowing for amazing views. You can make it to Amethyst Lakes in a day, but it is too far for a day trip. Since there are other trails in the area, plan to stay an extra night so you can explore.

Access – For Portal Creek Trailhead park at Portal Creek Parking lot, just beyond Marmot Basin Ski Area. This trailhead is open from mid-May to the end of October
Distance – 21.3 km from Portal Creek Trailhead to Amethyst campground
Elevation Gain – 1,293 m to Amethyst Lakes, 235 m on the return trip.
Best time to hike – The best time to hike in this area is late summer or early fall. Earlier in the season the trail is quite muddy and there are a lot of bugs.


Details on Astoria Creek Trail

This is also an easy, long hike that begins 200 m higher than Portal Creek, but is not as scenic.

Access – Astoria Lake Trailhead access is on Cavell Road. Depending on snowmelt, Cavell Road may only be open to pedestrians and bikes from May and October. Check with Parks Canada for annual opening dates.
Distance – 20.4 km
Elevation Gain -1,053 m to Amethyst Lakes
Best time to hike – The best time to hike in this area is late summer or early fall. Earlier in the season the trail is quite muddy and there are a lot of bugs.

Where to stay

Parks Canada operates 7 campgrounds in the Tonquin Valley area. There are also two private backcountry lodges and a backcountry hut operated by the Alpine Club of Canada. Even with all of these options, the area doesn’t feel busy.

Backcountry campsites have tent sites, outhouses, wires for hanging food and picnic tables. They are situated near running water, but this water must be filtered or treated. Most don’t allow open fires so you need to bring a camping stove. There will be no cell reception at any of the backcountry campgrounds.

Fees

You do require a park pass. Day passes and Annual Discovery Passes can be purchased from the park offices in Banff and Jasper and at all park gates in the summer. In winter some ticket booths are closed, but you still require a pass if you intend to stop. Park staff frequently check parked vehicles in town and at trailheads.

There are also fees to camp in the backcountry campgrounds. Depending on the time of year you may need to book your campsite in advance. You can book at the park office in Banff or on-line here.

Tips for Backpacking in the Canadian Rockies

  • Expect sudden changes in weather. Bring a rain jacket, an extra sweater, gloves and a toque for one-day or multi-day hikes.
  • Hiking poles are useful in many areas and can help save your knees when going down steep descents.
  • Water taken from streams will need to be treated, filtered or boiled.
  • Bring bear spray and/or bear bangers and educate yourself on wildlife safety.

Here’s a short video from our many hikes in the Canadian Rockies.

Coming Next – Multi-Day Hike Options in Kananaskis Country

For more pictures from our travels around the world visit Gallery on monkeystale.ca

To read stories from other parts from Canada click here, or other countries visit Destinations.

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