TONQUIN VALLEY - JASPER NATIONAL PARK
The Tonquin Valley is a stunning backcountry vista tucked away within Jasper National Park that will amaze even the most experienced travelers. This treasure provides impeccable views along the Maccarib Pass and Amethyst Lakes and offers visitors a chance to truly escape into some pristine wilderness. The Tonquin Valley needs to be VERY HIGH on your bucket list. The trek is so beautiful with a multitude of lakes, expansive mountain ranges, native wildlife, and absolutely gorgeous campsites. The valley is very popular for the stunning views of Amethyst Lake at the base of the Ramparts Mountain Range. The hike can be done either as an out and back or a complete through hike. Located about 30 minutes away from the town of Jasper, this gem needs to be a part of your Canadian Rockies adventure.
Time Required: 2-3 days
Total Distance: 26.9 Miles
Minimum Elevation: 4,907 ft
Maximum Elevation: 7,257 ft
Tonquin Valley Itinerary
There are many different ways to hike the Tonquin Valley. The hike can be done in either direction or as an out and back. There is one road that connects Highway 93A to the Cavell Lake Trailhead. Unfortunately for us, this road was closed for the season, preventing access to the Cavell Lake Trailhead. Even though we were forced to complete this hike as an out and back from Portal Creek Trailhead, it still was an absolutely incredible hike and so worth it. So full disclosure, the itinerary I am going to recommend is not exactly what I did because of this trailhead closure. But I'm going to recommend an itinerary based on my experience and what I would have done if both trailheads were accessible.
Day 1: Cavell Lake Trailhead to Sunrise Point
In order to hike the full Tonquin Valley loop, it will be necessary to park your vehicle at one of the trailheads and either arrange for a taxi (expensive!) or hitchhike. My recommendation is to park your car at the Portal Creek Trailhead and hitchhike to the Cavell Lake Trailhead. It shouldn't take too long to find a fellow camper who needs to return the favor after someone else helped them in the past.
From the Cavell Lake Trailhead to Sunrise Point is 19.4km with about 400 meters of net descent. Unfortunately, we were not able to hike this section of the trail due to the trailhead closure, but this is how rangers from Jasper recommend starting the hike if the trailhead is open. If you cannot get a campsite at Sunrise Point, Clitheroe or Switchback are nice alternatives.
Day 2: Sunrise Point to Amethyst Campground with Mount Clitheroe Ascent
The area between Sunrise Point and Amethyst deserves time to explore. There is so much beauty in this section of the park, so I recommend having an entire day to enjoy Amethyst Lake and the surrounding mountains. Whenever I visit a new park, I make sure to pick the brains of the rangers for any inside information on the trail conditions, and any hidden treasures that might not be on the map. I am so lucky to have talked to a park ranger in Jasper and have her recommend climbing to the top of Mount Clitheroe.
From Sunrise Point it is a quick 5.6km to Amethyst Campground. Set up camp, grab your daypack, and start walking east up towards the top of Mount Clitheroe by 10 AM. There is no actual trail leading to the peak of Mount Clitheroe. You will first have to bushwack for about a half hour until you get above the tree line. This is tough, but trust me the views from the top of the peak are worth it.
This is ONLY FOR ADVANCED HIKERS. Safety is paramount. I would not consider this a dangerous hike, but only attempt this hike if you are confident in your hiking abilities and physical stamina and DO NOT ATTEMPT ALONE.
There is no exact way up to the top of Mount Clitheroe. The best route we found was a little bit south of Amethyst campground up on the west face. There are boulder fields to ascend, but no shear vertical sections that require any professional climbing gear. It takes about 2-3 hours to get to the top from Amethyst campground, and even a bit longer to descend.
The views from the summit of Mount Clitheroe are absolutely fantastic and was definitely the highlight of our Canadian Rockies trip. This is not an official climb, but it was recommended to us by the park ranger which we deemed satisfactory. You'll want to spend a good amount of time at the top, to make sure to plan the hike early enough so that you have ample time to spare before you have to make the descent back to Amethyst.
Summit of Mount Clitheroe
It will take around 3 hours to climb back down to Amethyst, so make sure that you start climbing down well before the sun starts to set. Amethyst campground is my favorite campground in the area. If there is no availability, Maccarib is an alternative but is not located on the lake like Amethyst is. The campground is absolutely breathtaking and was even the spot where we saw our first native wildlife!
Day 3: Amethyst Campground to Portal Creek Trailhead
Day 3 is a significant 22.9 kilometer hike from Amethyst Campground back to Portal Creek Trailhead. The first half of the hike runs along the Maccarib Valley up to the Maccarib Pass, with an elevation of 7,244 ft. Along that hike you will see Mt Clitheroe that you hiked the previous day on your right side.
We climbed that mountain!
The views from the top of the Maccarib Pass down towards Portal Creek are truly beautiful and make for an excellent place to stop for lunch. The remainder of the hike is a nice descent along Portal Creek all the way to the trailhead.
Portal Creek Trailhead
Additional Tips and Information
Source: Parks Canada
The Tonquin Valley is famous for not just its breathtaking views, but also the plethora of mosquitos. They weren't that bad when we visited in late August, but June and July are known to be much worse. Be prepared with a mosquito net and bug repellant.
Campgrounds require reservations! See my article on Reserving Campsites Through Parks Canada for all my advice on navigating through this system. It is unlikely you will get the campsites you want unless you start the reservation process at least 3-4 months in advance for the popular summer months.
The best time to visit is late summer to fall when the bugs aren't as popular and the snow has fully melted from the trail.
For those looking for alternatives to camping, there are some lodging options around Amethyst Lake including: