Summer 2024 Tonquin Valley Trail Backpacking Guide

Most of the photos in this article come from the time I did the Tonquin Valley in July 2017. That year British Columbia, the neighboring province, was subjected to some horrific wildfires that ended up relocating almost 40,000 people! 

The wind, which was blowing east at the time, brought in a lot of haze. Bear this in mind when scrolling through the photos. 

Because of the impressiveness of the Tonquin Valley, the first thing I did upon returning to civilization was book another 4 nights on the trail a couple of months later. Not something that happens very often with a to-do list as long as mine.

The second time I went in September 2017, we had 4 days of rain and snow and I hardly took any photos. You know what they say, the third time’s a charm. I am planning on returning!

Tonquin Valley overview

Backpacking Guide to the Tonquin Valley Trail in Jasper National Park

Winding through the western valleys of Jasper National Park, the Tonquin Valley is a multi-day hike in the Canadian Rockies that should be VERY high on your bucket list. It’s a 44 km horseshoe-shaped relocation trek with the possibility of doing many side trips.

The pinnacles of the hike, for most people, are the two Amethyst Lakes. At around 20 km from either trailhead and lying directly below the Ramparts, they mark the halfway point of the trail. 

The Ramparts are a very distinctly jagged mountain range placed right on the Great Divide – the continental divide of the Americas. 

How many days are required to complete Tonquin Valley Trail?

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Evening view of the Ramparts reflecting in a pond

Whilst the hike can be done over 2 long days I would recommend that you spend at least 4 days, 3 nights, taking in all the scenery.

Despite its beauty, I’ve noticed that Tonquin Valley is one of the least busy backpacking trips in the Rockies. There are a few reasons for it which I’ll get to in a bit.

What makes it unique from other trips is the high probability of spotting not only Moose, Black, and Grizzly bears, but also Woodland Caribou. Only a few hundred of them still live in this part of Canada. 

When to backpack the Tonquin Valley Trail?

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A stroll through the Eremite Valley

The official backcountry camping season on the Tonquin Valley Trail lasts from the end of June until the end of September.

However, if you want to have a good time backpacking through the Tonquin Valley I recommend holding off until later in the season and aiming to hike it between mid-August and the end of September.


A good month for hiking in the Rockies, however due to the location of the Tonquin Valley, going in July is like shooting yourself in the foot.

I backpacked the Tonquin Valley trail in July for the first time and it was a disaster. Here is why. Wildfires are common in the Canadian Rockies in July and they are usually started by lightning storms.

During some years the haze in the skies from wildfires is so bad, you can’t see further than a couple of hundred meters. Not to mention the poor air quality. But that’s not the worst.

Due to the proximity of swamps and lakes, Tonquin Valley is the perfect breeding ground for mosquitos. There are millions of them hanging around in July, making your life miserable. You either must move constantly to avoid being bitten or sit in your tent. None of those is a viable option, especially when preparing meals.


By August, particularly the second half most of the mosquitos are gone, but the days are still warm and pleasant to backpack through the Tonquin Valley.  This is a great time for making those backcountry reservations!


September is a great month to backpack through the Tonquin Valley, especially if you aim to spot Woodland Caribou. They like to hang around the marsh ground during that time of the year. It’s also a great time for photographers as the trees are starting the change colors.

The downside to backpacking in September is the cold nights. And by cold, I mean really cold, even down to -10 degrees Celsius. Don’t even think about leaving the trailhead without a proper sleeping bag.

When to book the Tonquin Valley Trail for summer 2024

Reservations for the Tonquin Valley Trail for the summer 2024 launch on February 1, at 8 AM Mountain time.

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Due to limited spaces and the ever-increasing popularity of multiday hikes in the Canadian Rockies, once the reservation system opens the spots disappear in a matter of minutes. Make sure not to miss those dates and be ready to go through the reservation process swiftly!

TIP: You didn’t manage to get a booking? Receive a text message when a cancellation occurs. Just register with Outdoor Status, pick dates to track, and get notified when a spot opens.

How to make reservations for the Tonquin Valley Trail for the summer 2024 backpacking season

  1. Go To the Parks Canada Reservation Website
  2. Choose Backcountry Tab
  3. Click the Backcountry Zone
  4. Select Park, Arrival, Party Size, Tent Pads
  5. Select Access point: Astoria or Portal Creek Trailhead depending on which way you decide to walk it
  6. Choose your campsites and reserve

TIP: Make sure to set up an account with Parks Canada before the Reservations open

The cost of backpacking the Tonquin Valley Trail in the summer season of 2024

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hazy July evening in the Tonquin Valley

As with many other backcountry trails in the Canadian Rockies, there are 3 costs involved in reserving and hiking the Tonquin Valley trail:

  1. Reservation fee: $11.50 per online reservation ($13.50 per phone reservation)
  2. Camping fee/Wilderness pass: $13.50/person/night,
  3. National Park Entry Fee: $10.50/person/day

If, for example, you decide to spend 2 nights on the skyline trail you will need to pay 11.50 + (2  x $13.50) + (2 x $10.50) = $59.50

For the latter consider purchasing an annual Parks Canada Discovery Pass, especially if you will be visiting any national park in Canada for more than 7 days in one year. Group and family options are also available.

The relocation between the Tonquin Valley trailheads

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The stretch between Portal trailhead and Portal campground

There are two access trailheads to Tonquin Valley: Astoria and Portal.

I think using Astoria as your starting point makes the trail easier. Although not a huge difference in elevation, the Astoria Trailhead is 200m higher than the Portal trailhead, which means less effort for you when hiking in. It will be noticeable whilst lugging around a 15kg backpack.

A map detailing the route along the Tonquin Valley Trail in Jasper National Park
Source: Parks Canada


The most efficient way to tackle the trail is to park at the Portal trailhead then hitchhike to the Astoria trailhead and start hiking. This way once you finish the hike at Portal, your vehicle will be waiting for you.

Bringing two cars

If you plan on hiking with a bigger group, then come with two cars and leave one at each trailhead.

There is an ample parking area, free of charge at both trailheads. Whilst generally, the Rockies are very safe, car break-ins do occur occasionally, so make sure not to leave any valuables in sight in your car.

Starting and ending at the same trailhead

Currently, there is no chartered bus service between the trailheads and taxis charge a big flat rate for the 20-minute journey.

If hitching is not your thing and you understandably don’t want to spend 100$ on a short taxi ride then consider returning to your point of origin. Just remember the Astoria Trail is easier but the Maccarib Pass accessed via the Portal trailhead is more scenic. Take your pick.

Where to stay in Jasper before and after the trek

If you plan on backpacking the Tonquin Valley Trail I highly recommend staying the night before in Jasper so you can start with fully charged batteries the next morning.

Below I enlisted a few of the top-rated places in Jasper. If you found my article helpful, consider supporting my site and booking through the affiliate links! It will cost you nothing! 

Accommodation on the Tonquin Valley Trail


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My tent pad at the Amethyst Lakes campsite
Campsite nameDistance from the Astoria TrailheadDistance from The Portal Creek TrailheadElevation
Astoria7.1 km / 4.4 mi36.2 km / 22.49 mi1690 m
Switchback13.8 km / 8.57 mi29.5 km / 18.33 mi2067 m
Clitheroe17.2 km / 10.68 mi26.1 km / 16.21 mi2080 m
Surprise Point19.4 km / 12.05 mi28.5 km / 17.7 mi1978 m
Amethyst20.4 km / 12.67 mi22.9 km / 14.23 mi1985 m
Maccarib23.8 km / 14.78 mi20.1 km / 12.49 mi2012 m
Portal 34.6 km / 21.49 mi10.2 km / 6.34 mi 1979 m

Which campsites to book?

To make the most of your experience on the Tonquin Valley trail you should ideally book the following campsites:

  • Surprise Point, Amethyst Lakes, Portal Creek (if you are completing the horseshoe relocation), or,
  • Surprise Point, Amethyst Lakes, and Switchback or Astoria (if you are walking in and out the same way from Astoria). 

Amenities and campsite rules on the Tonquin Valley Trail

  • Bear lockers
  • open-air outhouses
  • benches for cooking food
  • running creek water (not treated)
  • grey water disposal
  • no dogs allowed
  • no hammocks allowed
  • no fires allowed

Tonquin Valley Backcountry Lodge & Adventures Lodge

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Tonquin Valley Backcountry Lodge Cabins

To bolster the dwindling caribou population in Jasper National Park and limit the number of tourists visiting this fragile area, Parks Canada bought out both Backcountry Lodge & Adventures Lodge. As of 2023, both lodges seized their operation.

Wates Gibson Hut (ACC)

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Wates Gibson Hut

How to reserve the Wates Gibson Hut for summer 2024

In the summer season, the Wates-Gibson hut can accommodate up to 26 hikers. The current prices stand at CAD 50 for an Alpine Club Canada member and CAD 60 for a non-member. Prices are charged per person per night.

Alpine Club of Canada members can reserve the hut up to 6 months in advance whereas non-members only 3 months in advance.

You can make a reservation directly on the ACC website

Wates Gibson Hut facilities

  • mattress pads (BYO sleeping bag)
  • propane stoves with propane provided
  • outhouses
  • Propane lighting
  • Wood stove for heating with wood provided
  • Untreated creek water (or snowmelt)

A Few Packing Essentials For The Tonquin Valley Trail

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81tfFrtzGFL. AC SL1500

For multi-day backpacking trips where I have to carry a tent and food, I use my trusted Osprey Ariel AG backpack with a 65-litre capacity and its anti-gravity harness system

Get it on Amazon (Worldwide) / Backcountry (US)

61hyVXS v5L. AC SL1200
Lightweight backpacking tent

I’ve had the MSR Hubba Hubba NX for years now and used it on every single backpacking trip I did in the Rockies. So far I have no tears and all the poles are still intact. Grab a tent footprint too, to prolong the life of your tent.

Get it on Amazon (Worldwide) / Backcountry (US)

71jYUyjo5hL. AC SL1500
Sleeping pad

Getting a good night’s rest after hiking the whole day is essential. The Sea To Summit Ultralight sleeping pad will not only keep you insulated from the ground, but it will keep you comfy too. My advice is to go with the larger size.

Get it on Amazon (Worldwide) / Backcountry (US)

816pVvFnDLL. AC SL1500
Camping stove

The folding MSR pocket rocket is my constant companion that provides daily hot meals in the backcountry. For its small size, it is incredibly efficient and it supports a wide range of camping pots. 

Get it on Amazon (Worldwide) / Backcountry (US)

71 K6YfLYDL. AC SL1500
Camping pot

Many companies offer pot sets however over the years I noticed that one pot is more than enough to cook a meal or make a hot cup of tea. I have the Sea To Summit Lightweight Aluminium Pot.

Get it on Amazon (Worldwide) / Backcountry (US)

51Q4SrdrvcL. AC SL1200
Water filter

The water filtering system is essential to avoid waterborne diseases such as Giardia. I use the lightweight Platypus GravityWorks. Although the initial cost is higher than other options (e.g. tablets), in the long run, the cost per liter is unbeatable. 

Get it on Amazon (Worldwide) / Backcountry (US)

61TVlossveL. AC SL1500
Solar lantern

One of the best gifts I’ve ever received. The LuminAid solar lantern is always attached to the outside of my backpack where it recharges during the day. The light it gives is enough to play games in the tent or cook dinner in the evening. 

Get it on Amazon

Tonquin Valley Trail: stages breakdown

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Stage 1:  Astoria Trailhead to Astoria Campsite

Immediately as you start the trail, the first breathtaking view, after around 100m, is Cavell Lake. Early in the morning as the first light strikes Mount Edith Cavell and the calm atmosphere creates beautiful reflections in the water, the snow-capped peak above the Cavell Glacier glistens effortlessly in the distance. This is one of the most photogenic spots in Jasper National Park

A highlight of multi-day hiking along the Tonquin Valley Trail. Edith Cavell Lake
Mount Edith Cavell from Cavell Lake

 As you walk along the slightly undulating path the mountain vistas peak out upon occasion, offering you brief glimpses of domineering peaks through the trees.

Upon reaching the Astoria Campsite after around 2 hours, the picnic tables overlooking the Astoria River are a great spot for a lunch or snack.

Most people will find that the Astoria campsite, at around 7 kilometers (ca. 4,5 miles) in, is too close to the trailhead to be considered useful unless you plan on starting the hike late in the afternoon. 

Stage 2: Astoria Campground to Surprise Point or Clitheroe/Switchback Campsites

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From Astoria Campground the trail then hugs the river for another 1.5 kilometers until you reach a fork. 

At the fork, a left turn will take you across a bridge and around Chrome Lake. If you booked your first night at Surprise Point campsite then consider this route.

It’s slightly shorter and has more of a steady elevation increase. This is also the most direct route for those going to the Wates-Gibson Hut. 

If your first campsite reservation is at the Switchback (or Clitheroe) campsite, stick to the main path with the river on your left. The trail heads up a moderate series of switchbacks broken up by large boulder fields where cute mini-elephant-like Pika can be seen scurrying around.

You’ll arrive at the Switchback Campsite after around 4/5 hours total. Clitheroe is only 3.5km, or another hour, away and Surprise Point is 1,5-2 hours away.

The majority of the path from the trailhead to Switchback is within the tree line with brief moments of wonderful views however there’s more to come I promise.

Around the middle of July, the local Grouse hatch and outcomes the cutest offspring, they use man-made paths to navigate the forest floor so keep your eyes open.

Extension: Eremite Valley

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If you stay your first night at Surprise Point, you are in the perfect spot for exploring the Eremite Valley. Do it in the morning before packing up and moving to Amethyst Lakes for your second night.

There is no point in bringing your things with you as you will be going in the opposite direction and coming back the same way. Besides, with a much lighter load, you can appreciate the surroundings effortlessly.

The Eremite Valley (photo above) is a one-way in, one-way out mostly flat hike that gives jaw-dropping views of several small glaciers that call the Ramparts Mountain Range home.

Also, a chance to admire several glacial moraines that were deposited after the Little Ice Age in the 17th century. Depending on how much energy you have, the trail into the Eremite Valley can be lengthened or shortened to meet your requirements.

Stage 3: Surprise Point to Amethyst Lakes campsite

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Upon returning after a day of exploring it’s time to pack up and move campsites. From Surprise Point, the southern tip of Amethyst Lake is a short walk away.

Early in the morning, there are several reflecting bays and the mouth of the Astoria River is a common spot to watch bears fishing for rainbow or brook trout.

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To reach the Amethyst Lakes campsite you need to follow the boot trodden, path first up to Clitheroe campsite then down to Amethyst Lakes. The distance between the Surprise Point and Amethyst Lakes is It’s 5.6 kilometers.

The Amethyst campground is the highlight of the entire Tonquin Valley, the Ramparts are right in front of you and you are only a hundred meters away from the lake. Several small swamps with a variety of vibrant wildflowers crowd the area offering stunning photography opportunities.

Woodland Caribou enjoying the pastures in the Tonquin Valley

It’s also where Woodland Caribou, an endangered species of undulate in Jasper National Park, can be seen whilst changing grazing zones in September. If you spot one, please make sure to keep a distance and do not disturb them. Caribous are extremely endangered and only a handful is now left in Jasper National Park.

Stage 4:  Amethyst Lakes to Portal Campground via Maccarib Pass

Tonquin Valley Jasper NationalPark 6

From Amethyst continue north along the shore parallel to the Ramparts. Soon you’ll be close to the Maccarib Campsite, an alternative if Amethyst Lakes Campground is full. 

From here continue slowly uphill until climaxing on the top of the Maccarib Pass, the next part of the trail is very scenic as you’ll wind through meadows garnished with more picturesque wildflowers framed beneath numerous mountain peaks.

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Way too quickly you are back amongst the trees, following a babbling brook on the approach to the Portal Campsite. If you’re not the fittest of hikers then stay here for the night but if you have the energy to tackle the next 10km, downhill, for two hours, then carry on. Your chariot awaits you.

Stage 5: Portal Campground to Portal Creek Trailhead

Tonquin Valley Jasper NationalPark 1

A final couple of hours is firstly along a rocky bank before descending below the tree line where a tributary for the Fraser River is your route marker.

Before you know it, you’ll be at the trailhead, patting yourself on the back and driving away, successfully having ticked another one of the Canadian Rockies’ most spectacular multi-day hikes off your bucket list.

The entire Tonquin Valley trail is well marked, as with all of the hikes in Jasper National Park, I’d find it very surprising if somebody managed to lose the path. 

Wildlife Warnings

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A mosquito bite on my neck

Grizzly bears

I bet you think I’m going to say something about grizzly bears, aren’t you? I did have a terrifying grizzly experience on the trail where a sow with two cubs followed me for around 500 m, but this was not the most difficult wildlife experience I had in the Tonquin Valley.


The mosquitos here are the real enemy. During the early summer months of June and July, these aggressive little creatures swarm around you, trying their hardest to suck your blood. Their life depends on it so as you can imagine, they try pretty hard. If you can, avoid walking the Tonquin Valley trail during those months!

Otherwise, take my advice and bring plenty of repellents. We took two full bottles and almost ran out. A mosquito face net (available for a few dollars in outdoor stores in Jasper), a long-sleeved mosquito t-shirt, and long mosquito-proof pants will also come in handy and will save your sanity.

The mosquitos gradually subside until late August and in September there’s generally none left. 

Additional tips for backpacking along the Tonquin Valley Trail

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Trail reports

Always check the trail reports before leaving to check for closures, bear sightings, and weather conditions. You can check all Trail Conditions in Jasper here

Last minute cancellations

If you don’t have a booking all is not lost. Keep checking the reservation system as cancellations do occur on this trail. 

Sun protection

The sun at these altitudes can be fierce, take a sun hat, UV-protected sunglasses, and above 30 SPF sunscreen. 

Other great backpacking trips in the Canadian Rockies


Hi! I am the photographer and creator of I come from Poland, but I've been living, travelling and working around the globe since I turned 18. A few years ago, during one of my trips to Scotland, I bought my first DSLR and my adventure with photography began. When I am not stuck to my computer editing photos, you can find me hiking somewhere in the mountains.


  1. Great article! Just a heads up that the Tonquin Valley Backcountry Lodge no longer exists; it was bought out by Parks Canada and closed down in an effort to preserve critical land for caribou.

    • Hi Elya. Thanks so much for letting me know. I just googled it and read about it. Pretty good stuff. I will update the article accordingly.

  2. Is that price for the Wates-Gibson correct? You wrote the price/hut/night is $500 for Alpine Club Canada Members or $550 for Non-Members but the website says its only $50 per night for non-members and $40 for members.

    • Hi Christina. Thanks for visiting my site. These were still the prices for 2022 when there were restrictions in place due to the pandemic and it was only possible to book the entire hut. These restrictions were taken down this year and it wasn’t announced until recently. I have now updated the pricing for the Wates-Gibson hut. Thanks for pointing it out to me!

  3. Thanks Marta! Great post. I thought I had researched my trip quite well but some more stuff I found really helpful was the eremite valley side trip, the shortcut in front of Clitheroe campsite and also to try and look out for the bears catching salmon at the mouth of the Astoria river. Thanks for the tips!

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