Hiking in Jasper : Tonquin Valley From Astoria Trailhead!
Looking for an amazing hiking experience in Jasper? A hike in the Canadian rockies with amazing views basically the entire time? Look no further! The Tonquin Valley Trail is an amazing hike in Jasper, and an amazing backpacking trip too. Whether you do the entire thing in one go, or you go halfway and turn back, you won’t be disappointed, especially when you enter the valley by Amethyst Lake! You’ll want to jump right in!
I’ve heard there’s a moment on every backpacking trip when you’re not sure if you can make it any further. Or maybe I’m making things up… Anyways, on overnight backpacking trip of the Tonquin Valley in Jasper, I wasn’t sure I was going to make it to Amethyst Lake, or worst back to the car. Okay, that might be a little melodramatic.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve hiked through the mountains before, but the combination of a heavy pack, old boots and the beating sun on a trail of never ending switchbacks made me unsure of if I could finish. But I was 15km in, and even through the tears and pain kept pushing forward. But I’ll admit it, i just barely kept going.
Trail Name: Tonquin Valley – Jasper National Park
Total Time: 7 HOURS EACH WAY!
Explore Amethyst Lake and Stay At the amazing Clitheroe Campground!
1. Hike From Astoria Trailhead to Astoria Trailhead (7km easy)
2. Continue on towards the rockslide (2km)
3. Walk up the mountain to Switchback Campground (7km)
4. Keep trekking to Clitheroe Campground (4km)
5. Once You’ve settled in, make the last hike to Amethyst Lake (3km)
Hiking Tonquin Valley From Astoria Trailhead
There are two ways to get to Tonquin Valley in Jasper National Park. The first is from Portal Creek, and the second, which was our choice is from Astoria Trailhead on Edith Cavell Road. Though we haven’t done the Portal Creek route (we’ve heard it’s amazing though…), I definitely recommend doing Astoria trailhead to Amethyst Lake if you’re looking for a hike in Jasper.
To get to Astoria trailhead, you will go up Edith Cavell Road and park in the spots by the trailhead. It is only about a ten minute drive up the mountain to the trailhead. To get to Edith Cavell road, you have to turn onto highway 93a (yes, 93a! Not 93!) from the Icefields parkway. Then, assuming you’re driving from Jasper, you take the second turn (after Marmot Basin Road) onto Edith Cavell Road. then Voila! You’re on your way to a magical hike.
Note for 2017!
If you are going to take Astoria Trailhead you need to get an entry pass to Edith Cavell Road. They are available up to 3 days in advance (and day of) from in front of the Jasper Tourist office from 8am to 10am every day (which is kind of frustrating) for 4 separate entry times throughout the day. After that you can just park your car and exit between 830am and 8pm on your exit day! REMEMBER TO DO THIS! You won’t be able to get to the trailhead without the pass since the road is under construction this year to improve guest experience!!
Astoria Trailhead to Astoria Campground
Almost immediately after you start walking from your car you set your eyes upon the wonderful Astoria Lake. Which is a brilliant combination of blues and teals in the summer with looming mountains in the background. You cross the rickety bridge (ok it’s not that rickety) and you’re off! Ready to head into the no cell-service, long trail ahead!
The first seven kilometers are easy, gentle rolling hills and a little descent into the valley, you’ll reach Astoria campground in no time! This is an awesome place to grab a quick snack because it is elevated and overlooks a rushing river. Astoria Campground offers amazing views of the mountains surrounding it too.
Astoria Campground to Switchback Campground
There are two ways to get to Amethyst Lake and Clitheroe Campground. The apparently more challenging route is the one we took. As you continue on from Astoria Campground you’ll reach a junction that is fairly unmarked. Going left, you’ll take the route we did up the mountain!
There is a 300m section of a landslide on the path. There is a great deal of signs telling you not to stop. You never want to though, because the huge boulders that surround you could easily kill you if there was another landslide in the Tonquin Valley. It was 30 degrees when we did this hike and you could feel it radiating off of the rocks. Probably the hottest I’ve ever been while hiking. I should have broken out a carton of eggs and made a scramble.
Here’s the kicker about taking this route, Jasper National Parks has messed up the signs. So at Astoria trailhead it will tell you that you are 9km from Clitheroe! Don’t get that in your head if you’re going this route. Instead you are 9km from Switchback, literally up the side of the mountain. Okay… so it’s not that bad. But my toes nails were already crushed and I had blisters all over my feet! I was dying, or so it seemed, I was basically crying my way up the mountain.
Making it to the Top of Old Horn Mountain
Old Horn Mountain, well you are just a gem. Not. It’s hard work climbing switchbacks in the blazing heat. But worth the amazing views at the top. You get 360-degree views of the entire valley including the surrounding mountains. As much as the switchbacks are awful, you get an amazing view that is honestly unrivalled.
Finishing the Hike To Clitheroe Campground
By the time we got to the top of Old Horn Mountain I was sweating buckets, literally. My feet were beat up, and I wasn’t sure I could take another step. But we had to keep going, basically a top a ridge. By this time we were at 8km from Astoria, i kept thinking that Clitheroe would be just around the corner. Guess what? It wasn’t. It is actually more like 14km to Clitheroe this way from Astoria Campground. So still I pushed on, crying at least once as the pain radiated through my feet.
You might think I was a bit of a baby, but if you’ve ever had bad blisters then you know!
Snow-Covered Clitheroe Campground
At the sign posting to Clitheroe Campground you have to descend 100 meters into a little valley. This campground is one of the most spread out ones that I’ve seen in the national parks. The eating area, camping area and outhouse are a solid trek away from each other. But it’s so nice because the campground is quiet and serene. Like all national park campgrounds there is a running water source, and the stream basically rocks you to sleep.
It’s really good to note that there is snow in this area. The only true “dry” times are between mid-July and early September. But this area due to its altitude can get snow earlier or later as well.
The Last Trek To Amethyst Lake
We didn’t head all the way down to Amethyst Lake our first night. Instead we decided to have a well deserved dinner, of freeze dried food, smores and play a game of crib. Because what else are you going to do in the middle of the woods.
So we woke up with the sun and made our way the last couple of kilometers to the valley floor and Amethyst Lake. The minute we emerged from the trees we were surrounded by towering mountains in all directions. I’ve spent enough time in the mountains but still always feel small when you’re in an area where they meet.
Exploring the Beautiful Amethyst Lake
Serene, peaceful and calm. There were no other people around, so the two of us basically felt like we had the entire valley to ourselves.