Hi everyone! In today’s post I’m sharing what you need to know to hike the Tonquin Valley in Jasper Alberta. This hike has some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever seen while hiking! The Tonquin Valley has very different scenery than the hikes in BC, in a good way! This guide will have general Tonquin Valley hiking information and the day by day itinerary is until Switchback Camp. More on that below!
How to Get There
The trailhead is located in Jasper National Park, on the road to Mount Edith Cavell. To get there, take the Highway 93 South from Jasper and turn right onto Highway 93A. It’s easy to miss the turn off for the 93A, so keep an eye out for the tollbooths (the turn off is just after). Follow signs for Mount Edith Cavell and the Tonquin Valley. In the summertime, a trail or road access permit is required for Mount Edith Cavell because of the high volume of people, so make sure to check in with Jasper Parks Canada office for a permit.
When to Go
The best time to hike the Tonquin Valley is in September, when the weather is still warm and there are fewer bugs. Mosquitoes were a huge problem on the trail when we hiked this past July and they are not to be underestimated (which we did)! The mosquitoes at the camps were insane, to the point of having a spoon full of oatmeal with a side of mosquitoes. We were swarmed with bugs the entire time at camp, even with bug nets. It definitely detracted from the experience for me, but if you’re able to tolerate really buggy conditions you’ll be good to hike in July. May I humbly suggest going in September :).
The conditions on the trail are quite unpredictable and the Jasper Parks Canada Information Center in downtown Jasper is a great resource. They’re located on 500 Connaught Dr, telephone number: (780) 852-6236. Check in with them ahead of your hike for up to date trail conditions and information. Things that could impact the hike are weather, bugs and bears. For our trip this past July, were were notified that two of the bridges along the trail were washed out (before Portal camp), so we decided to shorten our hike from the full 4 days, to 2 days.
Here’s our day by day itinerary:
Day 1 – Start at Cavell Trailhead (on Mount Edith Cavell Road) to Switchback Camp (13.8 KM)
From the Cavell Trailhead to the Astoria Camp, the trail was fairly easy with not too much elevation gain. The campsite at Astoria is quite nice, with a couple of picnic benches and a nice view of Portal Creek.
The hike from Astoria to Switchback is much more difficult. It’s approximately 1-2 hours (depending on your pace) at a steep incline. There are two sections that require bouldering on your way up. After this steep section, there isn’t much more incline to Switchback camp.
Day 2 – Switchback Camp back to Cavell Trailhead (13.8KM)
Once we got to Switchback Campground, we were swarmed by mosquitoes. As a group we decided that myself and my husband would hike back down and finish the hike early. Our other three friends continued on hiking to Amethyst Lake to see the stunning Rampart Mountains. They did a day trip from Switchback to Amethyst and then camped a second night at Switchback before heading home. A day trip to the Ramparts is a great option, if you only want to hike part of the trail.
This was our original plan before learning the bridges were washed out:
Cavell Trailhead to Switchback Camp (13.8KM) – Day 1
Switchback Camp to Maccarib Camp (10KM) – Day 2
Maccarib to Portal (10.8KM) – Day 3
Portal to Portal Trailhead (end) (8.7KMS) – Day 4
What to Bring
You can read my comprehensive backpacking lists here and here. For the Tonquin Valley, the specific items you’ll need are bug spray, bug nets for face and chest/arms and every member of your group must carry bear spray.
The trail can be unpredictable at times with the weather and bear activity. Reserving a backup campsite is a good idea in case you’re not able to hike the full trail. It’s also an affordable option compared to a hotel.
The Jasper Home Accommodation Website www.stayinjasper.com, is the Jasper equivalent of an Airbnb. We’ve used this site many times and have always been more than happy with our stays in Jasper.
Please be bear aware and hike in a group of 5 or more people. There are many types of wildlife of the trail, but the most concerning are grizzly bears. If you’re interested, I can write a full post on bear safety (I’m really passionate about it!) The basics are to carry bear spray and know how to use it and to make noise often. The sound of a human voice is much more effective than bear bells (which don’t work at all). Also, keep your camp clean of food and follow all food-related practices as advised by Parks Canada.
Things to See and Do in Jasper
Some of my favourite activities in Jasper are the Miette Hot springs, Pyramid Lake, Patricia Lake and Athabasca Falls. Definitely check these places out while in Jasper! It’s sooo nice to soak in the hot springs after a hike.
If you’ve made it to the end of this post, thank you so much! Please subscribe to my blog for more hiking posts, if you haven’t already.
As always, thank you so much for reading and I hope this guide was helpful! Is there anything that I missed? For more hiking guides, you can check out my posts on the Juan De Fuca Trail on Vancouver Island and the Chilkoot Trail in the Yukon and Alaska.
And with that, I’m off for a few weeks on a European adventure! Follow along on Instagram stories @candice.camera so see what I’m up to in Europe!