Hidden behind the popular Marmot Ski Hill in Jasper National Park lies stunning alpine valleys, intimate forests, expansive lakes, and towering peaks and turrets. With evocative peak names like Paragon, Bastion, Drawbridge, Dungeon, and Redoubt, this area is collectively known as the Tonquin Valley. American mountaineer and historian J. Monroe Thorington, who spent much of his life exploring the Canadian Rockies, wrote that the Tonquin valley “presents itself with a singular beauty almost unequalled in alpine regions of North America”. This broad valley is also home to a variety of wildlife – it is not uncommon to see evidence of grizzlies, mountain goats, and mountain caribou.
Join us at the end of summer when the air is crisp and clear as we explore this area and appreciate all that’s best about hiking in the Canadian Rockies.
Day 1: Canmore to Portal Campground
At 7 am we meet at the Yamnuska Mountain Adventures office in Canmore. We’ll go over the trip with you and check to see that you are properly outfitted before leaving for the Tonquin Valley.
We drive (4 hours) along what is arguably one of the most spectacular highways in the world, the Banff – Jasper Parkway to the town of Jasper. We will stop en-route to stretch our legs at the Columbia Icefields. Shortly before reaching the town of Jasper, we arrive at our trailhead on the Marmot Basin Ski Hill road. From there we shoulder our packs and follow Portal Creek to our first campground of the trail with stunning views of Oldhorn Mountain on the horizon. Distance 8.7 km. Elevation Gain 350 metres.
Day 2: Portal Campground to Amethyst Lakes
Today will be a memorable day of backpacking in the Canadian Rockies. Leaving Portal Camp behind us, we gain the stunning Maccarib Pass after 3.7 km of easy climbing. The meadows surrounding the pass are expansive, and if lucky, we may have the opportunity to see one of Jasper’s elusive and rare caribou that live in the area. From the pass, we’ll continue along Maccarib Creek until arriving at the shores of Amethyst Lake. The views of the imposing Ramparts from the shores of Amethyst Lake are not to be soon forgotten. Our campground for the night is an easy 45 minutes further down the trail. Distance 14.2 km. Elevation gain 155m, loss 180 m.
Day 3: Amethyst Lakes to Astoria Camp
After soaking in the sunrise on the east face of the Ramparts, we break camp and head southeast towards the flank of Oldhorn Mountain. En route we will pass a lodge and several campgrounds, slowly climbing higher above the lakeshore, with views ever-improving. After several hours of hiking, we reach an active rockslide on the southern side of Oldhorn mountain, where we descend a series of switchbacks down to the valley floor and the Astoria River. After an easy hour of walking along the Astoria River, we will reach our final campground. Distance 13.3 km. Elevation gain 50 metres, loss 325 metres.
Day 4: Astoria Camp to Canmore
After a leisurely morning in camp, we will depart our Astoria camp and hike the remaining 7 kilometres to our van awaiting us near the Cavell Hostel. If time and energy permit, there are several easy hiking trails to explore under the stunning Mt. Edith Cavell, one of the famed 11,000-foot peaks of the Canadian Rockies. From there we will drive back down the Icefields Parkway, returning to Canmore. Distance 6.8 km, Elevation gain 25 metres.
Meeting Place and Time
We will meet you at our Yamnuska Mountain Adventures office at 7.00 am on the morning of Day 1.
Our office is located at 200, 50 Lincoln Park, Canmore. See this map for location.
For your greater convenience, we offer a shuttle service within Canmore. Please let us know in advance where you will be staying if needing this service. Pickup will occur between 6:30 and 6:45 am.
Please ensure that you have your hiking equipment with you.
Guides and Group Size
Yamnuska Mountain Adventure guides are certified through the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides. Our professional guides have extensive experience in the Canadian Rockies. Guides also have advanced wilderness first aid training and heritage interpretation accreditation. Guides carry emergency equipment including a first aid kit, bear spray, and radio.
Accommodation and Meals
On the trail you will be staying in modern, lightweight 2- and 3-person weather-proof tents.
Accommodation in Canmore is not included. A variety of accommodation options exist in both Canmore and Banff, including campsites, hostels, all levels of hotels as well as condo-style accommodation with kitchens or suites. We recommend that you book your own pre and post-trip accommodations well in advance as all levels of accommodations in the Bow Valley fill quickly.
Yamnuska guests receive exclusive rates with Clique Hotels & resorts upon booking an adventure with either Yamnuska Mountain Adventures or Canadian Rockies Hiking by Yamnuska. (Please note that some rates are non-refundable)
Excess luggage can be left at your hotel or our office.
We supply all meals and trail snacks from lunch on Day 1 to lunch on Day 4. Groups generally go out for dinner in Canmore on the final evening (own cost).
Trail cuisine is prepared from lightweight wholesome ingredients including our Yamnuska custom-made dehydrated dinners. For guests with dietary restrictions, we are able to modify the program food pack to meet your individual needs. As food pricing and preparation for these diets is more costly, we have implemented the following surcharges. For vegan, gluten-free, lactose-free, soy-free, nut-free, or any similar type of single restriction menu requests, there will be a $17/day surcharge. For a diet requiring any 2 restrictions a $26/day surcharge will apply. For any 3 restrictions, a $31/day surcharge will apply. Vegetarian meals will not be surcharged. For more complex diets our kitchen staff will assess the restrictions to inform you if the diet can be accommodated and what surcharge would apply.
Getting to Canmore and Transportation
Canmore is situated 100km (65miles) west of Calgary on the Trans-Canada Highway. It is well served by scheduled bus lines both from Calgary (airport and downtown), Banff (20km west), and points further west. Calgary International Airport is well connected to major cities throughout North America and Europe. Once in Canmore, we will supply all the transport needed for the trip. For those guests wishing to complete the trip in Jasper and continue their personal travels from there, it is possible for the guide to arrange a drop-off in Jasper at the end of the trip.
Frequent shuttles connect Calgary International Airport and Canmore. Banff Airporter is the best way to get between Calgary Airport and Canmore/Banff. When you book with Yamnuska Mountain Adventures you will receive a 15% discount on Banff Airporter Scheduled Services.
Equipment and Clothing
We supply group camping and cooking equipment, as well as an emergency communication device, trip food, bear spray, water purification equipment, and a full expedition emergency first-aid kit. You will need to bring personal backpacking equipment and clothing. When purchasing gear consider both functionality as well as weight. Lightweight packs, sleeping bags, sleeping mats, and clothing are readily available and will lighten your load substantially.
What you bring will have a big impact on the quality of your experience. Please take the time to read the information below, and cross-check with our Traveling Light and Making Backpacking Fun. The list below will keep you very comfortable in the field. Make sure you have all your clothing and gear before you arrive, and reserve any rentals with us in advance. Your guide will go through your clothing and gear with you prior to the trip.
When hiking in the mountains, it is important to be able to adjust to the changing conditions. We recommend bringing clothing that can be layered to achieve comfort as you change from periods of activity to periods of rest. We discourage cotton clothing as it causes rapid heat loss when wet.
You will need to bring:
- Wool or fleece hat/toque
- Sunhat – Wide brim or baseball style
- Long underwear top and bottoms – Lightweight synthetic or merino wool
- Socks – Preferably a synthetic/merino wool blend. Bring at least three pairs.
- Light Synthetic Shirt
- Jacket – A midweight synthetic
- Insulated Jacket – synthetic or down jacket
- Waterproof / Breathable Rain Jacket
- Rain Pants – Also waterproof/breathable. Ideally with side zips, so they can be put on without taking off your boots.
- Hiking Pants – Preferably windproof and quick drying. No blue jeans or cotton pants.
- Light Gloves / Mitts
- Light Footwear – Crocs, Tevas, or running shoes for the occasional creek crossing and use around camp.
You will need to bring:
- Boots – Spend some time walking around in your boots before you arrive for your trip and get used to how they feel. They should have good ankle support and tread, with sturdy soles. Your boots will make or break your holiday so some time getting used to them is time well spent. Ensure they have been waterproofed or have a good waterproof liner material.
- Gaiters – Recommended early & late season. Really help to keep feet dry, keep socks and pants clean from mud and keep debris out of your boots.
- Large Backpack – This should be between 55 and 75 Liter capacity depending on the bulk of your personal gear and length of the trip. In it, you will carry your clothing, sleeping bag and mat, plus your share of group camping gear and food which is typically an extra 10 – 20 litres of space. Lightweight packs with good suspension are recommended. If bringing an additional day pack, this should be very light and compressible in order to fit inside the bigger pack on the approach hike.
- Pack Cover – This should be waterproof and large enough to cover the outside of your pack to keep the contents dry in a rainstorm. You can also line the inside of your stuff sacks with plastic bags to keep gear dry.
- Sleeping Bag – We recommend a ‘3 season’ bag rated 0ºC to –6ºC as temperatures can drop to below freezing at night. Make sure you bring a stuff sac lined with a plastic garbage bag that will reduce your bag to its minimum size (i.e. one with compression straps). This will provide enough space in your pack for everything else. A down bag will be lighter and more compressible for the weight than a synthetic bag.
- Sleeping Mat – Lightweight “Therm-a-rest” mats are recommended (Not Required on Wapta Ice Hike and Lake O’Hara Hiking Tour).
- Pillow – A small, compressible pillow or a spare stuff sack into which you can stuff extra clothes to create a pillow.
- Trekking Poles – Must be collapsible.
- Sunglasses – With 100% UV protection and a hard case.
- Headlamp – With fresh batteries
- Water Bottle / Bladder – 1-2 litre capacity.
- Blister Kit – Moleskin, Second Skin, etc.
- Personal First Aid Kit – Our guide carries a group first aid kit so keep this small. Band-Aids, Tylenol/ibuprofen, etc.
- Sun Block & Lip Balm – Extra strength with UV protection.
- Eating Utensils – Bowls, sporks, a large mug, light pocket knife, etc. (Not required on the Lake O’Hara Hiking Tour)
- Personal Toiletries including hand sanitizer– Keep to a minimum with no scented items.
- Insect repellent
Please book as early as practical to avoid disappointment. A 35% deposit CDN (including GST) is required at the time of booking. The final payment is due eight weeks before the start of the trip.
For detailed Booking Instructions and Conditions, click here.
Please note that you will be required to sign our waiver before commencing the trip. Click here for a waiver copy.
Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you need to know anything else about this hike.
There are two basic types of insurance that most travellers need to consider: Medical and Cancellation/Trip Interruption Insurance. We offer our guests coverage for both and highly recommend you purchase it.
Emergency Medical Expenses Insurance:
It is wise to ensure that your health plan will cover you in case of illness or accident during your trip. Obtain extra coverage if necessary. There is no charge for rescue in the National and provincial Parks, however, costs such as air or ground transportation, long-term care, and other services are not covered.
Cancellation/Trip Interruption Insurance:
We recognize that our guests’ schedules may change for many reasons; business, family, flight delays, injuries, and other unplanned events. For these eventualities the Trip Cancellation/Interruption insurance is a great way to protect your investment.
For all your travel insurance requirements we recommend the Simpson Group. This agency offers a wide range of travel insurance options including Trip Cancellation/Interruption, Travel Medical, and Personal Effect Loss for Canadian Travelers. We highly recommend purchasing this insurance. For more information and to purchase a plan, visit the Simpson Group’s website.
Please note that this coverage is for Canadian residents only. For guests who are not from Canada and who are interested in the ‘Visitors to Canada’ insurance package please contact the Simpson Group directly at JSimpson@simpson-group.com and reference your Yamnuska Mountain Adventure trip.
Dates & Price:
Private guiding options are available. Please contact us to discuss this option.
Trip Cancellation Insurance is available through the Simpson Group.
How difficult is it?
How fit and experienced need you be?
This trip is rated easy to moderate. The trails are generally good but the days slightly longer than our other trips rated easy. Participants will be carrying personal clothing and gear plus a fair share of food and group gear (tents, stoves, etc). By keeping personal gear light, pack weights need not exceed 16kg (35lbs). Please read our Traveling Light & Making Backpacking More Fun for information and suggestions for clothing and equipment.
Prior backpacking experience is not a prerequisite but is recommended. Participants must be in good physical condition and able to carry a backpack over hilly terrain for a succession of days. The trails are generally good.
We will hike a regular and steady pace that conserves energy but you must be in as good as possible hiking shape before you come. We cannot emphasize enough that training pays great dividends in enjoyment. We suggest you train by hiking or walking in hilly terrain with weight on your back (use flights of stairs if in the city). We will stay as a group while hiking.