Guide to Backpacking
Tonquin Valley is one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited.
Portal Creek Trailhead
Portal Creek Campsite 9km
Amethyst Lake 14km
Surprise Point 5km
Astoria Trailhead 20km
Portal Trailhead to Portal Creek (9km)
We opted to park our truck at Astoria trailhead, our finish line, so we could easily drive out at the end of our trip. From Astoria, we had to get a taxi to the Portal Trailhead in order to start our trek. I definitely recommend trying to book the taxi ahead of time, if choosing this route. Cell service is choppy out there, so making sure you already have a plan in place reduces a lot of headaches. We called in as we were on the highway to Astoria, and ended up worrying about wait times and if the taxi really knew where we were. It all worked out in the end though.
Once we got to the Portal Creek trailhead, we suited up and were on our way. The trail starts with a gentle elevation gain, very easy going for the first day. Mostly walked through the forest till you rise up into the valley and everything opens up. Mount Clitheroe is easily visible for a large portion of the trail. An epic mountain to be chasing through the valley. The Portal Creek campsite is a lovely spot situated on a hill above the creek. It boasts an absolutely amazing view of Mount Clitheroe.
Portal Creek to Amethyst Lake (14km)
This stretch of trail was the hardest going in our 4 days. The wind blowing freezing rain sideways into us didn’t help matters. The trail is extremely muddy and made worse by horses going through and making deep rivets. Definitely, a bit trickier to navigate as there is so much water everywhere. Despite those obstacles, it was still an amazing day in the valley. Spectacular open scenery, as we start the horseshoe turn around Mount Clitheroe. I don’t know many hikes where you get a full view of a mountain like that. We saw a lone caribou that we followed along the trail for some ways. Backpackers coming in the opposite direction mentioned seeing a grizzly with two cubs running up onto the ridge. We never encountered them.
The Amethyst Lake campsite is the most popular on the trail, and for very good reason. The best view of the Ramparts can be seen from here. They absolutely dominate the landscape, and are why you trek out here. The whole 360-degree view of Tonquin is breathtaking too. You can't look in one direction without being amazed. Amethyst Lake is my favorite alpine lake I've visited to date. There was a wonderful little sandy beach to sit upon and enjoy the water. The lake is also very shallow which makes it easy to wade in and swim, if you can handle the cold.
Amethyst Lake to Surprise Point (5km)
A short day for us, but well worth it in order to enjoy both Amethyst and Surprise campsites. The shorter day really allowed us to relax and experience the area. From Surprise Point, it is easy to day treks into the Erudite valley. Instead of doing that, we just fully enjoyed our time at Surprise Point, right below the ramparts. This is a smaller campsite than Amethyst (Amethyst being the more popular of the two) but I definitely enjoyed it far more. The surrounding area here is just magnificent. Beautiful meadows of wildflowers, and an up close view of the ramparts. It was rather sad to say goodbye to this place. I would 100% hike in to just stay at Surprise Point again.
Surprise Point to Astoria Trailhead (20km)
We saved the hardest day for last, with the most kilometers and highest elevation gain. This portion is mostly trekking through the forest, as you leave the valley. Once again, beautiful scenery and different views of the mountains. Found a little glacial pond to swim in too as it was a hot day. There is lots of water at this end of the valley, with a few run down bridges to get across, but they weren't too difficult to traverse. A magnificent last day in this wonderful valley.
Things to Note
Mosquitoes! The mosquitos on this hike are a big deterrent to most people. We talked to some backpackers from northern Saskatchewan, and they said that Tonquin was the worst they had ever seen. Mosquito face net is an absolute must, as is bug repellent. We ended up wearing our rain jackets almost the entire trip because mosquitoes can’t bite through them. For the most part, they are bearable with the right equipment, except when trying to eat. Eating with a mosquito net on is a real chore. The nightly ritual of killing all the mosquitoes that managed to get in the tent was a great experience as well.
The trail signage is not very good. A lot of the signs post the wrong kilometer markings. Some signs don't even mark the next campsite on the trail, which makes a lot of confusion. Definitely something to be aware of when entering this valley.