Portal Creek Trail – Tonquin Valley

portal creek tonquin valley jasper national park rocky mountains

The Portal Creek Trail is one end of the 44km thru hike of the Tonquin Valley in Jasper National Park. It is an excellent option for a day hike and on this day we hiked in to the Portal Creek Campground and back.

It is a steady climb in, without anything terribly steep, which of course means a steady downhill hike out to the car – which is always my favourite.

Start at the Portal Creek trailhead on the Marmot Basin road (highway 93A south of the townsite of Jasper). There is a parking lot, outhouse and large information kiosk.


The trail starts out as mildly technical winding around rocks along the riverbed. Dogs are not allowed on this trail due to the sensitive caribou habitat of the Tonquin Valley.


Only a short distance in, a well maintained wooden bridge crosses the river.



The trail is easy to follow. It is a general incline the whole way to Peveril peak, the main mountain you see directly in front of you along the hike. Eventually you will cross below it, along a slide path.

There is a sign on the far side of the first bridge that claims the Portal Creek Campground is 8.5km away. I have hiked this trail twice now and I have determined that is a bald-faced lie.

I put it closer to 10km with two GPS tracks agreeing. A mere 1.5km doesn’t sound like a lot in the scheme of things, but on a return hike … that’s 3km longer than anticipated and on a thru hike (in the snow and mud) that’s a much later night than expected.



In rainy months, the path will be muddy and is also used by the horse tours that head into the lodges along the shores of Amethyst Lake further on. Occasional overflow streams use the trail as the path of least resistance as well.



This bridge is the last access to water for about 4km so fill up with a filter here if you need. The upcoming section of trail is very open and if it’s a warm day, you are really exposed.

This was one of my first really long hikes. I was amazed and humbled by my own ability to hike this kind of distance. Peveril seems so far off in the beginning and although I knew I’d be hiking along it, eventually looking back on it.

It seemed impossible to me.




Crossing the open slope, the slide, became my favourite part of the hike.



Hiking along the slide, you have a great view of the Maccarib Pass way beyond and of the river valley below. The trail makes its way down to the river approximately 1.5 km before the campground. This area has a lot of low bush, an excellent home to predators at both ends of the size spectrum. Mosquitoes and bears love to hang out here.



“Lucky” for us … we were in on a +30C day and didn’t see a lot of either.


We stopped at the campground to get an idea of what a backcountry campground looks like.


The campground is easy to miss.


On your way in, it will be on the right-hand side as you have the creek on your left – and I swear by the 9.5-10km mark. If it weren’t for the height of the bear hang the low brush would have completely hidden it from view. I was glad that we had day hiked this before our thru-hike because I was so exhausted at the end of our first day of the thru-hike I could have easily gone right past.



I even took the opportunity to use the throne.

The view from the picnic tables is amazing. When we were there, the tent pads were hard to identify but the sites have been improved since our first visit.

On our second visit, it was dark when we got in (see the above gripe about trail length) and there was 7 inches of snow on the ground even though it was August 20. Something to remember about summer in the mountains … the weather does what it wants.



There is a bear pole for hanging food. We went down to the creek because at this point, even the heat wasn’t keeping the mosquitoes at bay with all the low bush around camp.



The view can’t be beat.



As we sat by the creek, a group on horseback made their way out of the valley. You can see the bear hang of the campground just beyond them.


I look forward to doing this hike again. Both as a day hike and as the beginning of another thru.


The open vistas can’t be explained, they have to be experienced.

2 thoughts on “Portal Creek Trail – Tonquin Valley

  1. I having a bit of trouble reconciling the trail distances. I think you say “20k. return”, and add 1.5 to the 8.5k. to the first camp. That would make the first camp 20k. return.
    But I think you mean 20k. to Maccarib Pass -return.
    What is the distance to the pass? The first camp?

    1. The first camp, Portal Creek Camp, sits at about the 10k mark according to several trips I’ve mapped with my gps unit. Therefore, it’s 20k return (despite the sign saying camp is 8.5k). I haven’t marked a return milage to the pass at all.

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