Johnston Canyon is one of the most popular short hikes in Banff National Park. It’s the perfect family hike and one that almost anyone can do. You get a lot of reward for the effort you put in. The trails go through a deep limestone canyon through the forest to the main upper and lower waterfalls and past several smaller ones along the way. Many sections of the trail go along catwalks that are beneath overhangs of the canyon walls. You can also hike in the winter to see Johnston Canyon’s frozen waterfalls.
How To Get To Johnston Canyon
From Banff drive west on the Trans-Canada Highway, after a few kilometers watch for the signs that indicate the turnoff for the 1A Highway or otherwise known as the Bow Valley Parkway. You will continue west for another 18km’s to Johnston Canyon Lodge. There is a large parking lot with a sign at the northern end of it marking the start of the trail. It will take approximately one hour to reach the canyon from the town of Banff. Take your time on the Bow Valley Parkway, the speed limit is set at 50 to 60km’s an hour. This is due to the frequent wildlife that is present in the area.
Accommodation is available at the Johnston Canyon Resort. They are open approximately from the last week of May into the first week of October. They have a dining room, coffee shop and gift shop.
Trail To The Lower Falls
The trail to the lower falls climbs gently through the forest. You will cross over iron catwalks attached to the canyon walls, the turbulent waters of Johnston Creek are flowing below. The water of the falls plunges into a deeply carved pothole below.
A bridge across the creek serves as a viewpoint, but the most spectacular feature of the lower falls is the viewing platform that is literally within meters of the falls. To get to it you have to go through a natural tunnel carved into the hillside. You have to be quick to get a picture before your camera lens is misted with water.
Trail To The Upper Falls
The trail to the upper falls becomes a little more rugged. It slowly climbs out of the canyon and follows the edge through the forest. You’ll see several other smaller waterfalls below. The dramatic upper falls has water cascading down 40 meters. There are two viewpoints for the Upper Falls. There is a catwalk leading to a platform at the bottom of the falls and then another short, steep climb on the trail takes you to another platform that has been built hanging out over the creek.
The return trip to the upper falls takes between 1.5 to 2 hours. If you just want to go to the lower falls it will be between 45 minutes to one hour for the return trip.
Tips For Hiking Johnston Canyon
- The trail is mostly shaded, it can get cool even in summer, dress in layers
- Take water and a snack
- Street shoes are fine for the paved trail to the upper falls, a hiking shoe might be more appropriate for upper falls
- The trail can be slippery after rain
- Take a moderate pace, and breaks if needed. You may feel the effects of being in a higher elevation area.
When Is The Trail Less Crowded
The trail is very popular with tour buses, it can become extremely busy during the summer. We have driven down the Bow Valley Parkway and witnessed hundreds of cars parked down the side of the road. This means the large parking lot for the trail head is full. The trail will be busier on weekends, but even weekdays in the summer can be crowded. You should find less people in the early morning or later in the afternoon.
The further you hike on the trail the more the crowd will thin out. The tour bus people rarely have time to get beyond the lower falls. The earlier or later you do the hike in the season the less people there will be as well.
Trail To The Ink Pots
The Ink Pots are several pools of greenish coloured mineral springs that bubble to the surface. If you were hiking during a time when the trails are crowded you can continue on to the Ink Pots for some solitude. Only a small amount of people continue to hike past the Upper Falls. From the upper falls the trail is a moderate climb out of the canyon for another 3 km’s through the forest until it opens up to the valley floor and the Ink Pots. From the upper falls it will take approximately 1 hour to reach the Ink Pots.
Winter Hiking In Johnston Canyon
The canyon is just as spectacular in the winter when the falls have become frozen. We attempted to do a hike in the winter, but we didn’t even make it to the lower falls before we had to turn back. The catwalks can be extremely slippery during the winter. You need to have some kind of ice cleats on your foot ware. We were clinging onto the railings for dear life. Other people around us were slipping and sliding as well. You can purchase several different varieties of ice cleats from outdoor stores in Banff. They start at around $20 to $30. If you don’t feel comfortable doing the hike on your own in winter, there are several companies offering tours through the canyon. Gallery of ice climbers in Johnston Canyon.