Johnston Canyon is one of the most popular day hikes in Banff National Park. It’s fairly easy, making it perfect for families and people of almost any fitness level and age. It’s accessible year round, including the winter when you can enjoy hiking to Johnston Canyon’s frozen waterfalls.
The Trail To Lower Johnston Falls
The catwalks that are affixed to the limestone cliffs allow access into a deep canyon that would otherwise be exclusive to climbers.
The trail to the lower falls covers minimal elevation as it works its way through the forest. It then takes you over catwalks alongside Johnston creek and up into the canyon above the rushing waters below.
As the trail approaches the lower falls the first site that comes into view is a deep pool that has been created by the plunging water.
A bridge crossing the creek serves as an excellent viewing spot, but there is another platform that sits within meters of the falls. To get to it you have to go through a tunnel in the canyon bedrock. Don’t be surprised if you and your camera get misted with water.
The Trail To Upper Johnston Falls
The trail to the upper falls covers more elevation as it climbs its through the forest and out of the lower canyon. It works its way back towards the creek and offers several scenic viewpoints, like this small set of cascading waterfalls.
There are two viewing areas. The first is accessed by a catwalk that leads to a viewing platform looking across to the bottom of the falls.
The other viewing area can be reached by taking a steeper trail to a platform overhanging the gorge. It looks across to the top of the falls that drop a dramatic 40 meters.
The Trail To The Ink Pots Beyond The Upper Falls
The Ink Pots consist of several pools made up of greenish coloured mineral springs that bubble to the surface. If you have time, carry on to the Ink Pots to leave the crowds behind you and get some solitude. From the upper falls the trail is a moderate climb out of the canyon for 3 km’s through the forest. It opens up to a meadow where the Ink Pots sit. The hike from the upper falls to the Ink Pots takes approximately one hour.
The Ink Pots are also accessible via Moose Meadows. This route completely bypasses the Johnston Canyon Trails. The trailhead is located 1.4 km’s west of Johnston Canyon on the Bow Valley Parkway. It is 5.9 km’s one with an elevation gain of 215 meters. Allow 4 hours round trip.
Distances, Hiking Time And Elevation To The Upper And Lower Johnston Falls
- Time to reach lower falls 30 minutes, 1.1 km one way, elevation gain of 30 meters.
- Time to reach upper falls, one hour , 2.6 km’s one way, elevation gain of 120 meters.
- Return trip going to both lower and upper falls allow 2 to 2.5 hours.
Directions To Johnston Canyon
- From Banff: head west on the Trans-Canada Hwy for approximately 5 km’s. Take the exit for the Bow Valley Parkway and continue west for 18km’s (11 miles) until you see the sign for Johnston Canyon on your right.
- From Lake Louise: follow the Trans Canada Hwy #1 to the Castle Junction exit. At the top of the exit turn left and follow the signs to Castle Junction until you come to a T-section with the Bow Valley Parkway. Turn right and follow the signs to Johnston Canyon, approximately 6 km’s down the road.
- Alternative route from Lake Louise: you can take the Bow Valley Parkway the entire way. It is a slower route that will add approximately 15 minutes to the drive, but offers a chance of spotting wildlife. From Lake Louise village take the overpass crossing the Trans Canada Highway. Take the first right, (Bow Valley Parkway) follow it until you get to the signs for Johnston Canyon on your left hand side.
Hiking Tips For Johnston Canyon
- The trail has a lot of shaded areas, it can get cool even in summer months, dress in layers to adjust to the temperature as needed.
- Pack drinking water and a snack
- In the summer months comfortable footwear is fine, but hiking shoes are more appropriate if the trails are wet, muddy or have snow packed and/or icy sections.
- You may feel out of breath due to the higher altitude of the area. Take your time and stop for a rest as needed.
- There is no public transportation to the falls, if you can’t hitch a ride with fellow hikers you can book with one of the many tour companies based in Banff.
Baby Strollers And Dogs On The Trails
- Technically the route to the lower falls is accessible with an infant stroller, but there are some narrow spots on the trails and catwalks. It’s extremely busy in the summer and early fall. It would be better suited to a baby backpack. In the busy season a stroller could cause yourself and other visitors a lot of grief. In spring and fall the trail may have snow and/or ice or be wet and muddy. You will want to check the trail conditions before attempting to take a stroller. The upper falls is not suitable for strollers due to some steeper inclines.
- Dogs are allowed on the Johnston Canyon trails, but they must be on leash at all times. During the peak hours of the day in the summer months it can be jam packed with people. It may not be the best situation for hiking with your dog. During the rest of the year check the trail conditions first. If there’s slippery conditions due to ice your dog could be sliding all over the place and possibly sprain their leg muscles or incur an injury due to a slip or fall.
Avoiding The Crowds On The Johnston Canyon Trail
- This is an extremely popular trail for independent tourists and tour groups. In the summer months it can get very congested, especially on the trail to the lower falls.
- If cars are parked for long distances down the Bow Valley Parkway near the canyon it means the large parking lot at the trail head is full and the trail will be packed.
- As with many tourist attractions, if you want to avoid the crowds come early in the morning or take advantage of the long daylight hours in the summer by coming later in the day.
- The farther you go on the trail the more the crowds will thin out. The upper falls trail is by no means a place of solitude in the summer, but the majority of people will not venture past the lower falls. The large tour bus groups rarely have time to go beyond them.
Springtime And Fall Hiking
The trails not as busy in the springtime and fall in comparison with the summer months. Due to the amount of shade and cooler temperatures in the canyon the trails can remain snow packed or have icy sections until May or even June. They can also be muddy and slippery. Snowfall can start occurring again as early as October or November. It’s always best to check with one of the tourist offices in either Banff or Lake Louise for current trail conditions.