A winter walk through Johnston Canyon allows you to see how nature makes beautiful art out of ice. A series of trails and steel catwalks provide easy access into a deep canyon to see the frozen waterfalls. Hiking The Johnston Canyon Trail in Spring, Summer and Fall is very popular with families and people of all fitness levels.
The winter scenery in the canyon is beautiful and provides a great opportunity for creative photography.
During the winter the trail and catwalks can have icy sections and the fluxuating temperatures of spring and fall create even more ice. From personal experience we can tell you that wearing traction devices on your footwear makes a huge difference. You can purchase them at sporting stores in Banff or rent them.
The walk starts as a fairly level trail through the forest. It doesn’t take long into the hike before you can see ice clinging to the canyon walls.
Leading uphill to the first catwalk is where it can start getting difficult without something on your feet to provide traction. After twenty to thirty minutes you will come to a fork in the trail, we suggest keeping to your right and going to the bottom of the canyon to see the lower falls first.
Near the lower falls the first site that comes into view is a deep pool that has been created by the plunging water. Across the bridge a natural tunnel leads to a viewing platform just meters from the frozen falls.
Go back to the fork in the trail and head uphill towards the Upper Falls. This junction is another area where it can get slippery. The trail to the upper falls is a bit more rugged. It climbs out of the canyon covering more elevation on several switchbacks. As you work your way through the forest it will lead back to the river again and cross over more catwalks. You’ll pass by sets of smaller waterfalls along the way.
There will be another fork in the trail, again we suggest keeping right and taking the lower trail first. It will take you onto a catwalk that leads to the bottom of the upper falls. Here you will see the magnificent sculpture that winter has created. It looks like cascading curtains of ice hanging from the cliff.
On many occasions ice climbers can be seen on the Johnston Canyon Upper Falls. People stand in awe watching them navigate their way up the ice. Photo gallery of ice climbers at Johnston Canyon.
Head back to the fork and take the upper trail. It leads to the top of the upper falls where there is a viewing platform that hangs over the river. From the edge of the platform you can get a different perspective looking from the top of the falls downwards.
Distances And Elevation To The Falls
Lower Falls 1.1 km’s each way, elevation gain of 30 meters.
Upper Falls, 2.7 km’s each way, elevation gain of 120 meters.
Allow two to two and a half hours to do the return trip taking in both the lower and upper falls, and approximately one hour if just doing the lower falls.
Directions To Johnston Canyon
Coming from the east from Banff, head west on the Trans-Canada Hwy for approximately 5 km’s. Watch for the exit sign for Hwy 1A or (Bow Valley Parkway). Take this exit and continue west for 18 km (11 miles) to the Johnston Canyon parking lot that will be on your right hand side.
Coming from the west the quickest way is to follow the Trans Canada Hwy #1 to the exit for Castle Junction. (this is halfway between Lake Louise and Banff) Take this exit and turn left at the top of it, following the signs to Castle Junction until you come to the T-section with Hwy 1A or (Bow Valley Parkway). Turn right and follow the signs to Johnston Canyon which is approximately 6 km’s down the road.
From Lake Louise there is a second option. Take Hwy 1A or (Bow Valley Parkway) the entire way. It is slower, the speed limit is between 50 and 60 km’s an hour. This is due to the possibility of wildlife being present on or near the road because there is no fencing like the main Hwy #1. It’s a nice drive and will only add an extra 15 minutes. From the Lake Louise village take the overpass crossing the Trans Canada Highway and then take your first right. This is the Bow Valley Parkway, follow it all the way to Johnston Canyon.
What To Wear And Bring
Other than traction devices known as crampons or ice cleats for your footwear there is no special equipment you need to walk through the canyon in winter. If you have them you may want to bring some walking poles. We find them helpful. I have seen some people use their ski poles as an alternative.
Wear warm clothing, including a hat, mittens or gloves and boots are best. How warm you need to dress depends on the temperature on any given day. During the winter in Banff it can range anywhere from 0.C/32.F to -15.C/5.F, and sometimes cold snaps making it even colder. It’s best to dress with a few layers. That way you can adjust your clothing if you get warmer or colder during the hike.
Doing The Canyon On A Tour
If you don’t feel comfortable doing the hike on your own there are several companies offering tours through the canyon. They will provide you with ice grips for your shoes. A guide will talk about the habitat and how the canyon was formed. There is no public transportation to the canyon. Other than finding a ride with someone a tour would be the only option if you do not have a vehicle.
Renting Or Purchasing Crampons Or Ice Cleats
Snowtips Ice Track Rentals In Banff Rentals are approximatley $14 for the day. If you prefer to purchase them they are available at outdoor stores in Banff or you might be able to find them at places like Canadian Tire in Canmore. There’s more selection in places like Mountain Equipment Co-op in Calgary. There’s different types of crampons, you need ones designed for walking and they should be suitable for traversing over compact snow and ice.