Hiking To Johnston Canyon’s Frozen Waterfalls

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.

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 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.

Banff Weather And Average Temperatures

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 Ice Grips

Snowtips Ice Track Rentals In Banff Rentals approx. $12 for the day. Or you can purchase them starting at $20 at outdoor stores in Banff as well as Canadian Tire in Canmore.


  1. Josh says

    Absolutely love the photos and information! I’m currently in Canmore and looking for places to check out and your site is extremely helpful! Are there any other places worth a mention? Thakyou

    • Audrey says

      Thanks, I’m glad our site could help you out. There is so much to see and do around this area. What kind of interests do you have and how much time?

    • Audrey says

      If you are going to head to Johnston Canyon I would keep driving the extra 20 minutes west and check out Lake Louise, both of which are in Banff National Park. Near Canmore there is the Grotto Ice walk as well.

      • Josh says

        We ended up going to the Johnston Canyon today and it was awesome. Decided to keep going on the track to the ink pots to check them out. They weren’t anything special in winter for the extra walk. Only two weeks left here. We normally go skiing at Sunshine during the week and do other activities on the weekends as the slopes get too crowded. I’m mainly looking for great spots to take photographs. I was just checking out some photos of Moraine Lake and it looks like a great spot to shoot at. We’ll probably head to Lake Louise for a ski before we leave and do a rat’s nest caving tour (not for photographs just for an adventure).

        So far I’ve been really happy with photos I’ve taken from the top of the North American Chair at Mt. Norquay and Policeman’s Creek in Canmore at sunset.

    • Audrey says

      We have never been to the inkpots, good to know that it’s not worth while during winter. The road is closed to Moraine Lake during the winter. The only way to get in at this time would be to cross country ski, I think it’s approx. 11km’s each way.

      On the bluff on the other side of the highway in Canmore you can go for a walk and get some nice views to photograph overlooking the town and mountains. Have you gone for a walk along the river in Canmore, it’s nice there too. In Banff take a drive up Tunnel Mountain, some nice spots along there for photos. Lake Minnewanka is another nice spot, and you can drive a portion of the Minnewanka loop that is open during the winter. Two Jack Lake is on it, also nice for photos. Of course there are the Vermillion Lakes that sit along the hwy at Banff where everyone photographs looking back towards Mount Rundle. Hope that gives you some ideas, enjoy your stay:)

    • Audrey says

      Yes there is a avalanche risk in the spring, it is always best to check with one of the Parks Canada Tourist offices prior to going for walks or hikes in the mountainous areas of the parks.

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