Carved steeply into the limestone bedrock by thousands of years of water erosion, the dramatic Johnston Canyon is a must-visit natural attraction in Banff National Park. Overhanging canyon walls, waterfalls, the deep pools of Johnston Creek, and lush forest are sure to leave a memorable impression. And it can all be experienced via an an easy hike along smooth trails and catwalks, making it ideal for families and people of all fitness levels and ages.
Johnston Canyon is one of the most popular destinations in Banff National Park, and for good reason; it is a place of dramatic natural beauty accessible to most. It is particularly popular during the summer and at certain times of the winter. If you seek a more peaceful experience, try visiting Johnston Canyon during the spring and fall, or make the most of the long summer days by going in the early morning or mid evening.
Spring, summer and fall
During spring, summer, and fall, take a walk up the canyon to view the Lower and Upper Falls. Along the way there are many viewpoints from which you can look over the canyon and down to the deep blue creek below.
The trail to the Lower Falls is fairly flat and smooth, initially through forest and then on catwalks besides Johnston Creek and up into the canyon. The Lower Falls are 1.1 kilometres along the trail, taking around 30 minutes from the parking lot at an easy pace. For a close up vantage point, don’t miss the short tunnel through the canyon rock to a viewing platform a couple metres from the falls - just don’t be surprised if you get misted with water.
The trail to the Upper Falls is a little steeper, climbing through the forest and out of the lower canyon. It takes around one hour one way, with an elevation gain of 120 metres over its 2.6 kilometers. The Upper Falls drop a dramatic 40 metres to a deep pool below. There are two good viewing spots. The first is a viewing platform looking over to the bottom of the falls. The second is accessed by a steeper trail to a platform overhanging the gorge, with an outlook across to the top of the falls.
During the winter months (December to April), Johnston Canyon is a favourite place to go ice walking and ice climbing. The Upper Falls (at 1565 metres above sea level) freeze during the winter and make for excellent beginner and advanced ice climbing. Although ice climbing might sound rather daunting, with proper instruction complete beginners can climb simple routes - if you can climb a ladder, you can climb a frozen waterfall! Guided trips and instruction are available from several providers in Banff and Lake Louise.
Ice walking is another great way to experience Johnston Canyon during the winter. Guided tours are a good option - you will be provided with all the gear you need to safely and enjoyably walk up the canyon and the opportunity to learn about its striking features book with Banff Adventures, Discover Banff Tours, or White Mountain Adventures. Alternatively, you can purchase or hire snowshoes and ice cleats from many stores in Banff and Lake Louise and explore on your own. Rent or purchase with Snowtips-Bactrax.
Trail to the Ink Pots
If you are looking for a longer hike and some more solitude than the canyon, you could try the trail beyond the Upper Falls to the Ink Pots. The Ink Pots are seven pools of green coloured mineral springs located in an open meadow about 3 kilometres on from the Upper Falls.
Getting to Johnston Canyon
Johnston Canyon is located 25 kilometers (around 30 minutes’ drive) from the town of Banff and 33 kilometers from Lake Louise on the Bow Valley Highway.
The hiking trail starts at the northern end of the parking lot, right behind Johnston Canyon Lodge.
There are washrooms at the parking lot, and a gift shop and restaurant open during summer at the Johnston Canyon Resort. The trail to the Lower Falls is stroller and wheelchair accessible - after that there are a few steps.