Johnston Canyon is a highlight for many on their trip to Banff and it’s an easy Banff hike that’s great for families. We’ll dig into all the basics you should know before setting out to complete the Johnston Canyon hike.
The trail through Johnston Canyon moves through the center of the small canyon until reaching the Upper Falls.
It’s possibly the busiest trail in all of Banff so in peak season you’ll need to arrive early if you want to avoid the crowds. That being said Johnston Canyon offers some splendid natural features and its accessibility to everyone makes it a stand out.
Hiking Johnston Canyon
- Length: 5.0 km
- Duration: 2-3 hours
- Elevation Gain: 215 meters
- Difficulty: Easy
- Best Time To Hike: Winter or Summer
- Where to Park: Johnston Canyon Parking Lot
All About the Johnston Canyon Hike
Johnston Canyon is the most popular hike in all of Banff. It’s also accessible year-round as it’s possible to trek in the winter to see the frozen waterfalls at the end.
To have an enjoyable time during the summer you’ll have to arrive by 9:00 am and even earlier on the weekends. Due to the crowds in peak summer it often means you can be stuck in a long procession of people moving slowly both directions on the trail.
After you leave the parking lot you’ll pass the Johnston Canyon Lodge and Bungalows before entering the forest alongside Johnston Creek. As you work your way to the Lower Johnston Canyon Falls you’ll have minimal elevation gain moving through the forest. Eventually, you enter Johnston Canyon where a series of catwalks over Johnston Creek lead you to the waterfalls.
You reach the lower falls at around 1.1 km into the hike. A bridge over Johnston Creek serves as a great viewpoint of the rushing cataract and further along you can enter a short tunnel for a closer vantage point. Be prepared to get wet if you continue through the short tunnel.
From the Lower Falls, you continue up the canyon with a bit more elevation gain. You’ll walk alongside the canyon and there are several maintained viewpoints to look down in the canyon. This section of the trail continues for another 1.7 km until it reaches the Upper Johnston Canyon Falls. The falls are 30 meters high and can be seen from two separate viewpoints.
The first viewpoint is accessed by a platform that leads to a viewing area that looks across to the bottom of the falls. In the winter you’ll find ice climbers that use the area as a base to climb the waterfall. It’s an awesome experience and a lot of fun, consider booking the ice climb tour with Yamnuska Mountain Adventures.
The second viewing platform can be reached by a steep trail to the platform that hangs over the gorge. It’s an impressive view as you can see over the top of the falls and down to the bottom 40 meters below.
From the top Upper Falls, you can continue the hike for another 3km to the Ink Pots. The Ink Pots are several colorful cold mineral springs that bubble to the surface in an open meadow. The springs are located in a lovely alpine meadow that often is filled with wildflowers. The springs are a unique feature in Banff; however, for most hikers, it’s a bit of a disappointment and extra four kilometers of hiking.
Tips For Hiking Johnston Canyon
- The majority of the hike takes place in the shaded forest and canyon so it can be cool even in the summer months. Our advice for any hike in the Rockies applies here too, be sure to pack layers.
- In the winter, spring, and fall months the trail often has ice and snow. Microspikes, snowshoes, and or hiking poles are all super helpful to have. You can rent them in town.
- Arrive early in the morning or late in the evening if you want to avoid crowds on the Johnston Canyon Hike.
- It never hurts to pack water and a snack for hikes in Banff. If you have plans for the Ink Pots consider packing lunch and picnicking in the meadows.
- You should always carry bear spray in our opinion, but you’ll likely be fine without on this particular trail as it’s so well trafficked. However, if you hike up to Moose Meadow it’s definitely a good idea to pack.
- Boots are ideal for this hike as it can be muddy, but truthfully any athletic footwear feels appropriate.
- Dogs are allowed on the trail, but they must be on a leash at all times in the Banff National Park.
- A baby stroller would be difficult on the trail, but with large wheels, it would be possible to reach the Lower Falls. However, if you’re visiting the park it’s best to bring a baby backpack anyways.
Directions to Johnston Canyon
You can find the locations with Google Maps. The Johnston Canyon is around 25 km from Banff town and 33 km from Lake Louise on the Bow Valley Parkway. The fastest way to reach Johnston Canyon is to use the TransCanada highway to exit AB-93N and then turn right onto the Bow Valley Parkway.
The parking lot for Johnston Canyon is another 6.2 km down the road from Castle Junction. However, we much prefer taking the Bow Valley Parkway in its entirety from Banff to Lake Louise with a stop at Johnston Canyon as it’s one of the most scenic roads in Banff.
2021 Update: The Parkway is closed to vehicles between Castle Junction and Banff until further notice. The best way to access Johnston Canyon is to bike, run, or walk the closed section of the Bow Valley Parkway. We’ve done it five times now by parking at the start of the parkway. The ride is absolutely incredible as there are no vehicles on the road, meaning hardly anyone at Johnston Canyon. Park your car at Castle Junction and start your 6.2 km adventure here. For a longer run or bike you can park at the location near Banff. Take the exit AB-1A W and park here and bike into Johnston Canyon.
Public Transportation To Johnston Canyon
If you come to Banff without a car rental that’s okay as it is possible to take public transport to Johnston Canyon. Roam Transit operates a bus daily to the Canyon in the summer. There is no public transportation outside of this period. You can find more info and the timetable on the Roam Transit website. *Due to the road closure, Roam Transit will not be operating this service until further notice.
Johnston Canyon Secret Cave Photo Spot
You’ve probably seen this photo location on the internet or social media. However, it is now closed to the public and you will be fined if you attempt to reach the cave. The location is closed to the public due to trail degradation and the fact that endangered black swifts use the canyon walls for breeding. The photo above was taken in early 2018 before the closure.
Parks Canada has now banned all off-trail movement until you reach the Ink Pots above the Upper Canyon Falls. Please respect this closure.
Thoughts on the Johnston Canyon Hike
Visiting Johnston Canyon is a great thing to do in the winter in Banff and we love to bring visitors here during that time. The frozen waterfalls, easy walking paths, and fewer crowds make the winter a wonderful time to enjoy the Johnston Canyon. If you do plan on taking the hike a pair of microspikes or snowshoes will be a big help as the path can get very icy, you can rent both in Lake Louise, Banff or Canmore.
While in the summer we feel a bit more mixed about the experience. You should come prepared for crowds and a crowded parking situation as people frequently park along the Bow Valley Parkway. Johnston Canyon does not offer the same dizzying views or spectacular vistas as Lake Louise or Moraine Lake where it’s tough to say anything negative.
However, we are fans of the safety and ease that Johnston Canyon offers families and people with limited mobility. If you’re a firm beginner or family with very young children give the hike a try. If you fall into the moderate experience of hiking or fitness there are a plethora of hikes in Banff where you’ll have a more enjoyable time.
Of course, Banff National Park is a wonderful place and it’s very easy to find the beauty in Johnston Canyon and the waterfalls are impressive.
Johnston Canyon Cabins
If you want to stay at Johnston Canyon on your visit to Banff there is only one place to stay. The Johnston Canyon Cabins are among some of the best cabins in Alberta.
Johnston Canyon Bungalows are a family-owned establishment that is convenitaly located right at the start of the Johnston Canyon hike. They have 42 cabin-style accommodation that varies in size and room amenities. Most of the bungalows have a large open bedroom, porch area, wood-burning fireplace, as well as luxury amenities like a flat-screen tv, bridge, and bathrobes.
The Johnston Canyon cabins also operate the Black Swift Bistro and the Market Cafe, which is the only food you’ll find along the whole parkway! W.
Book on Booking.com: Johnston Canyon Bungalows
Other Easy Hikes Around Banff
You don’t have to be an experienced mountaineer to enjoy the Canadian Rockies. It’s very easy to find a number of great trails that should be appropriate for all visitors. We’ve compiled a few of the most popular easy Banff hikes that everyone can enjoy. A number of these, in our opinion, are more exhilarating than Johnston Canyon.
What to Wear On a Hike in the Rockies?
- Down Jacket: A down jacket is an essential in the Rockies. They pack down and fit easily in a backpack. However, despite their lightweight nature, they can offer a lot of warmth which is needed on almost every mountain summit.
- Hiking Pants: Good hiking pants are important in the Rockies as there is a lot of loose scree and rocks that can tear others pants easily. Our favorite hiking pants are the Fjallraven Kebs (Mens and Womens)
- Hiking Leggings: Hiking leggings are great for women in the Rockies. They provide awesome mobility and these ones from Arcteryx aren’t see through and are heavy duty.
- Windbreaker/Rainjacket: An important item to have while hiking is a windbreaker jacket. They come in especially handy on mountain summits when the wind is aboslutely whipping. Arc’teryx Windbreakers are our preferred jackets
- Sunglasses: Proper eye protection is important. Our favorite sunglasses brand is Smith.
- Scrambling Gloves: I don’t go on a hike or scramble in the Rockies witout a pair of rugged clothes to protect my hands. My favorites are from Outdoor Research.
- Trail Runners: Honestly I complete most hikes in trail runners so I can run or jog parts of the trail when I want. My go to trail runners are made by Salomon.
- Hiking Boots: On multi day hikes when I am carrying a large load I turn to proper hiking boots. The Salomon Outline boots are fantastic.
- Wool Socks: Don’t cheap out on your hiking socks. A proper pair of wool socks can make the difference between wet and dry feet.
- Hiking Underwear: The difference between hiking in normal underwear and actual moisture wicking underwear meant for outdoor actitivites is extreme. Yes they are more expensive but they last forever. My favorites are from Patagonia.
- Performance Shirt: The Outdoor Research Echo Series are the best hiking shirts for men and women.
- Hiking Poles: Can save your knees, especially on the descent of some of these steep hikes. Black Diamond is my preferred brand.
- Lightweight Backpack: You’ll need an awesome backpack for carrying all your gear. My favorite hiking backpacks are made by Camelbak.
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