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 stand out.
Johnston Canyon Hike Guide
2 – 3 hours
Johnston Canyon Parking Lot
Is Johnston Canyon Open in 2021?
2021 Update: The Parkway is now open to vehicles from the Town of Banff (the start of the 1A).
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 should plan 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 in both directions on the trail.
After you leave the parking lot, you’ll pass the Johnston Canyon Lodge, which is one of the best Banff cabins, 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.
Gear We Recommend
The vast majority of hikes and easy scrambles in the Rockies, you’ll find us in our trusty Salomon Speedcross.
Arc’teryx Cerium is our pick for the best down jacket. It’s incredibly light, and we bring it on almost every hike in the Rockies.
This nifty clip from Peak Design secures a camera to my backpack strap for easy reach. No more digging in the backpack!
A pair of durable and lightweight hiking poles are a great asset on the hiking trail.
20L feels like the ideal size for quick hikes and scrambles. We love the Nano from Gregory with a hydration reservoir.
There is not much cell service in the Canadian Rockies. In case of emergencies, we carry an emergency beacon with GPS.
How Hard is the Johnston Canyon Hike
The Johnston Canyon Hike to the Lower Falls is 2.3 km and has about 105 meters of elevation gain. The Johnston Canyon Hike to the Upper Falls is 5.1 km and 262 meters. Both hikes are easy and follow a well-maintained trail suitable for all.
How Long Should the Johnston Canyon Hike Take
If you decide to hike to the Upper Falls, expect the hike to Johnston Canyon to take you between 2-3 hours. If you are hiking Johnston Canyon in the winter, it may take you a bit longer as the trail is icy and slippery.
What Season Should I Hike to Johnston Canyon
Johnston Canyon is a popular trail all year round. My favorite times to hike to Johnston Canyon are in May, when the snowmelt is high, creating heavy water flow from the waterfalls. May also means the trail will be less crowded than in the summer. I also like hiking Johnston Canyon in the winter when the Banff waterfalls are frozen over, creating a dramatic scene.
Is Johnston Canyon Kid Friendly, Stroller Friendly, or Pet Friendly?
- Stroller Friendly: While you may be able to get by with a stroller on Johnston Canyon it certainly won’t be enjoyable. Some parts of the trail are narrow and many sections are uneven. It’s best to leave the stroller at home.
- Kid Friendly: Johnston Canyon is suitable for all kiddos. In the winter make sure to bundle them up well!
- Pet Friendly: Johnston Canyon is a pet friendly trail, even for little dogs. It’s a mild climb to the waterfalls that even the smallest of dogs will be happy to walk. In the winter make sure to bring them doggy mittens as it gets very cold.
Johnston Canyon Hike in the Winter
One of the best times to experience Johnston Canyon is in the winter! It may be cold, but you’ll get to see the stunning frozen lower and upper falls! If you visit Johnston Canyon in the winter, it’s best to bring a pair of microspikes.
These can be purchased on Amazon, Canadian Tire, or you can rent them at Snowtips-Bactrax on Bear Street downtown.
Tips For the Johnston Canyon Hike
- The majority of the Johnston Canyon 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.
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. Route 9 to Johnston Canyon will launch on May 21st, 2021. The route departs the downtown Banff High School Transit Hub. From here, the bus travels directly to Johnston Canyon via Highway 1 and Castle Junction.
This bus service will run 7 days a week in the summer and will run from 9AM to 6PM.
Johnston Canyon fares for 2021 are $5 for adults and $2.50 for Seniors/Youth & Children under 12 travel free.
There is no public transportation outside of the summer period. You can find more info and the timetable on the Roam Transit website.
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 up to $25,000 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 and do not venture off-trail.
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 many 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 beauty in Johnston Canyon, and the waterfalls are impressive.
Stay at the 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 conveniently 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!
Book on Booking.com: Johnston Canyon Bungalows
Camping at Johnston Canyon
It is possible to camp near Johnston Canyon. The Johnston Canyon Campground is right off the Bow Valley Parkway, just across from the Johnston Canyon trailhead.
The campsite has some great facilities with showers, flush toilets, and fire pits that include firewood with your fire permit. There are three prime campsites right along Johnston Creek if you want to fall asleep to the sounds of rushing water. If you do camp here, take advantage of the location and go for an early morning hike through Johnston Canyon.
- Operating dates: June 25 – September 21
- Reservations: Required
- Amenities: Hot showers, flush toilet, sanitation dump, disabled access, fire pits, food lockers, potable water, sheltered camp kitchens
- Fees: $27.40
- Number of sites: 132
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.
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