Locals Guide to the Johnston Canyon Hike in Banff National Park

Johnston Canyon is a highlight for many on their trip to Banff and it’s an easy Banff hike good for families. 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 it’s accessibility to everyone makes it a stand out.

Johnston Canyon

Key Details

  • 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

Johnston Canyon Hike

This 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.

Entering Johnston Canyon

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.

Johnston Canyon Lower Falls

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.

Ice Climber Johnston Canyon
Johnston Canyon Upper Falls

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.

Johnston Canyon Moose Meadows

Tips For 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 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 the trail. 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 drives in Banff.

2020 Update: The Parkway is closed to vehicles between Castle Junction and Banff. The best way to access Johnston Canyon is to bike 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.

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 from June 21st to September 15th in 2020. There is no public transportation outside of this 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 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.

Parks Canada has now banned all off-trail movement until you reach the Ink Pots above the Upper Canyon Falls. Please respect this closure. We’re not certain of Park’s stance, but it does appear you can still climb down to the spot in the winter months.

Thoughts on Johnston Canyon

Johnston Canyon in February

This 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 bad.

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.

Easy Hikes in 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 better than Johnston Canyon, like the Emerald Lake Path above, not technically in Banff!

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