Johnston Canyon Hike: 21 Essential Things to KNOW in 2024

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 completing the Johnston Canyon hike.

It’s possibly the busiest trail in all of Banff. Still, it’s on most visitors’ bucket lists, so in peak season, you’ll need to arrive early 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


Key Stats

Infographic for hike length
Length

5.0 km

Infographic For Hike duration
Duration

2 – 3 hours

Infographic For Hike Elevation Gain
Elevation

215 meters

Infographic for difficulty of hike
Difficulty

Easy

Infographic For Trailhead
Trailhead

Johnston Canyon Parking Lot


Is Johnston Canyon Open in 2024?

In 2020 and 2021, there were many restrictions limiting access to Johnston Canyon, but things have almost returned to normal, and Johnston Canyon is fully open in 2024. However, some closures affect the Bow Valley Parkway throughout the year, which can affect getting to Johnston Canyon from Banff, or elsewhere.

Seasonal Road Closures on the Bow Valley Parkway

From March 1st to June 25th, travel is not permitted between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m. from the Johnston Canyon Campground to the Fireside Picnic Area (17km). This restriction applies to all forms of travel (vehicle, walking, and biking). The restriction ensures a high-quality home remains in place for the wildlife. All businesses remain open during this time and can be accessed via Castle Junction.

Parks Canada has also approved a three-year pilot that restricts vehicles every day from 8am to 8pm from May 1 to June 25, 2024, and from  August 30 to September 30, 2024, only along the eastern 17-kilometer section of the parkway to allow for vehicle-free cycling. This closure is between the Fireside Day-use Area and Johnston Canyon.

So if you would like to go to Johnston Canyon during this time, it’s recommended to cycle in (make sure to bring a bike lock!). Your other alternative is to access Johnston Canyon via the Castle Junction exit off the Trans Canada highway. During the closure, this is the only way to drive to the Johnston Canyon parking area. The Castle Johnston exit is about 32 km from Downtown Banff.

You can see our entire article about the Bow Valley Parkway here for more information.


All About the Johnston Canyon Hike

The Sign At The Start Of Johnston Canyon
Johnston Canyon Trailhead

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 leaving the parking lot, you’ll pass the Johnston Canyon Lodge, one of the best Banff cabins, before entering the forest alongside Johnston Creek. As you work to the Lower Johnston Canyon Falls, you’ll have minimal elevation gain moving through the forest. Eventually, you enter Johnston Canyon, where several catwalks over Johnston Creek lead you to the waterfalls.

100 Meters Down The Johnston Canyon Trail
The start of the Johnston Canyon hike

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.

Natasha In The Cave At The Lower Johnston Canyon Falls
The tunnel to see the lower falls!
Cameron Stands Alone On A Bridge At The Lower Falls Of Johnston Canyon
The bridge overlooking the Johnston Canyon lower falls
Johnston Canyon Lower Falls
Lower falls in the summer
Johnston Canyon Lower Falls In Winter
Lower falls in the winter

You continue up the canyon from the Lower Falls with a bit more elevation gain. You’ll walk alongside the canyon and Johnston Creek, 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 viewpoints.

The Walkway Along Johnston Canyon
The Upper Falls Of Johnston Canyon

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, ice climbers use the area as a base to climb the waterfall. It’s an awesome experience and a lot of fun, so if that sounds right up your alley, consider booking the ice climb tour with Yamnuska Mountain Adventures.

Ice Climber Johnston Canyon
Johnston Canyon in February
Johnston Canyon Upper Falls
View of the Upper Falls

A steeper trail to the platform that hangs over the gorge can reach the second viewing platform. It’s an impressive view, as you can see over the top of the falls and down to the bottom 40 meters below. You can continue the hike from the top of Upper Falls 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 often filled with wildflowers. The springs are a unique feature in Banff; however, for most seasoned Banff hikers, it’s a bit of a disappointment and an extra 4km of hiking.

Johnston Canyon Moose Meadows

Gear We Recommend for Hiking Often in the Rockies

Women's Merrell Moab II

Merrell Moab II

Many hikers will enjoy the security, comfort, and value in the Merrell Moab II. It’s a great beginner hiking boot.

Arc'teryx Cerium Hoody

Arc’teryx Cerium

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.

Peak Design Capture Clip

PD Capture Clip

This nifty clip from Peak Design secures a camera to my backpack strap for easy reach. No more digging in the backpack!

Hiking Poles

Hiking Poles

A pair of durable and lightweight hiking poles are a great asset on the hiking trail. 

Gregory Nano Backpack

Gregory Nano 20L

20L feels like the ideal size for quick hikes and scrambles. We love the Nano from Gregory with a hydration reservoir.

Garmin Inreach Mini

Garmin Inreach Mini

There is not much cell service in the Canadian Rockies. In case of emergencies, we carry an emergency beacon with GPS.

Our Banff Packing List – Covering Winter and Summer

How Hard is the Johnston Canyon Hike?

johnston canyon in winter
Johnston Canyon in February

The Johnston Canyon Hike to the Lower Falls is 2.3 km (round trip) and has about 105 meters of elevation gain. The Johnston Canyon Hike to the Upper Falls is 5.1 km and 262 meters (round trip). Both hikes are easy and follow a well-maintained trail suitable for all.


How Long Should the Johnston Canyon Hike Take?

Johnston Canyon In The Winter
Putting on our microspikes in February

If you decide to hike to the Upper Falls, expect the hike to Johnston Canyon to take 2-3 hours. If you are hiking Johnston Canyon in the winter, it may take longer as the trail is often icy and slippery. Microspikes are highly recommended in the winter months.

40 EPIC Banff Winter Activities to Enjoy

What Season Should You Hike to Johnston Canyon?

Johnston Canyon in winter
Johnston Canyon in winter

Johnston Canyon is a popular trail all year round. My favorite time to hike to Johnston Canyon is in May, when the snowmelt is high, creating heavy water flow from the waterfalls. May in Banff 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, creating a dramatic scene.

The Best Banff Photography & Picture Spots (and How to Get To Them)

Is Johnston Canyon Busy?

An Empty Marble Canyon

Johnston Canyon is Banff’s most popular trail. If you come between June and September, expect the trail to be extremely crowded, and for some this may detract from the experience. For a more crowd-free experience, we recommend you arrive before 8 a.m. or after 7 p.m. in the summer. Thank goodness for those long summer days where the sun doesn’t set until 10pm! Keep in mind that weekends are busier than weekdays.

That said, we have hiked Johnston Canyon probably seven or eight times now and always have a relatively crowd-free experience. The trick is to hike Johnston Canyon in the off-season, at “off times,” which is when most of these photos were taken.

If you want a quieter canyon hike experience, we recommend you look into Marble Canyon in Kootenay National Park.


Is Johnston Canyon Kid Friendly, Stroller Friendly, or Pet Friendly?

Natasha Looking Down At Johnston Canyon
  • 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 and consider a baby backpack instead.
  • 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 dogs will be happy walking. In the winter, bring them doggy mittens as it gets very cold. Please remember pets must always be kept on a leash in Banff.
Easy Hikes in Banff for the Whole Family

Johnston Canyon Hike in the Winter

Standing At The Base Of Frozen Waterfall Johnston Canyon
Johnston Canyon in the winter

One of the best times to experience Johnston Canyon is in the winter! It may be cold, but you’ll 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 as the trail is very slick and slippery. We’ve hiked this trail four or five times in the winter, and I’m always thankful to have microspikes on my feet.

Microspikes On Boots
Microspikes on the trail in February – so essential

These can be purchased on Amazon at Canadian Tire, or you can rent them at Snowtips-Bactrax on Bear Street in Downtown Banff or at Wilson Sports in the Lake Louise Village.


Tips For the Johnston Canyon Hike

Johnston Canyon Raised Platform
  • Most of the Johnston Canyon hike occurs in the shaded forest and canyon, so it can be cool even in summer. Our advice for any hike in the Rockies applies here, so pack layers.
  • The trail often has ice and snow in the winter, spring, and fall. Microspikes and hiking poles are all super helpful to have. You can rent them in town or buy them.
  • Arrive early in the morning or late in the evening 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. Always pack out what you bring and dispose of trash in the bear-safe bins you’ll see at a few points on the trail.
  • You should always carry bear spray, but you’ll likely be fine without it on this particular trail as it’s so well-trafficked. However, if you hike to Moose Meadow, it’s a good idea to pack bear spray.
  • Boots are ideal for this hike as it can be muddy, but any athletic footwear feels appropriate.
  • Dogs are allowed on the trail but must always be on a leash 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 and plan on doing lots of short hikes with the baby, it’s best to bring a baby backpack.
  • Do not throw coins into the water. This past year is the first time I’ve seen coins thrown into the natural settings of Johnston Canyon, and I was quite sad to see it. The bodies of water around Banff are not wishing wells you find in a mall. They are serene natural landscapes and should remain untouched. Please do not throw coins into the water here.

How to Get to Johnston Canyon

Johnston Canyon Lower Falls In The Summer

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 (Castle Junction) and turn right onto the Bow Valley Parkway.

Biking the Bow Valley Parkway in June
Biking the Bow Valley Parkway in June

The Johnston Canyon parking lot is another 6.2 km from Castle Junction. However, we much prefer taking the Bow Valley Parkway 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

Roam Public Transit Bus In Banff

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 in mid-May and run until October. The route departs the downtown Banff High School Transit Hub and costs $5 one way. 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 from 9AM to 6PM. Johnston Canyon bus fares for 2024 are $5 for adults and $2.50 for Seniors/Youth and children under 12 travel free. Outside of the summer season, the bus route to Johnston Canyon is more limited.

The Route 9 bus operates throughout the Fall, Winter, and Spring seasons on Saturday-Sunday and statutory holidays, except for Christmas Day. It’s best to check their website for more details.


Tours to Johnston Canyon

Johnston Canyon In April
Johnston Canyon in April

If you visit Johnston Canyon outside the summer, you can always book a tour!

Book a Tour

Discover Banff Tours, GetYourGuide, and Radventures run shuttle services and tours to Johnston Canyon in the winter and off-season. A hop-on-hop-off tour will take you to many of the main destinations in Banff, like Lake Louise and Moraine Lake!


Cycle to Johnston Canyon

cycling the bow valley parkway
Cycling the Bow Valley Parkway

The Bow Valley Parkway is a fantastic road to bike along. If you are up for an adventure, we recommend renting a bike (or bringing your own if you have one) and cycling to Johnston Canyon. You can easily bike from Downtown Banff, along the Legacy Trail, to access the start of the Bow Valley Parkway. Remember to bring a lock so you can lock your bike up while you hike to Johnston Canyon!

Parks Canada has approved a three-year pilot that restricts vehicles from May 1 to June 25 and from September 1-October 1 only along the eastern 17-kilometer section of the parkway to allow for vehicle-free cycling. It’s the perfect time to get on the bike!

**E-bikes are permitted on the Bow Valley Parkway and the Banff Legacy Trail, which can be used to access the Bow Valley Parkway from the Town of Banff.

Book a Tour! Bike and Hike Banff to Johnston Canyon small group guided program

Johnston Canyon Secret Cave Photo Spot

Johnston Canyon In The Winter

You’ve probably seen this photo location on the internet or social media. However, it is now closed to the public except in the winter months, and you will be fined up to $25,000 if you attempt to reach the cave between May 1 and November 15. The location is closed to the public due to trail degradation, and endangered black swifts use the canyon walls for breeding.

Johnston Canyon In The Winter

Parks Canada has banned all off-trail movement until you reach the Ink Pots above the Upper Canyon Falls from May 1 to November 15. Please respect this closure and do not venture off-trail. Also, always respect trail closure signs.


Thoughts on the Johnston Canyon Hike

Cameron On Our First Trip To Johnston Canyon
Johnston Canyon in February

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 plan to hike in the winter, a pair of microspikes will be a big help, as the path can get very icy. You can rent them at Wilson Sports in Lake Louise or Banff and Canmore. We feel a bit more mixed about the Johnston Canyon experience in the summer. You should come prepared for crowds – lots of them – and a crowded parking situation.

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, but it will still impress any visitor.

Johnston Canyon Upper Falls

However, we are fans of the safety and ease that Johnston Canyon offers families and people with limited mobility. If you’re a beginner hiker or a family with very young children, give the hike a go. If you fall into the moderate experience of hiking or fitness, there are many hikes in Banff where you’ll have a more enjoyable and less crowded time.

Of course, Banff National Park is a wonderful place, and it’s very easy to find immense beauty in Johnston Canyon. The waterfalls are sure to be impressive.


Stay at the Johnston Canyon Cabins

Johnston Canyon Cabin Bungalow

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 at the start of the Johnston Canyon hike. They have 42 cabin-style accommodations that vary in size and room amenities. Most bungalows have a large open bedroom, porch area, wood-burning fireplace, and luxury amenities like a flat-screen TV, bridge, and bathrobes.

The Johnston Canyon cabins also operate the Black Swift Bistro and the Market Cafe, the only food you’ll find along the Bow Valley Parkway! Other nearby options are Castle Mountain Chalets and Baker Creek Mountain cabins (my favorite).

Book on Booking.com: Johnston Canyon Bungalows

Camping at Johnston Canyon

Long Exposure Of Johnston Canyon Falls

It is possible to camp near Johnston Canyon. The Johnston Canyon Campground is right off the Bow Valley Parkway, across from the Johnston Canyon trailhead. The campsite has great showers, flush toilets, and fire pits, including 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 camp here, take advantage of the location and take an early morning hike through Johnston Canyon.

  • Operating dates: May 23 to September 22
  • ReservationsRequired
  • Amenities: Hot showers, flush toilet, sanitation dump, disabled access, fire pits, food lockers, potable water, sheltered camp kitchens
  • Fees: $30.50
  • Number of sites: 132
Banff Camping Tips to Know + Best Banff Campgrounds

Johnston Canyon Parking Facilities

There is a heated washroom facility at the Johnston Canyon parking area. There are also flush toilets here. It’s best to utilize them as there is nowhere to step off the trail and quickly pee in the bushes on the Johnston Canyon trail, which is very busy with few points for privacy.

There is also a nice cafe and bistro with a gift shop and toilets at the start of the trailhead, but you should only use these facilities if you are a patron of the business. For those who ride a bike to Johnston Canyon, it’s important to note that bike racks are at the main entrance and in the P1 parking lot. Make sure to bring a bike lock for your bike.


Other Easy Hikes Around Banff

Natasha On The Big Beehive Hike
Big Beehive Hike at Lake Louise

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 everyone can enjoy. A number of these, in our opinion, are more exhilarating than Johnston Canyon.


Hopefully, these Johnston Canyon hike tips will help you plan your trip to Banff. If you have any other questions, comment or see our Canadian Rockies travel guide for more articles about photography spots, lakes, hikes, and everything else.


Plan Your Trip to the Canadian Rockies

  • Tours (New in 2024): The Banff Blog is partnering with one of the leading tour companies in Western Canada so readers can experience the magic of the Rockies with other travelers – without having to think about a thing. See all our 2024 tour offerings here!
  • Get to Banff or Canmore Without a Car: The Banff Airporter provides fantastic service connecting you from the Calgary International Airport (YYC) to Banff or Canmore.
  • Get Around: We suggest renting a car to get around. You can search for rental cars on Rentalcars.com. Or embark on an epic campervan trip, we like to compare camper prices on Outdoorsy.
  • Cheaper Airfare: We also use Going to watch for cheap airfare deals!
  • Hop On, Hop Off: This tour is taking Banff by storm. It’s exactly what it sounds like, hop on and off a bus bound for all the best attractions at your own pace!

↓ Join the community ↓

The Banff Blog Facebook Group is your headquarters for Canadian Rockies travel advice and information, including hike and off-season travel information. You can also meet new adventure buddies.

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About Cameron

Cameron is a resident of Canmore, Alberta. After traveling the world for six years, he settled down in the beautiful Bow Valley with Natasha. He has been featured as a travel expert with numerous publications worldwide and has spoken on several occasions about the power of travel. He has a passion for all things in the Canadian Rockies and loves to spend his time snowboarding, scrambling, camping, biking, and trail running. Conservation is a deep fundamental in his life, and he aims to inspire others to care about our natural world. You can learn more on the about us page.

If you have found the content on this site helpful to your trip planning please consider supporting The Banff Blog. You can say thanks directly by buying us a coffee. All support is much appreciated!

10 thoughts on “Johnston Canyon Hike: 21 Essential Things to KNOW in 2024”

  1. What a great post–so informative. Thank you!

    How long would it take one to bike from Banff to Johnston Canyon? E-bike or standard recommended? How is the road there (are there many elevation changes)? Once there, are there plenty of spots to lock a bike?

    Thanks so much!

    Reply
    • Hey Jenny,

      You’re welcome! We’ve biked to Johnston Canyon several times. It all depends on what kind of bike you’re on, and you’re fitness. However, for most, I’d say it should take one to two hours. The road there is fantastic as it was repaved in 2020, but it does have one large hill you’ll have to climb on the way there. It shouldn’t be an issue locking the bike up!

      Best,
      Cameron

      Reply
  2. With the road closures this year, what is the closest we could park to the trailhead? And after that how many km would we have to bike/walk to get to the trailhead?

    Reply
  3. We are hoping to do the short loop on sept 26th 2022..but can we park our car right near where u start the trail loop?Or did I read that it is only open for bikes and no cars are allowed to park in the parking lot near the start of the trail for that date?

    Reply
    • This is late but in case someone in the future has the same concern. The seasonal closure of Bow Valley parkway is only up to Johnston Canyon parking lot so you will be able to park just fine.

      You’ll just have to drive to it from the Trans Canada Highway then hang a right to get to Castle Junction. BTW- saw a big brown bear just before Castle Junction gas station…was a good reminder to carry bear spray lol.

      Reply
  4. Hi Cameron and Natasha, we are visiting from the US the 2nd week of September and are staying in Canmore for 5 nights. We plan on visiting Lake Louise one day and hiking to the tea house. We are wondering if it would be too much to combine a visit to Moraine Lake for about an hour and then stopping at Johnston Canyon to hike to upper falls in a single day.
    Also, what would make more sense for transport to these places from Banff? ROAM bus or the Parks Shuttle? Thanks for your informative blog.

    Reply
    • Hi Tracy,

      I don’t think it’s too much if you’re used to hiking, but if you’re trying to get to all three from Banff I think your best option might be to book the hop on hop off bus (https://thebanffblog.com/recommends/banff-hop-on-hop-off/). If you have a car then it’s best to drive to the Lake Louise Park & Ride to catch the shuttle – The teahouse hike + Moraine Lake is going to take you around 6-7 hours. Then when you get back to your car you can drive to Johnston Canyon and start your hike.

      Reply

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