Hiking Johnston Canyon

By Nabewise

Hiking Johnston Canyon

In the Canadian Rockies, you’ll find this enjoyable hiking trail, full of photo opportunities, in South Western Alberta.

In southern Alberta, just to the North West of Banff, and within Banff National Park, there are three terrific hiking opportunities, all at the same spot.

Johnston Canyon offers a wonderful hike up Johnston creek, a tributary to the Bow River. A 1.5 mile hike leads to the lower falls, and that alone is worth the trip, because the lower falls are best seen once you, the viewer, pass over a bridge and through a natural tunnel to be sprayed with water from the falls themselves as they spill into a crystal blue pool.

If a person has time, and enjoys a further hike, they may wish to continue an extra mile to the Upper Falls. Another 2 miles beyond that and the trail leads to the Ink Pots, a series of colorful pools formed by springs.

Myself, step daughter, and wife did the hike to the lower falls and back in about 1 hour. We, of course, were stopping to take pictures. In addition to the falls and walkways, which are built clinging to the walls of the canyons, our cameras were frequently on the Golden Mantled Ground Squirrels along the way. Note: These are not Chipmunks as you may think, their heads and shoulders are solid brown.

The parking lot is often over-crowded and people were parking on the highway itself. There are good washrooms and beyond lies a place to get a bite to eat, an ice cream, and Johnston Canyon rental cabins. The trail starts conveniently near the ice cream stand. If you buy ice cream you should note that you should not feed it, or the cones, to any of the local wild life.

Dogs are allowed on the trail if kept on leash, but bikes are not. Small children should be watched closely, as parts of the trail are slippery and they should not be allowed to climb on the railings.

We were impressed at how well the trail was maintained. The catwalks which clung to the side of the canyons felt safe and secure, in real life they are far more spectacular than in photos.

There are actually seven falls in the series, with the Lower Falls, and then the Upper Falls, being the most grand. The lower falls are 33 feet high, and the upper falls are nearly 100 feet high.  The biggest thrill for us, was at the end of the short hike to the Lower Falls, here we crossed a bridge and then passed through a tunnel, leading out to a very small area where we could feel the spray of the water.  Unfortunately it was too crowded for us to take a decent photograph, but then again, this is something you must see for yourself, and feel.

We did not venture to the Ink Pots, which are six colorful pools of water, and apparently you can actually see the spring water as it bubbles up into the ponds.
We totally recommend this hike as it was one of the highlights of our trip through Banff National Park!

How to Get There

Banff is tourist city less than two hours west of Calgary, Alberta. You will require a park pass, which you can purchase when you enter Banff National Park. Take Highway 1 West of Banff to Highway 1A North. The Johnston Canyon will be about 30 minutes from Banff, on your right hand side. If you are coming from the North, when you are south of Lake Louise you will want to get onto Highway 1A and look for Johnston Canyon after you pass Moose Meadows.

the Upper Falls,


Bring a water bottle and camera.

Wear good shoes, the trail can be slippery after rain, and in the off-season.

Be prepared for rain, especially in the later afternoons, even on sunny days.

Trails will be less crowded in the mornings, Monday to Friday, and during the off-season. (We went on a Monday afternoon in July and there were a fair number of people)

The trail is not suitable for baby strollers or wheel chairs.

One More Note

When we came back from our hike we saw park interpreters had set up a display about bears. It was rather sad, they had a bear who had been shot only the year before. Bear 133 was the victim of human laziness. At six years of age he had learned that humans were messy, they tended to throw out yummy garbage.  If you visit this, or any Park, please do not feed the wildlife, or throw out any garbage.

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