Winter Hiking to Johnston Canyon’s Frozen Waterfalls

Johnston Canyon Upper Fall

  • Attraction: Johnston Canyon
  • Location: Banff National Park
  • Walking distance: 5.2km (3.2 miles)
  • Elevation gain: 135m (443 feet)
  • Cost: Free

Like a scene from the Chronicles of Narnia, the Johnston Canyon frozen waterfalls are truly remarkable. It’s like standing beneath a giant rock-cake with icing sugar running down the sides. The views are simply breathtaking and if you’re visiting Banff National Park in the winter, this is a must-do experience.

Hiking to Johnston Canyon during the winter is usually quite easy. From the car park, it’s only a two or three-hour return trip. You’ll want to hike the entire 5.2-kilometer return trip so that you see both the Upper and Lower Falls. Although you don’t need snowshoes, you may want to bring ice cleats to put on the bottom of your hiking shoes as it can get icy in spots. My family wore regular hiking shoes without ice cleats and although it was quite slippery in some areas, we made it there and back just fine. Sometimes it depends on the weather.

Johnston Canyon Lower Falls

During the hike, you’ll traverse a series of steel catwalks, which crawl along the edge of the canyon. You’ll walk along the river for most of the trail but will also have some scenic moments within the snow-covered forest. The first viewpoint you’ll reach is a cave, which opens up to the incredible Lower Falls, which has water flowing behind the ice. It’s absolutely stunning and worth the trip in itself. Afterward, you’ll keep following the trail until you get to the Upper Falls, which is where you’ll see people climbing up the frozen ice pinnacles. This, combined with the beautiful canyon, is a photographers delight. However, there are two views of the Upper Falls. The first viewpoint is from the bottom looking up and the second viewpoint is from the top looking down. It’s only another 10-minute walk to the second viewpoint and I highly recommend doing both.

Johnston Canyon Ice Climbing

This little adventure can be done in a half day and is great for the whole family. My wife and I brought her mother and sister, who are from Mexico, and although they aren’t used to hiking, they really enjoyed it. There’s not much of an elevation gain and the trail is often well-groomed. There is no cost to hiking Johnston Canyon but because it is located within Banff National Park, you will need a Park Pass. This is also a very popular hike so if you want to avoid the crowds, I recommend going early.

Although the highlight of the hike belongs to the sheer beauty of the canyon and the frozen waterfalls, you’ll also find a number of informative signs explaining how Johnston Canyon was formed as well as information on the local wildlife. Whether you’re from Canada or another country, Johnston Canyon will certainly impress you.

Have you been? What did you think? Would you like to go? Let us know in the comments below?




  1. An adventure for the not so faint of heart!