- Attraction: Johnston Canyon Alberta
- Location: Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada
- Walking distance: 5.2km (3.2 miles)
- Elevation gain: 135m (443 feet)
- Johnston Canyon winter = frozen waterfalls
- Johnston Canyon summer = waterfalls
- Cost: Free
Johnston Canyon, Banff National Park
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 (or the summer for that matter), this is a must-do experience.
Hiking Johnston Canyon trail 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 kilometre 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.
During the hike, you’ll traverse a series of steel catwalks, which crawl along the edge of the canyon. You’ll walk beside the creek 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-faced surface. It’s absolutely stunning and worth the trip alone. Afterward, you’ll keep following the trail until you get to the Upper Falls, which is where you might 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. You’ve made it this far already so you might as well get the full experience.
Johnston Canyon Hike
This little adventure can be done as a half-day trip and is great for the whole family. In fact, it’s one of the top things to do while driving from Calgary to Lake Louise. 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’s also no cost to hiking Johnston Canyon but because it is located within Banff National Park, you will need a Canada Park Pass. This is also a very popular hike so if you want to avoid the crowds, I recommend going early and on a weekday.
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 Banff will impress and delight.
For those who do not have a vehicle or would feel more comfortable with a guide, there’s an organized tour from Banff called the Johnston Canyon Ice Walk.
Johnston Canyon Ink Pots Banff
An inkpot is a crystal-clear, emerald green spring-fed pool located in a meadow near Johnston Canyon. They are called “Ink Pots” because there are seven of them. The same trail that takes you to the frozen waterfalls will also bring you to the ink pots. However, the hike from the Upper Falls will add another three kilometres (almost 2 miles) through a forest and up over a ridge, eventually leading to a beautiful valley surrounded by mountains. Hiking to the Ink Pots will basically double your time of the hike, making this a full-day hike instead if a half-day hike. In the winter, it gets dark early so plan accordingly.
Johnston Canyon Map
Where to Stay near Johnston Canyon Canada
There are a plethora of places to stay in Banff, Canmore, and Lake Louise. There are also the Johnston Canyon Cabins, which are located right next to the trail and provide a tranquil environment once the day-trippers are gone home. It’s called Johnston Canyon Resort (or Johnston Canyon Lodge) and it books up fast, so you’ll want to book as far in advance as possible! After all, it’s the only place next to the trail. In the summer, you’ll find Johnston Canyon campgrounds as well.
However, most people stay in nearby Banff, which is a better spot for those looking for a wider array of restaurants, bars, and shopping.
Have you been? What did you think? Would you like to go? Let us know in the comments below?
For more AWESOME things to do in the area, check out these articles below:
- Things to Do in Banff National Park
- Calgary to Banff
- Banff to Jasper
- Things to Do in Canmore
- Things to Do in Jasper
- Things to Do in Calgary
- Things to Do in Lake Louise
- Banff Snow Days
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