Johnston Canyon Hike
Johnston Canyon Hike is a great, albeit busy, family hike near Banff. The trail winds through the canyon to the Upper Falls. It can also be extended to the Ink Pots, which boast pretty mountain views. In peak season start before 9am to avoid crowds on the trail.
To get to the starting point of Johnston Canyon hike, from Banff, head west on the Trans-Canada Highway towards Lake Louise. You can take the scenic route and take the Bow Valley Parkway exit (#1A) and drive along this all the way to Johnston’s Canyon (18.1km) or else take the Trans-Canada all the way to Castle Mountain Junction and drive back 5.5km.
|When to do|
May to November
Out and back
Johnston Canyon Hike
Johnston Canyon Hike Description
Get here early to avoid the crowds and enjoy your time ascending and descending Johnston’s Canyon. We like to be parked by 9 am at the latest (earlier on weekends) so we can enjoy the Johnston Canyon Hike and not get stuck in a long line of people slowly going up and down the path.
From the parking lot, pass the toilets and cross a bridge to a broad path, which begins beside Johnston Canyon Lodge and Bungalows. The hike up to Johnston Canyon is initially in the forest, with Johnston Creek beside you. You’ll soon have to start using catwalks that are fixed to limestone cliffs, which allow you to penetrate this canyon, as there is no space for a trail.
Johnston Canyon Lower Falls
The Johnston Canyon trail quickly approaches the Lower Canyon Falls (1.2km, 30m elevation gain), Many families with very young children turn around here, however we recommend continuing onwards up Johnston Canyon to the Upper Canyon Falls.
The Lower Canyon Falls are a dramatic sight, tumbling down the canyon into a deep, turquoise pool. The gushing waterfall can be admired from the catwalk, which offers a fantastic view of the plunging water, but for a closer look, walk through the tunnel to the viewing platform. Be careful with your camera, as you are likely to get wet! from these two viewing points it’s easy to see the way in which the falls have sculpted the rocks of the canyon, carving dramatic shapes into the colorful rock.
Continuing from Lower Canyon Falls, there is another 1.4km and 150m of elevation gain to the Upper Canyon Falls. The route up Johnston Canyon continues to impress as you ascend, with brief views of the large canyon walls through the forest.
Johnston Canyon Upper Falls
Soon you arrive at a junction for the Upper Falls, with the trail to the left going to a Waterfall Lookout and the trail to the right going to Johnston Canyon’s Upper Falls. Plan on going to both, as they are both impressive.
We prefer to go right first, and head to the Upper Falls. This trail takes you to a catwalk looking out on the bottom of the Upper Falls. The best view is from the far end of the catwalk, and there is usually a line to get to this end of the catwalk.
Return to the junction and then head on the left-hand path, up to the Waterfall Lookout. Seeing the top of these falls is impressive, and there are some benches here which are great for a lunch break.
The Upper Falls drop 40 meters into a deep plunge pool, making a truly dramatic sight at the culmination of your hike through the canyon. As you emerge from the lower canyon, through the forest, you’re likely to hear the rush of water before you arrive. If you’re looking for a unique perspective on the Upper Falls, try to find the ‘hidden cave’, at the base of the Falls. This unique lookout point can be found by following a path to the right just before you arrive at the first railing that signals the Upper Falls. In winter, this part of the canyon is incredible, as the Upper Falls freeze over, creating an epic wall of ice.
From the Upper Canyon Falls, many people return to their car, but those with energy can continue another 3.0km and 300m upwards to the Ink Pots. More info is listed on our Johnston Canyon and Ink Pots hike route description.
If you started the hike late, then the way down might be frustrating, as it could be very slow with the masses now hiking up Johnston Canyon. However, some of the views of Johnston Canyon are actually better on the hike down, so don’t put the camera away, and try to appreciate the descent as an opportunity to really take in the views.
Before you know it, you’re at the back at the Johnston Canyon Parking Lot. If you started early enough you can head into Banff for a picnic, we recommend Central Park as a great location.
Hiking Trail Highlights
Johnston Canyon is an impressive natural chasm in the heart of Banff National Park, a beautiful gorge shaped by the rushing waters of Johnston Creek. The canyon gets its name from an early 20th-century gold prospector, but the area was later settled by Walter Camp and his family, who fell in love with the falls and began to build infrastructure and paths to make them more accessible. Although the canyon is now managed by the national park authorities, Walter’s descendants still run the nearby Camp Cabins, the longest-running business in the Rockies.
Over many thousands of years, the river has carefully carved out intricate and dazzling shapes from the soft limestone rock, creating a stunning natural spectacle. With its overhanging, high walls, draped in lush vegetation, this beautiful canyon is the perfect destination for a family day out.
The Canyon is a year-round destination and can be accessed either in summer or winter. The trail is most popular in the summer months, the peak season for hiking, when the canyon is covered in rich moss and greenery and the pools are a deep blue-turquoise color. However, in winter, it’s also a dramatic spot, as the Upper Falls usually freeze completely and the canyon is covered in snow and ice. This is a great time to try your hand at ice walking or ice climbing, or to snap some truly epic photos!
Frequently asked questions about Johnston Canyon
Does Johnston Canyon cost money?
Johnston Canyon is located within the Banff National Park, and entry is included in the price of National Park admission.
Do you need a park pass for Johnston Canyon?
Yes – Johnston Canyon falls within the Banff National Park, and you’ll need to purchase a Park Pass to access the area. However, once you reach the Canyon, there’s no further cost for entry.
How far is Johnston Canyon from Calgary?
Johnston Canyon is 165.0km from Calgary via the Trans-Canada highway AB-1 West, and takes approximately two hours by car.
How long of a hike is Johnston Canyon?
The hike through Johnston Canyon all the way to the Upper Canyon Falls takes approximately 2-3 hours (there and back) and covers just under 6.0km. It’s an easy, manageable trail, with a gentle elevation gain through the canyon.
You’ll be in Johnston Canyon for much of this hike, bring an extra layer of clothing as it can get chilly.
Do this very early or late, as this hike tends to be extremely busy.
The 1A highway has animals feeding very early in the morning, keep your eyes open for bears!
There’s an ice cream stand at the bottom of the hike, with tasty ice cream. Bring some cash so the family can enjoy ice creams at the end of the hike.
If you want to get an early start on this hike, consider staying at Johnston Canyon Lodge and Bungalows, a series of bungalows with a lot of character.
Check out our YouTube video on this great family hike.
This hike is also available in the winter. Check out the Johnston Canyon Winter Hike guide.
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