The hike to Johnston Canyon 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 –boasting pretty mountain views. In peak season start before 9am to avoid crowds on the trail.
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 driving back 5.5km.
|When to do|
May to November
Out and back
Get here early to avoid the crowds and enjoy your time ascending and descending Johnston’s Canyon. We like to be parked by 9am at the latest (earlier on weekends) so we can enjoy the walk 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.
The trail quickly approaches the Lower Canyon Falls (1.2km, 30m elevation gain), where you can walk through a tunnel to get an even closer look at the beautiful cascading water. Many families with very young children turn around here, however we recommend continuing onwards up Johnston Canyon to the Upper Canyon Falls.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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