Snowshoeing or hiking Johnston Canyon in winter is spectacular. Not only are there fewer people, but seeing the ice in this canyon is special. This route can often be done without snowshoes, however microspikes for your boots are definitely recommended.
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|
November - April
Yes - On Leash
Out and back
Anyone on a snowshoe trip should have Avalanche training, we recommend AST 2 for all backcountry travellers, and AST 1 is the minimum. It is important to note that when travelling through avalanche terrain it is extremely valuable to always have a companion.
Johnston’s Canyon is very crowded in summer, however we prefer it in winter, when the waterfalls freeze, and the tranquillity makes Johnston Canyon a very special place. This is especially true early on weekdays, where you may have Johnston Canyon largely to yourself.
The route follows the summer route and involves going along some metal catwalks along the way. Along the catwalks we prefer not wearing our snowshoes unless there has been fresh snow.
From the Johnston Canyon 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 at the Lower Falls, however we love 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. You can get great views of ice climbers from here on weekends.
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 way down can be slippery, so even if you didn’t bring your snowshoes it’s very useful to have microspikes to help with traction. We love the way down, as some of the views of Johnston Canyon are actually better on the trip 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.
You’ll be in Johnston Canyon for much of this hike, bring an extra layer of clothing as it can get chilly.
This route can be done with microspikes most of the winter, in fact a lot of the route is better done with microspikes in our opinion.
Snowshoeing in the Banff takes you into remote terrain. Make sure you are prepared for an emergency with warm clothes, extra food, matches and ideally a satellite transceiver, like a Garmin InReach. Cell phones do not work until you get to Canmore.
Always check the avalanche forecast for Banff before heading out.
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