Johnston Canyon is one of the most popular day hikes in Banff National Park. It’s fairly easy, making it perfect for families and people of almost any fitness level and age. It’s accessible year round, including the winter.
This is a two hours round trip walk, just long enough that you don’t start to get tired of walking. It’s a 3-mile round trip hike to the upper falls along Johnston Canyon. If you continue on to Ink Pots the hike is a little longer (about 3.5 miles out, 7 miles total) with some ups and downs making it a moderate but we did up to the upper falls only as the kids started to get tired. We are hoping to bring them back once they are little older to go all the way up to the Ink Pots.
The trail was covered in snow when we visited December and majority part of the creek was frozen over. The park service has done a fantastic job maintaining this trail. It is well marked and is an easy hike to both lower and upper falls.
Much of it is along a boardwalk, and relatively flat. We took longer on the way there as there were so many beautiful sights to see along the way. If you do the walk in winter, be sure to hire crampons or ice cleats, which we did not and struggle a bit especially Anna who was not wearing hiking shoes as well.
Our trekking poles also came in handy as the ground is slippery, some people were really struggling with regular sports shoes on, and we were shocked that some of them appeared to be Canadian.
In winter there are no cafes open at the end of the walk, we recommend taking water, a thermos of hot chocolate and a high-energy snack will keep you going. Be sure to keep going to the upper falls after you have reached the lower falls, it is well worth it and not too much further. In winter the canyon looks somewhat surreal with the ice formations. The view of the canyon in the winter with ice covered creek and frozen falls was absolutely amazing. The all-natural ice formation was breathtaking.
It is an easy walk you don’t need to do this with a tour company if you don’t have to. It is just a walk; you don’t have to pay someone to take you. Maybe we were lucky; there weren’t too many hikers on the day we went.
Johnston Creek originates north of Castle Mountain in a glacial valley southwest of Badger Pass and south of Pulsatilla Pass, at an elevation of 2,500 meters (8,200 ft). The creek flows southeast between Helena Ridge and the Sawback Range, and then south through a gorge known as Johnston Canyon. The stream empties into the Bow River, south of Castle Mountain, between Banff and Lake Louise, at an elevation of 1,440 meters (4,720 ft).
As Johnston Creek approaches the Bow River, it flows through a large canyon formed by erosion over thousands of years. The creek has cut through the limestone rock to form sheer canyon walls, as well as waterfalls, tunnels, and pools.
A popular hiking trail follows the canyon and leads to a meadow within the Johnston Valley above the canyon. The first part of the trail consists of a constructed walkway with safety rails and bridges, while the last part of the trail is natural and more rugged. Within the meadow are the Ink Pots, which are six blue-green spring-fed pools.