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Looking for a breathtaking hike that won’t leave you feeling exhausted? Look no further than Johnston Canyon Upper Falls!
Located in the heart of Banff National Park, this easy hike on the Bow Valley Parkway is perfect for beginners or those who want to take in the natural beauty of the Canadian Rockies without pushing themselves too hard.
With its turquoise waterfalls and stunning views of the canyon, the Johnston Canyon trail is a must-see destination for anyone visiting Banff. But before you hit the trail, it’s important to know what to expect and how to prepare.
In this ultimate guide, we’ll share our insider tips on how to conquer Johnston Canyon Upper Falls like a pro on your summer trip to Banff. So grab your hiking boots and get ready for an adventure you won’t forget!
Johnston Canyon Map
Location: Distance from Banff: 25km (15.5 mi) | Distance from Lake Louise: 34km (21 mi)
Johnston Canyon is located on Bow Valley Parkway in between Banff and Lake Louise. It is around a 30 minute drive from Banff to Johnston Canyon. The same goes for Lake Louise.
For a better visual, check out the map below which shows the Johnston Canyon parking lot, the campground and the resort as well as the Lower and Upper falls of the Johnston Canyon.
Johnston Canyon Trailhead
Ready to hit the Johnston Canyon trailhead? The adventure begins in the main parking lot at Banff National Park (P1).
Keep an eye out for a large wooden sign that reads “Johnston Canyon.” Once you cross the bridge, take a left and continue along the Johnston Canyon hiking trail.
Pro tip: Don’t be stressed about finding the Johnston Canyon trail during your hike. You can use AllTrails+ as a navigation tool to easily locate the trail. What we like about this app is that you can download the Johnston Canyon trail map and use it offline. Even if you lose your signal, you’ll still be able to find your way. Test the pro feature out by signing up for the 7-day free trial!
The Trail to Johnston Canyon Lower Falls
The Johnston Canyon trail spans over 2.5 km (1.5 mi) and features 7 jaw-dropping waterfalls that are sure to leave you in awe.
As you make your way through the forest, the trail will lead you to catwalks and viewing platforms suspended along the canyon walls, allowing you to witness firsthand how the canyon was carved out of the limestone rock.
After a leisurely 20-minute stroll (1.2 km, 0.75 m), you’ll be greeted by the Lower Falls, a breathtaking natural wonder that cascades down the canyon and into a mesmerizing turquoise pool.
Catch a glimpse of the falls from the catwalk which provides an excellent view of the rushing water.
Want an up-close view? Brave the tunnel and make your way to the viewing platform. Just be careful with your camera as you’re likely to get wet!
From these two viewing points, you can marvel at how the falls have molded the rocks of the canyon, creating awe-inspiring shapes and patterns.
The Trail to Johnston Canyon Upper Falls
Note: Upper Falls is currently closed for maintenance.
As you journey past the Lower Falls turnoff, the main walkway will challenge you with a steep climb. Be prepared to ascend some more as the trail temporarily departs from the gorge and winds through a lush forested area.
The Upper Falls await you after a 1.3 km (0.8 mi) or 45-minute hike from the Lower Falls. As you make your way there, six other waterfalls, including the magnificent Stella and finally the star of the show, the Upper Falls, will reveal themselves.
Once you reach Marguerite Falls, another name for the glorious Upper Falls, you will have two options. You can take a right to view the falls from the lower platform, or go left to venture upwards to a higher viewpoint. To truly experience the majesty of the cascading water, we suggest doing both!
On the path to the right, you will walk along a catwalk. Enjoy the entire walk because the best view is at the far end. Be aware that there might be a queue to get there. The Upper Falls plunge 40 metres (130 feet) into a deep pool, creating a truly spectacular sight that will make the climb worth it.
If you take the left-hand path, it will lead you to the Waterfall Lookout. From there, you can see the top of the falls, and there are benches to take a rest or enjoy a lunch break.
The Trail to Johnston Canyon Ink Pots Beyond the Upper Falls
Note: You can’t access Ink Pots via Upper Falls at the moment. However, you can still reach Ink Pots via Moose Meadows.
Keep the excitement going after visiting the Upper Falls by heading towards the Ink Pots! These natural mineral springs will leave you in awe as they bubble up in a beautiful meadow surrounded by picturesque peaks.
Follow the broad forest path west of the Upper Falls and connect with the ascent route from Moose Meadows after walking about 5 minutes.
Once you reach the junction, take a right on the path and continue for approximately 2.5 km (1.5 mi). The path starts in the trees and then becomes narrower before reaching Johnston Creek Meadows. Just 0.5 km (0.3 mi) after the meadows, you’ll arrive at the Ink Pots!
Take some time to relax, munch on a snack, and appreciate the stunning scenery once you’ve made it to the Ink Pots.
On your way back, make sure to stay on the correct path and avoid accidentally descending the Moose Meadows route, which leads to a different parking lot.
Johnston Canyon Facilities
First off, the main parking lot near the trailhead has heated washroom facilities, so make sure to take advantage of them as you won’t find many spots along the way.
Also, don’t forget to fill your water bottles before you leave as there are no drinking water facilities in the area.
If you’re in the mood for some refreshments, there’s a café and bistro located right at the trailhead in the Johnston Canyon Lodge and Bungalows. There’s also a little coffee/ice cream shack at the trailhead but it is often closed, so keep that in mind.
Lastly, for those who prefer to bike to the trail, there are bike racks available in the main entrance and the P1 parking lot. But don’t forget to bring a bike lock to secure your ride.
Johnston Canyon in Winter
If you’re visiting Banff in winter, you absolutely cannot miss the Johnston Canyon winter hike! It is the perfect way to experience the natural beauty of Banff from a different perspective —plus there are far fewer crowds!
And guess what? There are two ways to do it!
Your first option is the Johnston Canyon Ice Walk. This is a super popular choice that allows you to experience the icy wonderland like never before. All you have to do is strap on some provided ice cleats, follow your guide, and head up the canyon. You’ll be blown away by the massive pillars of ice at the Upper Falls – it’s truly a sight to behold!
But if you’re feeling adventurous and want to take things up a notch, why not try the nighttime Johnston Canyon ice walk tours? This is the perfect way to add a little spice to your hike and make some unforgettable memories.
Johnston Canyon Safety
Don’t fall for the misconception that the Johnston Canyon hike is too crowded for bears – they’re definitely present there. And if you’re planning to take your furry friends along, make sure to keep them on a leash as off-leash dogs can attract unwanted attention from bears or cougars.
It’s always wise to carry bear spray and learn how to use it in case of an emergency. Additionally, having some knowledge about bear behaviour can come in handy, so make sure to brush up on it before you hike Johnston Canyon.
Tips for Johnston Canyon Hike
- The majority of the hike takes place in the shaded forest and canyon, so don’t be surprised if it feels cool even in the summer months. Remember to pack layers so you can adjust to the temperatures as needed.
- During winter, spring, and fall, the trail can get icy and snowy. We recommend using microspikes and hiking poles –these handy tools can be rented or bought in town.
- As with any other hikes in Banff, it’s always a good idea to bring water and a snack. If you plan on hiking to the Johnston Canyon Ink Pots, why not pack a lunch and enjoy a picnic in the meadows? Just make sure to pack out what you bring in and dispose of any trash in the bear safe bins located along the trail.
- Speaking of bears, it’s important to always carry bear spray, especially if you plan on hiking up to Moose Meadow.
- While boots are ideal for this hike, any athletic footwear will do.
- Don’t be surprised if you feel out of breath due to the higher altitude of the area. Take your time and stop for a rest as needed. Drinking plenty of water will also help combat fatigue or lightheadedness from higher elevations.
What to Bring for the Johnston Canyon Hike
Here’s what we always bring on the hike:
- Waterproof/windproof shell or rain jacket
- Sunhat (or toque in winter)
- Bug spray
- Bear spray
- Gloves (in winter)
- Water bottle
- High-energy snacks
- Hiking poles
- Flashlight/headlamp – if you choose to start your hike before sunrise or end up hiking in the dark. Make sure to check the batteries.
Avoiding Crowds on the Johnston Canyon Trail
Johnston Canyon is a hit among independent travellers and tour groups due to its convenient location.
However, during summers, there’s a high influx of visitors, which leads to overcrowding on the trail to the lower falls.
But don’t worry, there’s a way to beat the crowd! You can either choose to visit early in the morning or make the most of the long daylight hours during summers and drop by in the early evening.
Other Places to See in the Area
If you’re planning a trip to Banff National Park, you definitely won’t want to miss out on some other beautiful places to explore. Here are a few must-see destinations to add to your Banff road trip itinerary!
This stunning lake is a sight to behold no matter what time of year you visit.
You’ll also want to check out the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise Hotel that overlooks the lake – it’s truly an architectural masterpiece. And if you prefer to explore with a group, there are plenty of Lake Louise tours to choose from.
Prepare to be absolutely floored when you lay eyes on Moraine Lake – even if you’ve already scrolled through hundreds of photos and videos.
The water boasts a surreal shade of blue and the mountainous backdrop is so picturesque, you’ll think it’s a work of art.
Note: New in 2023, Moraine Lake Road is closed to personal vehicles. Parks Canada shuttles, Roam Public Transit, and commercial buses are permitted from June to mid-October.
Lake Minnewanka is a place of incredible significance, cherished by those who have visited or lived within its borders for over 10,000 years. The Stoney Nakoda First Nations people called it Minn-waki or “Lake of the Spirits,” and the area is teeming with archeological sites, housing artifacts that date back an astounding 14,000 years.
There are many ways to explore the lake’s natural and human history, such as a leisurely guided boat cruise. You could also stroll along the lakeshore trail that leads to the stunning Stewart Canyon, sculpted by the cascading waters of the Cascade River.
Drive the Icefields Parkway
This stretch of road from Lake Louise to Jasper National Park is full of breathtaking views and plenty of opportunities to spot wildlife.
Keep your eyes peeled for black bears (we saw plenty during our summer visit!), bighorn sheep, elk, deer, mountain goats and more!
FAQs About Johnston Canyon
Do you have to pay to go to Johnston Canyon?
There is no additional entrance fee to Johnston Canyon. However, you’ll need to purchase a Park Pass to access the area as it falls within Banff National Park.
Can you drive to Johnston Canyon?
Yes, Johnston Canyon is fully open for visitors to explore!
As of 2022, you can now drive to Johnston Canyon via the Bow Valley Parkway in both directions.
However, during May, June, and September, the 17 km (10.5 mi) section from Banff to Johnston Canyon is closed to motorized traffic and exclusively reserved for cycling.
If you’re planning to visit during these months, we recommend joining a tour, biking, or driving from Lake Louise to reach this beautiful destination.
Pro tip: Before you begin your scenic drive along the Bow Valley Parkway to Johnston Canyon, we recommend purchasing the Banff audio guide by GuideAlong. This entertaining and educational GPS activated audio tour will greatly enhance your visit to this special part of Banff National Park.
How to get to Johnston Canyon?
Driving to Johnston Canyon from Banff
Head west on Trans-Canada Highway (Hwy 1) towards Lake Louise. After approximately 6 km (3.7 mi) , turn right onto Bow Valley Parkway (Hwy 1A). Drive another 17 km (10.5 mi), then turn right into Johnston Canyon parking lot.
When you see the sign for Johnston Canyon Resort, you know you’re at the right place!
Turning into Johnston Canyon Office, you will find a parking lot as well as a restaurant, ice cream stand and gift shop at the base of the trail.
Driving to Johnston Canyon from Lake Louise
From Lake Louise village take the overpass crossing the Trans Canada Highway.
Then take the first right that says Bow Valley Parkway, and follow it for 33 km (20.5 mi) until you see the signs for Johnston Canyon on your left hand side.
Public transportation to Johnston Canyon
The Johnston Canyon Route 9, operated by Roam Transit, runs on a daily basis in the summer months, and on a weekend-only basis throughout the winter time.
This scenic route services between the town of Banff and Johnston Canyon.
Tours to Johnston Canyon
Want to get the most out of your time at Johnston Canyon? In that case, a tour is definitely the way to go! It’s a fantastic opportunity to mingle with like-minded travellers and gain fascinating insights into the Canyon’s history and formation.
Here are a couple of hand-picked Johnston Canyon tours:
Cycle to Johnston Canyon
Ready to explore Johnston Canyon on two wheels? If you’re up for a challenge, why not tackle the 56 km (35 mi) route from Banff to Johnston Canyon and back?
From May 1 to June 25 and from September 1 to September 30, you’ll get to enjoy a peaceful, vehicle-free ride along the east section of Bow Valley Parkway.
Not up for the full ride? No worries! Join a bike and hike tour to Johnston Canyon for a more relaxed pace instead.
You’ll ride through stunning Vermilion Lakes, spot wildlife along the way, and take in the breathtaking panoramic views at Johnston Canyon. And the best part? You’ll have a shuttle waiting to take you back to Banff.
How hard is the Johnston Canyon hike?
The Johnston Canyon trail is perfect for those who want a scenic hike without too much of a challenge.
The path runs alongside the canyon, and the elevation gain to the Lower Falls is only 30m (100 feet)! Hiking to the Upper Falls will give you an elevation gain of 120 m (almost 400 feet), which is still pretty manageable.
The Ink Pots trail is a bit more challenging with an elevation gain of 330m (1,080 feet). Don’t worry though, the trail is well marked, so you won’t get lost!
So, if you’re looking for a fun, laid-back outdoor adventure in Banff, Johnston Canyon is the perfect spot for you!
How long is the Johnston Canyon hike?
The Lower Falls are just 1.2 km (0.75 mi) away one way, a quick and easy hike that can be completed in just about an hour.
Feeling up for more of a challenge? Head to the Upper Falls (2.5 km / 1.5 mi, one way) for an approximately 2~2.5 hour round-trip hike.
But if you really want to push your limits and take in all of the amazing scenery, consider hiking all the way to the Ink Pots. It’s a longer hike (6 km / 3.7 mi, one way), clocking in at around 4 hours, but the breathtaking views along the way make it well worth the effort.
What season should you hike to Johnston Canyon?
The Johnston Canyon hike can be done year round; however, it is crowded at specific times.
As mentioned earlier, summer is extremely busy. If you wish to visit Johnston Canyon in the summer, come out prior to 9 am before the parking is jammed or in early evening when it is still bright out.
After countless visits to Johnston Canyon, we can confidently say that the absolute best times to visit are during spring, fall, and winter.
Autumn in Banff is absolutely breathtaking with its vibrant foliage. You’ll be surrounded by a stunning display of colourful leaves that serve as the perfect backdrop to your adventure.
Let’s follow the canyon-clinging catwalks and cliff-mounting staircases to beautiful waterfalls!
After an easy 30 minutes hike, we arrived at the lower falls.
If you follow the trail to the limestone cave, you would be able to see the waterfall up close!
Continued on, we saw some smaller waterfalls on our journey. Occasionally, there was a short steep climb., but nothing too crazy.
Breathing the natural fresh scents and and listening to the sounds of running water, oh the forest was so therapeutic!
The yellow-tinted slanted rock marked the entrance to the Upper Falls 🙂 The trail took us to the top of the falls and a viewing platform.