Winter Adventure in Banff: Johnston Canyon Ice Walk

Most people who have been to Banff are familiar with Johnston Canyon, one of the most visited tourist attraction in the national park. It is no doubt a popular destination for summer getaways, but many don’t know that the scenic trails leading to the lovely waterfalls are equally breathtaking in the winter. Following last week’s post on Dog Sled Tour, I will continue showing you today how to experience the best of winter in the Canadian Rockies and what fun activity you can do to explore Banff when it is all covered in snow!

Johnston Canyon Ice Walk, Banff

Last time when we were in Johnston Canyon, we drove there on our own, struggled to beat the crowd, and had a very hard time finding a parking spot (even on a rainy day!). This time, we stayed at Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise and booked the ice walk tour with the concierge. The benefit of that was not having to worry about driving on icy roads. Plus, they ensured that we had the appropriate hiking gears and matched us with a tour guide. All we really needed to concern about was getting to the meeting place (inside the hotel) at 8:15 A.M. Easy peasy.

Shortly after meeting up with our tour guide, we quickly hopped onto a van and drove down Trans-Canada Highway (Hwy 1). In 30 mins, we arrived at the trailhead and were ready to begin our adventure!

Johnston Canyon Ice Walk, Banff

Johnston Canyon Ice Walk, Banff

As a safety precaution, our guide advised us to slip ice cleats onto our footwear, which would provide extra traction that we needed to tackle icy surfaces. Safety before beauty, people! This is serious.

Ice cleats for Johnston Canyon Ice Walk, Banff

Johnston Canyon Ice Walk Tour

As soon as we ventured into the canyon, we were mesmerized by the stunning splendor of the nature. Submerged in a blanket of snow with dazzling pillars of blue ice as the backdrop, Johnston Canyon really had transformed into an icy wonderland!

Johnston Canyon Ice Walk, Banff Johnston Canyon Ice Walk, Banff

A series of trails and steel catwalks led us into a deep canyon to see the frozen waterfalls. As we hiked along the suspended walkway, we couldn’t stop admiring the spectacular views of ice clinging on the canyon walls and semi-frozen river down below.

Johnston Canyon Ice Walk, Banff Johnston Canyon Ice Walk, Banff Johnston Canyon Ice Walk, Banff

30 minutes into the hike (~1.1km walk), the relatively level walkway brought us to a fork in the trail. Turning right, we arrived at the bottom of the canyon to see the Lower Falls.

Johnston Canyon Ice Walk, Banff

Johnston Canyon Ice Walk, Banff

The bridge suspended over the stream provides a great frontal view of the thundering Lower Falls in the summer. To get more intimate view of the attractive waterfall, we ducked into the limestone cave which opened up to a reasonably sized viewing platform. Despite being covered in frozen ice, the waterfall didn’t cease flowing and plunging into a jade-green pool. The sound of the rushing water somehow transported us to a place of peace and tranquility.

Johnston Canyon Ice Walk, Banff

Back to the fork in the trail, we continued climbing upwards to our final destination, the Upper Falls. The trail started to get slippery, but as long as you had ice cleats on and zigzag-ed your way up the steep hill, you should be fine. Steep or flat, the twisting canyon never stopped fascinating us with its geological uniqueness and amazing formations. The beautiful landscape made me ponder whether I was in a dream.

Johnston Canyon Ice Walk, Banff Johnston Canyon Ice Walk, Banff

When we encountered another fork in the trail (~1.6 km from Lower Falls), we knew we had finally approached the Upper Falls. The right trail took us directly to the bottom of the waterfall.

Johnston Canyon Ice Walk, Banff

This was the highlight of our tour – being surrounded by the incredible cathedral of ice. Various shadows of blue and white icicles and and the magnificent sight of the frozen waterfall were simply awe-inspiring! On some occasions, you might see ice climbers practising their skills on these thick masses of frozen ice.

Johnston Canyon Ice Walk, Banff Johnston Canyon Ice Walk, Banff

If you get back on the trail, you would eventually come to a viewing platform overlooking the summit of the cataract. There, we got a closer look of the ice pillars and a fantastic view from the top of the falls! It’s also the perfect destination for a hot chocolate break as we listened to the muffled roar of the waterfall cascading beneath the frozen columns.

Johnston Canyon Ice Walk, Banff

Johnston Canyon Ice Walk, Banff

Johnston Canyon Ice Walk, Banff

Conclusion

Johnston Canyon ice walk is a unique way to enjoy Banff in winter time. The beautiful hike showcases the natural beauty of the Canadian Rockies in an entirely different way. Perfectly quiet and surreal, it is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience that you can’t miss!

Tips – What to Wear and Bring?

Dress WARM with a hat, mitts, earmuffs as well as a warm coat and ski pants. Wear hiking boots or snow boots with traction devices such as crampons or ice cleats. If you’re scared of falling, walking poles can be helpful in keeping you in balance. Lastly, don’t forget your camera!

Doing an Ice Walk Tour

You can visit Johnston Canyon in the winter on your own. If you prefer to do it with a certified guide, here are some companies you can book an ice walk tour with: Discover Banff Tours and White Mountain Adventures. They generally provide ice cleats for your shoes as well as hotel pick-up and drop-off.


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Johnston Canyon Ice Walk is the top winter activities in Banff. Here's a guide on what to expect.

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25 Comments Leave a Comment »

  1. I would never have thought of visiting Banff in the winter, but it sure is beautiful. I have taken winter hikes in the Midwest, and ice cleats sure would have helped. I need to get some.

  2. Absolutely beautiful. I don’t know how comfortable I would be walking through Johnston Canyon in winter, but it certainly looks worth it. I love the cathedral of ice.

  3. I have always had an interest to visit the national parks in the Canadian Rockies. I have seen photos of Johnston Canyon in every adventurer’s Instagram account so I can see why you decided to book a tour. Seems like one of the most popular hikes in the park. The winter walk looks magical. The frozen water is just too pretty.

  4. It looks like a completely different world then when you hiked it in the rain! It’s even more beautiful with the snow and ice.

  5. Banff is certainly on our list to visit however we can’t decide if we want to go there in winter or summer! This article on the ice walk adds another point for a winter trip for us! Looks like the ice cleats are a must for this hike. How was your stay at the Fairmont?

  6. I’ve wonderful memories of Banff and your photos take me right back again. I was there in 1995 with four tiny kids in the middle of the winter. Time to get back 🙂 #TPThursday

  7. I don’t have much of a desire to do an ice walk but the frozen waterfalls are quite the sight to see!! Thanks for sharing

  8. We did the walk in summer. So completely different and amazing.

  9. That looks like a lovely walk. I imagine that Johnston Canyon would be a fascinating place to visit four times – once in each season! Were your toes cold at all? #TheWeeklyPostcard

  10. Absolutely stunning photos. You’re making me wish I was there!

  11. Your photos of Johnstone Canyon bring back memories of my own visit there. Isn’t it such a beautiful place? We did the ice walk poorly equipped without any poles or ice cleats. I remember slipping and sliding all over the place. Since I was pregnant at the time, that made me rather nervous. Anyways, lesson learned and I will definitely use cleats the next time.

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  14. oh Johnston Canyon in winter is just so very beautiful, I would love to wander through here and take pictures. I have not done a ice walk before so this is some great information on how to do so.

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