Header Notice

Winter is here! Check out the winter wonderlands at these 5 amazing winter destinations in Montana

Hiking Johnston Canyon In Alberta


by Ebonee Mcloughlin



Alberta, Canada is a haven for nature enthusiasts, offering a plethora of breathtaking destinations for adventure seekers. Among these gems is Johnston Canyon, a majestic natural wonder located in Banff National Park. This enchanting canyon is known for its stunning waterfalls, emerald pools, and lush surrounding forests, making it a must-visit destination for hikers and nature lovers.


Johnston Canyon is celebrated for its well-maintained trail system that winds its way through the picturesque canyon and leads visitors to several remarkable attractions. The trail is suitable for hikers of all skill levels, making it accessible to both seasoned trekkers and families looking for a memorable outdoor adventure.


As you venture along the trails of Johnston Canyon, you’ll have the opportunity to witness the power and beauty of water in motion. From the gushing Lower Falls that cascade into a deep and narrow gorge, to the Upper Falls that offer a sweeping panoramic view, and the magical Ink Pots – a series of bubbling mineral springs – the canyon is a veritable feast for the senses.


Whether you’re seeking solitude in nature, looking to capture stunning photographs, or are simply seeking a refreshing escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, Johnston Canyon has all the ingredients for a memorable outdoor experience that will leave you in awe of nature’s grandeur.


In this article, we will explore the wonders of Johnston Canyon, providing you with a comprehensive guide on how to get there, an overview of the trail system, highlights of the Lower and Upper Falls, the mystical Ink Pots, safety tips, what to pack, and the best time to visit. So, lace up your hiking boots, grab your camera, and get ready to embark on a remarkable adventure into the heart of Johnston Canyon.


Getting to Johnston Canyon

Getting to Johnston Canyon is relatively straightforward, and there are a few transportation options to consider depending on your preferences and location.


If you’re traveling by car, the canyon is easily accessible from the town of Banff. From Banff, drive west on the Trans-Canada Highway (Highway 1) for approximately 20 kilometers. Look for the sign indicating Johnston Canyon, and turn left onto Johnston Canyon Road. Follow the road for another 5 kilometers until you reach the parking lot. Keep in mind that during peak season, the parking lot can fill up quickly, so it’s advisable to arrive early to secure a spot.


If you prefer to avoid driving, there are several shuttle services available from Banff that can take you directly to Johnston Canyon. These shuttles offer a convenient and eco-friendly option, allowing you to relax and enjoy the scenery without the hassle of navigating and finding parking.


Another transportation option is the Roam Transit bus service, which operates in the Banff area. Route 9 of the Roam Transit takes you directly to Johnston Canyon, making it an affordable and convenient choice for those staying in Banff without a car.


It’s worth noting that Johnston Canyon can be crowded during the peak summer months, so planning your visit during off-peak times or arriving early in the day can help you avoid the crowds and enjoy a more tranquil experience.


Once you’ve arrived at the canyon, you’ll find a well-marked trailhead near the parking lot. Lace up your hiking boots, pack your essentials, and get ready to immerse yourself in the natural beauty that awaits along the trails of Johnston Canyon.


Trail Overview

The trail system in Johnston Canyon is well-maintained and offers hikers a variety of routes to explore the canyon’s stunning natural features. The main trail follows alongside Johnston Creek, providing hikers with beautiful views of the rushing water, towering canyon walls, and lush greenery.


The entire round trip hike to the Ink Pots and back is approximately 11 kilometers (6.8 miles), with an elevation gain of around 280 meters (919 feet). However, you can choose to hike to different points along the trail depending on your time and fitness level.


The trail is divided into three main sections: the Lower Falls, the Upper Falls, and the Ink Pots. Each section offers its own unique scenery and rewards hikers with different viewpoints and experiences.


The journey begins at the trailhead near the parking lot, where you’ll find informative signage and maps to guide your exploration. From here, the trail gently ascends as you make your way towards the Lower Falls. The path is mostly paved or consists of walkways and bridges, making it accessible to a wide range of hikers.


As you approach the Lower Falls, you’ll hear the thundering sound of the water before catching your first glimpse of the cascading waterfall plunging into the deep canyon below. There are several viewpoints along the trail that allow you to get up close to the falls and feel the mist on your face.


Continuing on, the trail leads you to the Upper Falls. This section of the hike is slightly more challenging, with some steeper sections and a narrow metal catwalk that offers a thrilling vantage point overlooking the canyon. At the Upper Falls, you’ll be rewarded with a stunning panoramic view of the canyon and the surrounding mountain peaks.


If you’re up for an extended adventure, you can continue past the Upper Falls to reach the Ink Pots. The Ink Pots are a series of small mineral springs that bubble up from the ground, creating vibrant turquoise pools amidst the alpine meadows. This section of the trail is less crowded and offers a peaceful oasis where you can rest, have a picnic, and soak in the natural beauty.


Throughout the entire trail, be prepared to encounter other hikers, especially during the peak summer months. It’s important to respect the environment, stay on designated paths, and pack out any garbage to preserve the natural integrity of Johnston Canyon.


Now that you have an overview of the trail system in Johnston Canyon, let’s delve deeper into the captivating features that await you at the Lower Falls, Upper Falls, and the mystical Ink Pots.


Lower Falls

One of the highlights of hiking Johnston Canyon is the stunning Lower Falls. As you continue along the trail, you’ll be treated to the sight and sound of the cascading water as it plunges Lower Falls are the first major attraction along the trail, and they do not disappoint. The Lower Falls are a captivating sight, with the Johnston Creek crashing down into a deep, narrow gorge, creating a mesmerizing display of power and beauty.


The trail to the Lower Falls is relatively easy, consisting of a well-maintained pathway and bridges. As you approach the falls, you’ll encounter several viewpoints that provide a closer look at the water as it rushes over the rocks and crashes into the pool below. The mist created by the falls adds a refreshing touch, perfect for cooling off on a hot summer day.


One of the unique features of the Lower Falls is the narrow canyon that surrounds the rushing water. The sheer rock walls rise up on either side, creating a dramatic and picturesque backdrop. Be sure to take your time and admire the intricacies of nature’s handiwork.


If you’re feeling adventurous, there is an option to take a short detour and explore the “Cave and Basin,” a natural cave formation located behind the waterfall. This secluded spot offers a unique perspective of the falls and allows you to feel the full force of the water as it crashes down in front of you.


Photographers will have a field day capturing the beauty of the Lower Falls, as the interplay of light and water creates stunning photo opportunities. Whether you’re a seasoned photographer or just enjoy capturing memories on your phone, be sure to have your camera ready to snap some breathtaking shots.


It’s important to note that during the peak summer months, the Lower Falls can be quite crowded. It’s worth considering an early morning visit or a visit during the quieter off-peak seasons to fully appreciate the tranquility and magnificence of this natural wonder. Additionally, be careful when walking near the edges and be cautious of slippery surfaces, as the mist created by the falls can make the rocks and walkways slippery.


After experiencing the magic of the Lower Falls, continue along the trail to discover the next captivating feature of Johnston Canyon – the Upper Falls.


Upper Falls

As you continue your hike through Johnston Canyon, the next breathtaking sight that awaits you is the awe-inspiring Upper Falls. Located further along the trail, the Upper Falls offer a panoramic view of the canyon and a captivating display of the power of nature.


The hike from the Lower Falls to the Upper Falls is a bit more challenging, with some steeper sections and a narrow metal catwalk that adds an exciting element to the adventure. As you ascend, you’ll be surrounded by stunning views of the canyon walls and the rushing Johnston Creek below.


Upon reaching the Upper Falls, you’ll be rewarded with a magnificent sight. The water cascades over the rocks, creating a thundering display that resonates throughout the canyon. The panoramic viewpoint allows you to take in the full grandeur of the falls, with the surrounding cliffs and lush greenery providing a picturesque backdrop.


For those seeking an even closer encounter with the falls, there is a platform that extends out over the edge, allowing you to get a more immersive experience. Feel the spray of the mist on your face and witness the sheer force of the water as it plunges into the pool below. It’s a truly exhilarating experience that will leave you in awe of nature’s raw power.


The Upper Falls also offers a great vantage point for photographers. The combination of the rushing water, the canyon walls, and the surrounding beauty provides ample opportunities for capturing stunning photos. Whether you’re a professional photographer or just enjoy documenting your adventures, be sure to have your camera ready to capture the essence of the Upper Falls.


Similar to the Lower Falls, the Upper Falls can get crowded during the peak summer months. Consider visiting early in the morning or during the off-peak seasons to avoid the crowds and fully appreciate the serenity of this remarkable natural wonder.


After reveling in the splendor of the Upper Falls, you can choose to continue your journey to the Ink Pots or head back along the same trail. The choice is yours, but no matter which path you take, your experience in Johnston Canyon will surely be etched in your memory as a truly unforgettable adventure.


Ink Pots

If you’re up for an extended adventure beyond the Upper Falls, the Ink Pots await you at the end of the trail. This hidden gem within Johnston Canyon is a collection of vibrant mineral springs that create a stunning display of turquoise pools amidst the tranquil alpine meadows.


The trail to the Ink Pots is less crowded and offers a peaceful retreat into nature. As you continue your hike, you’ll be treated to picturesque views of the surrounding mountains and forests, providing a serene backdrop for your journey.


The Ink Pots get their name from the unique coloration of the pools. The vivid turquoise hues are created by the mineral-rich water that bubbles up from underground springs. The sight of these natural pools against the contrasting greenery is truly mesmerizing.


Once you reach the Ink Pots, you’ll find a series of five main pools. Take the time to explore each one and marvel at the variations in color and depth. The pools are crystal clear, allowing you to see the bottom and the various formations beneath the water’s surface.


The Ink Pots are not only visually stunning but also environmentally significant. The geothermal activity and unique microorganisms present in the pools contribute to the delicate ecosystem of the area. As such, it’s important to respect these natural wonders by avoiding touching or entering the pools.


Surrounded by the peacefulness of the alpine meadows, the Ink Pots provide the perfect spot to rest and have a picnic. Take a moment to soak in the serenity and enjoy the beauty of nature around you. Keep an eye out for wildlife that may frequent the area, such as birds, squirrels, or even a passing elk or deer.


When visiting the Ink Pots, it’s essential to be prepared with proper hiking gear, including sturdy footwear and sufficient water and food. This section of the trail can be more demanding, both in terms of distance and terrain, so ensure you have the physical fitness and stamina for the journey.


After immersing yourself in the magic of the Ink Pots, retrace your steps back along the trail to return to the trailhead. Reflect on the natural wonders you’ve encountered and the sense of peace and rejuvenation that Johnston Canyon has bestowed upon you.


Whether you choose to explore just the Lower and Upper Falls or venture further to the Ink Pots, your experience in Johnston Canyon will be an unforgettable adventure in the heart of nature’s beauty.


Safety Tips

While exploring the wonders of Johnston Canyon, it’s important to prioritize your safety and the preservation of this natural environment. Here are some essential safety tips to keep in mind during your visit:

  • Plan and prepare: Before heading out, familiarize yourself with the trail map, weather conditions, and any potential hazards. Be aware of your own physical capabilities and choose a route that suits your fitness level and experience.
  • Stay on designated trails: Stick to the marked trails and avoid venturing off into unauthorized areas. This will not only help preserve the fragile ecosystem but also prevent any accidents or encounters with wildlife.
  • Wear appropriate footwear: Johnston Canyon’s trails can be uneven, steep, and potentially slippery. Make sure to wear sturdy and comfortable hiking boots or shoes with good traction to prevent slips and falls.
  • Dress for the weather: The weather in the mountains can be unpredictable. Dress in layers and bring a waterproof jacket, especially during the rainy season, to stay dry and comfortable throughout your hike.
  • Carry essential supplies: Pack enough water to stay hydrated, especially during warmer months. Bring snacks or a light meal, sunscreen, insect repellent, and any necessary medication. A first aid kit is also recommended for small injuries.
  • Be cautious near the water: The water in Johnston Canyon can be swift and cold, so exercise caution when near the edges or attempting to enter the water. Do not climb on rocks or venture too close to the falls, as they can be slippery and dangerous.
  • Keep a safe distance from wildlife: While wildlife sightings are possible, it’s important to observe from a distance and not approach or feed the animals. Respect their natural habitat and maintain a safe distance to avoid any potential conflicts.
  • Let others know your plans: Before starting your hike, inform someone about your itinerary, including the estimated time of return. This will ensure that someone can raise the alarm if you encounter any difficulties.
  • Check the weather conditions: Before embarking on your journey, check the weather forecast for any potential storms, heavy rainfall, or other adverse conditions that may affect your safety. It’s always better to postpone your hike if the weather is unfavorable.
  • Be mindful of the environment: Respect the natural beauty and leave no trace behind. Pack out all trash and dispose of it properly. Avoid disturbing vegetation or damaging any natural features.

By following these safety guidelines, you can enjoy a memorable and secure adventure in Johnston Canyon while protecting both yourself and the fragile ecosystem that makes this destination so remarkable.


What to Pack

When preparing for your hike in Johnston Canyon, having the right gear and essentials can make all the difference in ensuring a comfortable and enjoyable experience. Here are some items you should consider packing:

  • Hiking boots or sturdy shoes with good grip: The trails in Johnston Canyon can be uneven and slippery, so it’s important to have footwear that provides stability and traction.
  • Comfortable clothing: Dress in layers to accommodate changing weather conditions. Opt for moisture-wicking and breathable materials to keep you cool and dry. Don’t forget a waterproof jacket in case of rain.
  • Daypack: A lightweight backpack is essential for carrying your essentials, such as water, snacks, sunscreen, and a first aid kit.
  • Water and snacks: Stay hydrated by carrying an adequate amount of water. Pack energy-boosting snacks, such as granola bars, trail mix, or fruit, to keep your energy levels up during the hike.
  • Sun protection: Apply sunscreen before heading out and bring a hat and sunglasses to shield yourself from the sun’s rays.
  • Insect repellent: Depending on the time of year, mosquitoes and other insects may be present. Protect yourself by applying insect repellent to exposed skin.
  • Navigational tools: While the trails in Johnston Canyon are well-marked, it’s always a good idea to carry a map or download a reliable hiking app to ensure you stay on track.
  • Camera or smartphone: Capture the beauty of Johnston Canyon by bringing a camera or smartphone to take photos of the stunning scenery.
  • First aid kit: Carry a basic first aid kit with essentials such as band-aids, antiseptic wipes, blister pads, and any necessary medication.
  • Extra clothing and socks: It’s always a good idea to bring an extra set of clothing and socks in case you get wet or need to change for any reason.
  • Gloves and hat: If you’re hiking in colder weather or at higher elevations, pack gloves and a warm hat to protect yourself from the cold.

Remember, the specific items you’ll need may vary depending on the season and personal preferences, so adapt the list accordingly. It’s always better to be prepared and have more than you think you’ll need, especially when venturing into the outdoors.


By packing these essentials, you’ll be well-prepared to enjoy a comfortable and safe adventure in the stunning landscapes of Johnston Canyon.


Best Time to Visit

Johnston Canyon is a spectacular destination that can be enjoyed throughout the year, but the timing of your visit can greatly impact your experience. Here are some factors to consider when determining the best time to explore Johnston Canyon:


Summer (June to August): The summer months offer the most favorable weather conditions for hiking in Johnston Canyon. The days are long, with mild temperatures and minimal rainfall. This is the peak tourist season, so expect larger crowds on the trails, especially on weekends and holidays. Arriving early in the morning or visiting during weekdays can help you avoid the busiest times.


Fall (September to October): Fall is a stunning time to visit Johnston Canyon, as the surrounding forests transform into a vibrant display of golden and red hues. The weather is cooler, and the trails are less crowded compared to the summer months. It’s the perfect time to enjoy the peacefulness of the canyon and witness the changing colors of nature.


Winter (November to March): Johnston Canyon takes on a magical ambiance during winter, with frozen waterfalls and ice formations creating a picturesque landscape. However, hiking in winter requires additional precautions, such as wearing proper winter gear, including traction devices for your boots. The trails may be more challenging due to snow and ice, but if you’re prepared, you’ll be rewarded with a truly unique and breathtaking experience.


Spring (April to May): Spring brings milder temperatures and the reawakening of nature. The snow begins to melt, revealing lush green foliage and blooming wildflowers. It’s a quieter time to visit Johnston Canyon before the peak summer season, allowing you to enjoy the trails in a more serene atmosphere. Be aware that spring weather can be unpredictable, so check the weather forecast and be prepared for potential rain or snowfall.


Each season in Johnston Canyon has its own distinct charm, so the best time to visit depends on your preferences and the experience you seek. Consider the weather, trail conditions, and the level of crowds you’re comfortable with when planning your journey.


Regardless of the season, remember to check the Parks Canada website for any trail updates or closures before setting off. Keep in mind that opening and closing dates for hiking may vary depending on weather conditions and park regulations.


Now that you have a better understanding of the different seasons in Johnston Canyon, you can choose the time that aligns with your preferences and embark on an unforgettable adventure in this natural wonderland.



Johnston Canyon in Alberta, Canada is a true paradise for adventure lovers and nature enthusiasts alike. Its awe-inspiring waterfalls, scenic trails, and tranquil surroundings make it a perfect destination for hikers of all skill levels. Whether you’re captivated by the thundering Lower Falls, mesmerized by the panoramic view of the Upper Falls, or enchanted by the vibrant Ink Pots, Johnston Canyon offers an unforgettable experience that showcases the magnificence of nature.


By following the well-marked trails and taking necessary safety precautions, you can explore the canyon in all its grandeur. Remember to pack essential items, such as proper footwear, water, snacks, and sun protection, to ensure a comfortable journey. Respect the environment by staying on designated paths, carrying out all trash, and respecting wildlife from a safe distance.


Consider the best time to visit based on your preferences, whether it’s the bustling summer months, the colorful fall season, the enchanting winter wonderland, or the serene beauty of spring. Each season offers a unique experience, allowing you to connect with nature in different ways.


As you lace up your hiking boots and set off on the trails of Johnston Canyon, be prepared to be captivated by the breathtaking sights, the soothing sounds of rushing water, and the serenity that only nature can provide. Whether you’re embarking on a solo journey or sharing the experience with loved ones, Johnston Canyon promises memories that will last a lifetime.


So, immerse yourself in the mesmerizing beauty of Johnston Canyon and allow the wonders of nature to inspire and rejuvenate you. Let the stunning waterfalls, limestone cliffs, and vibrant pools remind you of the power and resilience found in the natural world. Explore, appreciate, and cherish this remarkable destination, and discover for yourself why Johnston Canyon is truly a treasure of Alberta.