Postcards from Johnston Canyon
March 6, 2017
When I was planning my few solo days in Southern Alberta I knew of the big guns: Calgary, Banff, Lake Louise. I learned about Johnston Canyon a few weeks before I left and as soon as I saw the stunning photos of the lower falls, cave, ink pots, and impossibly blue water I knew I had to go.
Johnston Creek is a tributary of the Bow River in the Canadian Rockies and over time the creek has cut through rock to form the canyon that’s there today. The trail starts immediately behind the Johnston Canyon Lodge off the Bow Valley Parkway, about 20-30 minutes from Banff.
Johnston Canyon Lower Falls
I was chasing sunlight when I arrived at Johnston Canyon from my Banff hotel so I only had time to hike to the lower falls. There are so many great hikes in Banff, it’s hard to choose but Johnston Canyon is a gem. The best part about visiting in late afternoon in early October though was that I almost had the whole place to myself. Except to have big crowds to contend with in the summertime.
The graded trail and iron catwalks might take some of the adventure and wildness out of Johnston Canyon but they certainly make for an easy hike. The turbulent turquoise water and rock formations make it stupidly scenic. The high concentration of minerals in the water give it its gorgeous colour.
The lower falls are 1.1km from the start of the trail and you can expect to reach them in about 30 minutes, unless you spend a ton of time taking photos, like I did. One of the best things at the lower falls was the little cave. You can cross a bridge, duck through a short tunnel, and find yourself in a little cave with a front row view of the falls. I managed to luck out and get the whole place to myself. It was magical.
Johnston Canyon Upper Falls
The next time I’m in the area I plan to leave myself enough time to hike all the way to the upper falls and beyond to the Ink Pots. The Upper Falls are 2.6km from the trailhead and you should be able to reach them in under an hour. Once you reach the falls you have a decision: lower viewing platform, upper vantage point, or both?
A short, but steep, hike will take you to the top. While the rocks slabs near the edge of the falls are fenced, be sure to keep an eye on those with you, especially little ones, as some people can’t resist getting even closer. But one slip and you could be swept over the falls. Johnston Canyon has claimed a number of people over the years so it’s best to be extra careful.
Upper Falls Instagram Tip
Just before you get to the Upper Falls, keep an eye out for a small trail that leads off the paved path. This will lead to a slippery sloper towards the creek bed. Over the years, Johnston Creek has carved out a huge cave with a view of a very Instagrammable cliff at a bend in the creek. From here you can even get in behind the waterfall if that’s your jam.
The Ink Pots
If you really want to boast that you’ve really made the most of Johnston Canyon, do what the majority of people don’t, keep hiking onwards to the Ink Pots. The Ink Pots are several cold mineral springs that bubble to the surface near the creek located another 3km past the upper falls. While the springs are unique, many hikers are underwhelmed so weigh that possibility before you embark on an extra 6km round trip.
Will you visit Johnston Canyon on your next visit to Alberta?