Banff National Park, tucked away in the majestic Canadian Rockies, is known for its stunning landscapes, from alpine lakes, like Moraine Lake, to iconic scenic drives, like the Icefields Parkway. Of course, with so much natural beauty, Banff also has plenty of incredible hiking, including the Johnston Canyon Trail.
On this unique trail, you’ll climb across a catwalk, suspended directly over a rushing creek below, to the foot of two stunning waterfalls. So if you want to enjoy this hike for yourself, here’s everything you need to know about the Johnston Canyon Trail.
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My husband, Justin, and I visited Banff a couple of years ago and I am ITCHING to get back. Between lakes with Gatorade blue water, epic mountains, and wildlife galore, it’s an outdoor lover’s dream.
During our time in Banff, we hiked the Johnston Canyon Trail and LOVED how the trail’s boardwalks were suspended over the turquoise water of Johnston Creek. But we only hiked a portion of the trail, to its Lower Falls (more on that later!). So to give us the full scoop on the complete trail, we called in our friend, Rebecca from Fab 5 Family Travels, to fill us in.
Take it away, Rebecca!
About the Johnston Canyon Upper Falls Trail
Johnston Canyon is one of the most popular hikes in Banff National Park. Beyond the unique aspect of having part of the trail suspended over Johnston Creek, the trail is also a bit different in that there are three separate routes that you can take here.
You can hike to the Lower Falls (the shortest and easiest option), the Upper Falls, or the Ink Pots (the farthest and most challenging option).
Because the Johnston Canyon Upper Falls route is the Goldilocks option—and the most popular, this post is primarily going to focus on that route.
But not to worry—we cover how to enjoy the other options below as well!
So some quick facts on the Johnston Canyon Upper Falls Trail:
- Length: 3.3 miles (5.3 km)
- Elevation gain: 862 feet (263 meters)
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Dog-friendly? Good news, pups of the world—dogs are indeed allowed as long as they are on a leash. The path is wide, and there’s plenty of room for dogs.
- Trail map
How to Get to the Johnston Canyon Trail
The Johnston Canyon Trail is located here, in Banff National Park, along the Bow Valley Parkway.
To enter Banff National Park, you’ll either need to pay a daily entrance fee ($10.50 per adult per day) or a Parks Canada Discovery Pass, which gets you unlimited entry into all of the national parks, national historic sites and national marine conservation areas that are operated by Parks Canada for an entire year ($72.25 per adult).
Getting to Johnston Canyon Trail By Car
Having your own vehicle or a rental car in Banff will make it much easier to get around to explore different hiking trails and areas, as opposed to relying on public transit the whole time.
The Johnston Canyon trailhead is conveniently located just 30 minutes from downtown Banff, a ski resort town that’s equal parts charming and touristy. Alternatively, it’s about 40 minutes from Canmore, an old mining town that’s become a popular place for travelers to base themselves when exploring the park, with lots of local restaurants and more affordable accommodations to choose from.
Alternatively, you can visit Banff as an easy day trip from Calgary, given that it’s just a two hour drive from Alberta’s largest city.
As you’re making your way to the Johnston Canyon trailhead, be sure to budget some extra time to explore along the Bow Valley Parkway, as there are several scenic viewpoints with epic views of the Canadian Rockies.
Parking at Johnston Canyon Trail
There are two large lots on either side of Bow Valley Parkway for guests.
While these lots seem large, parking can still be a challenge during the busy summer season. If you’re visiting during this period, I’d recommend showing up as early as possible (as in, before 8 AM) and, if you can swing it, on a weekday to maximize your chances of getting a spot.
There are nice bathrooms (with real flush toilets!) and a water refill station by the trailhead.
Getting to Johnston Canyon Trail By Public Transit
Alternatively, if you’d prefer not to drive or don’t want to mess with parking, consider trying the Bow Valley’s public transit–known as Roam. It’s usually pretty easy to get around on, super affordable (just $2 CAD per ride!), and stops at most of the popular destinations in the park.
From Banff’s downtown, you’d want to grab the #9 bus, which departs every 35 minutes. The first bus departs downtown Banff at 9 AM, and the last picks up from Johnston Canyon at 7:10 PM. Even if you need to wait for the bus for a bit by the trailhead, it’s not so bad—there’s a cute ice cream shop that’s perfect for a post-hike treat!
What to Expect Along the Johnston Canyon Trail
As you leave the parking lot and walk towards the trailhead, you’ll pass the Johnston Canyon Lodge and several cute shops.
Continuing on, the path winds into a lush forest and starts following alongside Johnston Creek, with a very gradual elevation gain as you hike towards the Lower Falls. Throughout your gentle climb, the trail offers stunning views of the canyon’s walls, the swiftly flowing creek, and the endlessly green surroundings.
Eventually, you’ll reach a series of catwalks that are bolted into the canyon walls, right above the creek below. It’s thrilling to peer under your feet and see the turquoise water rushing by.
After 0.7 miles, you’ll reach the Lower Falls, which cascades 32 feet over a cliff into the stream below. You can get an awesome view of the falls from a bridge over Johnston Creek—but keep going, because there are better views ahead!
On the other side of the bridge, you’ll notice a short tunnel that leads to a cave with a viewing platform. This overlook provides a much closer vantage point of the falls—so close, in fact, that you should be prepared to actually get wet from the falls’ mist! You might also want to be prepared to wait—it’s not unusual, especially in the busy summertime, for there to be a 10 minute or longer queue to enjoy the view here.
To continue on to the Upper Falls, cross back over the bridge and climb the steps on the right. While the hike to the Lower Falls is usually pretty jam-packed, the crowd thins significantly on the way to the Upper Falls, allowing you to enjoy the canyon overlooks along the trail in peace.
You’ll continue to gradually climb for another 0.8 miles along Johnston Creek, until you finally reach the Upper Falls. Here, you can view the waterfall from two separate viewpoints, spilling over 100 feet into the canyon below.
The first viewpoint is on a catwalk across the creek, getting you up close and personal with the bottom of the waterfall as it plummets into a turquoise plunge pool. There’s also a second platform that hangs over the canyon, reached by a steeper trail, where you can get a unique perspective over the brink of the falls.
Alternatives to the Johnston Canyon Upper Falls Trail
As mentioned above, the Johnston Canyon Trail has two alternate routes other than the Upper Falls—the Lower Falls, for an easier option, or to the Ink Pots, if you’re up for more of a challenge.
Johnston Canyon Lower Falls Trail
This option is already described above—you’ll just simply stop after the viewpoints to the Lower Falls and head back to the trailhead! Given its shorter length, it’s perfect for travelers that are short on time or hiking with little kids.
- Length: 1.4 miles (2.25 km)
- Elevation: 344 feet (105 meters)
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Trail map
Johnston Canyon Ink Pots Trail
Perhaps Johnston Canyon’s most interesting features are the Ink Pots, five mineral spring pools at the trail’s end. The water in each of the pools has a different color, which varies based on how quickly they fill with water. Sadly, while the pools are very Instagrammable, you’re not allowed to swim in them.
To reach the Ink Pots, you’ll continue past the Upper Falls. About 1.9 miles into the trail, you’ll notice the trail will fork to the left, which leads to the Moose Meadows Trailhead. So you’ll ignore this path and continue to your right, gradually climbing through the forest and along Johnston Creek, until you reach the Ink Pots 3.6 miles in.
- Length: 7 miles (11.26 km)
- Elevation: 1,889 feet (575 meters)
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Trail map
When to Visit the Johnston Canyon Trail
Johnston Canyon Trail is one of the most popular hikes in Banff National Park.
Banff in summer is absolutely beautiful, but, if you visit during the busy months of July and August, be prepared to battle with crowds in the parking lot and on the narrow trail. Plan to show up early (like, before 8 AM early) or in the late afternoon or early evening to avoid peak chaos time on the trail.
If you’re looking to avoid crowds, the shoulder months of spring (May through June) or fall (September or November) tend to be way less busy. Spring tends to be a bit rainier and, with the springtime snowmelt, the trails can get quite muddy—so just remember to bring along waterproof hiking boots (we love this pair for men and this pair for women). This is a great time to see the waterfalls, though—they’ll be absolutely gushing!
For something totally different, come in the wintertime! As the temperature drops, the trail arguably turns even more beautiful, with the canyon blanketed in snow and the falls turning into dramatic curtains of ice.
While the trail is absolutely stunning this time of year, you’ll definitely have to plan ahead and come prepared. Given the temps can drop well below freezing, you’ll need lots of layers to keep warm.
Additionally, you’ll need microspikes to ensure you have sufficient traction along the icy trail. Trekking poles can also help provide extra stability on slippery surfaces. If you plan on doing the entire trail out to the Ink Pots, the snow usually gets pretty deep past the Upper Falls, so you’ll want to bring along snowshoes (here’s an option for men and here’s an option for women).
If heading to Johnston Canyon Trail in winter sounds like an incredible adventure, but you’re a bit nervous, consider joining a tour, like this one or this one at night, where you’ll be led by an expert guide through the canyon.
Is Johnston Canyon Trail family-friendly?
Banff, including the Johnston Canyon Trail, can be a great family-friendly destination.
If you’re traveling with little ones, you could theoretically bring a stroller on the Johnston Canyon Lower Falls trail, but I wouldn’t recommend it during the busy summer season when it’s packed. While we visited, a family had two strollers and was really struggling to navigate the trails—not fun for the family or for other hikers! Instead, I’d recommend using a baby carrier, like this popular option from Osprey, instead.
Unfortunately, the Upper Falls and Inkpots are not stroller accessible.
The Lower Falls route is perfect for toddlers and younger kids—our five-year old loved it! Older kids with more stamina may be up to the challenge of the Upper Falls or Ink Pots Trail.
Where to Stay Near the Johnston Canyon Trail
Canmore and Banff are the two most popular places for travelers who are visiting Banff National Park. There’s plenty of options to choose from here, ranging from rustic campgrounds to some of the most bougie accommodations on the planet.
Camping Near Johnston Canyon Trail
Lodging in this area can be pretty pricey, so staying in one of the campgrounds in Banff can be an excellent way to save some of your hard-earned money and enjoy the beautiful natural surroundings.
- Johnston Canyon Campground: If you want a front row seat to the canyon, you can’t get much closer than this campground. There’s sites for tents and smaller RVs (up to 27 feet), as well as fire pits, flush toilets, showers, and kitchen shelters.
- Protection Mountain Campground: Located between Lake Louise and Johnston Canyon, this campground is an excellent home base for exploring the rest of Banff. It’s suitable for RVs up to 35 feet in length and has flush toilets, fire pits, and a cooking shelter.
Note that most campgrounds in the area close down in early October.
Hotels Near Johnston Canyon Trail
- Johnston Canyon Lodge & Bungalows: Coming from the parking lot, you’ll literally pass this lodge on the way to the trailhead—can’t be more centrally located than that! The lodge offers charming little bungalows, some of which come with cozy fireplaces, and there’s plenty of amenities to enjoy, including a coffee shop and onsite restaurant.
- Tamarack Lodge: The Tamarack Lodge offers modern amenities in a cozy atmosphere, with walkability to Canmore’s cute downtown area and really nice perks, like a fireplace in every unit and a hot tub and outdoor fire pit for guests to enjoy.
- Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise: If you’re looking to splash out in Banff, the Fairmont Chateau is the place to do it—directly overlooking the milky blue waters of Lake Louise and with plenty of indulgent activities, from afternoon tea to a world class spa.
Now what are you waiting for? Go hit the trail! Do you have any questions about Johnston Canyon Trail? Let me know in the comments below!