The Johnston Canyon hike is one of the most popular in Banff National Park. However, this year, with the Bow Valley Parkway closed to vehicle traffic, this iconic trail has become much quieter. So I couldn’t resist the unique opportunity to experience the canyon without the hustle and bustle of the crowds.
About Johnston Canyon
Location: Banff National Park
Distance: 14 kilometres out and back (plus 12 on Bow Valley Parkway)
Difficulty: Moderate (due to length)
Elevation: 500 metre gain
Time: 5 – 6 hours
Dog-friendly: Yes, but dogs must be kept on-leash.
Features: This popular hike features the Lower and Upper Falls and several small pools called “Ink Pots” at the end of the trail.
Know Before You Go
The Bow Valley Parkway (Highway 1A) is closed due to the pandemic to limit the amount of activity in the area. To get to the Johnston Canyon trailhead, I walked an additional 6 kilometres (one way) along the fairly flat parkway, beginning at the Rockbound Lake trailhead parking area. Without vehicle access, the options for reaching the trailhead include walking, biking, ot cross-country skiing in the winter.
UPDATE: The Bow Valley Parkway remains closed in summer 2021.
Reaching the Johnston Canyon Trailhead
I arrived at the Johnston Canyon parking lot to find an almost apocalyptic scene. If you’ve spent time here in the summer, or even anytime B.C. (Before Covid), you’ll remember how packed the parking area tends to be. The parked tour bus looked very lonely….
You’ll find indoor washrooms (they’re open!) at the beginning of the canyon trail. Johnston Canyon is very well-maintained with distance markers and interesting information posted about the area. Did you know that nearly 1 million people pass through every year?
The Johnston Canyon Winter Hike
The Johnston Canyon hike provides different options for different adventurers. Want to see some cool frozen waterfalls? Hike in to the Lower or Upper Falls… or both! Want a longer hike with fewer people? Continue on to the famous Ink Pots! Once I passed the Upper Falls, I was the only person on the snow-covered trail all the walk to the Ink Pots—and it was splendid.
If you’re new to Johnston Canyon, you’ll quickly find that it’s a spectacular place all year round. The patterns formed by frozen waterfalls create wondrous winter scenes. In the summer, the roaring falls capture the attention of the crowds. The trail is highly maintained with metal “catwalks” adding stability and safety throughout the canyon. If you’re new to hiking, or if you’re hiking with children, Johnston Canyon is a great option.
The Lower and Upper Falls
The Lower Falls is usually bursting with activity. But not this winter. Just an empty bridge waiting to be crossed—and cross it I did. The view of the falls from inside the cave is always worth it. After a short stop, I continued on to the Upper Falls.
The last extension of the Upper Falls catwalk is closed. Apparently the structure has been deemed unsafe. I went as far as the barricade to snap a shot of the frozen falls. It’s possible to get a decent view, but I wasn’t risking injury on an unstable catwalk.
In the dead of winter, the ice walk in Johnston Canyon offers a unique view. Unfortunately, I didn’t try the ice route, but I thoroughly enjoyed a similar experience at Maligne Canyon in Jasper!
The Ink Pots—Finally!
I finally arrived at the Ink Pots after 13 kilometres of hiking. This place has a certain winter charm. The knee-deep snow made it hard to venture too far, but the five pools were all in view. This was definitely a hike for crampons and poles. This is also the only place on the trail with mountain views, so it’s worth it if you have time and energy.
Johnston Canyon in Winter—Highly Recommend!
I highly recommend Johnston Canyon in winter! And it’s equally beautiful in the summertime. What do you think of the added bonus of an unusually quiet trail? Hopefully this place gets some much-needed rest and rejuvenation.
As always, when exploring outside in the winter months, remember to bring the right gear with you—including winter layers, trail crampons, and other gear to keep you warm and safe.
Other Banff activities that might interest you:
- XC Skiing Moraine Lake Road in Banff National Park (Perfect For Beginners!)
- The Lake Minnewanka Hike in Alberta Will Surprise You
- My Banff Ski Trip: Thrilling Time at Sunshine Village
- Banff’s Tunnel Mountain Hike is Wonderful in Winter
Have you visited Johnston Canyon in the winter? Did I miss anything important about the experience? Leave a comment below.
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