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.

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The Upper Falls at Johnston Canyon in Banff National Park.

About Johnston Canyon

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In the winter months, some choose to do the ice walk instead of the catwalk.

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

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Fat bikers on the Bow Valley Parkway.

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

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Open and accessible washroom before the hike.

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?

Read more: XC Skiing Moraine Lake Road in Banff National Park (Perfect For Beginners!)

The Jons
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No vehicle access to the Johnston Canyon trailhead.
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The beginning of the trail!
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From the parking lot, cross the bridge and begin the journey to the falls and Ink Pots!

The Johnston Canyon Winter Hike

The Johnston Canyon
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The sign at the beginning of the trail.

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 Potsand 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.

Read more: The Lake Minnewanka Hike in Alberta Will Surprise You

Johnston Canyon hike catwalk
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The metal catwalk provides a very secure trail.

The Lower and Upper Falls

The Lower Falls on the Johnston Canyon trail
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Looking down at the Lower Falls at Johnston Canyon.

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!

Read more: The Beautiful Maligne Canyon Hike in Jasper National Park

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Checking out the Lower Falls from the cave. That water looks cold!
Frozen water
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Looks like a scene from Frozen! Let it go…
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The Upper Falls lookoff.
Johnston Canyon hike views
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Polar dip anyone?
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The forested trail leads from the Upper Falls to the Ink Pots.
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The trail starts to open up near the Ink Pots.

The Ink Pots—Finally!

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Protect the site by staying on the designated trails.

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.

Read more: The Chester Lake Hike in Winter Is Better Than Most

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Happy to be at the Ink Pots!
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What do you think? Does it look like ink?
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There are five Ink Pots at the end of the trail.

Johnston Canyon in Winter—Highly Recommend!

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More mountain views from the Ink Pots.

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:

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Morning mountain view along Highway 1A.

Have you visited Johnston Canyon in the winter? Did I miss anything important about the experience? Leave a comment below.

Want to save this for later? Hover over the image to add to Pinterest!

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Johnston Canyon Hike in Beautiful Banff, Alberta via @outandacross
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