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Everything You Need to Know About Johnston Canyon

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Is Johnston Canyon Better in the Summer or Winter

Johnston Canyon is one of the top things to do while in Banff and one of the activities I would recommend doing if you only have 1 day in Banff! It is an impressive deep canyon featuring lots of waterfalls. You are able to hike along the canyon all-year-round, even during Winter to see the frozen waterfalls! The hike will take you along a trail that becomes quite narrow in sections and goes through caves.

This is one of the busiest hikes in Banff so whatever season you choose to visit during, I recommend arriving early or later in the afternoon to try to avoid the crowds.

You can choose to visit Johnston Canyon on your own or with a tour and you can also reach the canyon trailhead by driving yourself or via public transport.

This guide will tell you everything you need to know about how and when to visit Johnston Canyon and the pros and cons of visiting in the Winter versus the Summer. It will also list the different accommodation and food options nearby and tours that you can do and the stats of each section of the hike to the Lower Falls, Upper Falls and the Ink Pots.

Half frozen Johnston Canyon in Winter

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As the Bow Valley Parkway is a wildlife corridor, the road is closed seasonally from March 1 to June 25. This is to give the animals the space they need to thrive during the spring. For more information on road closures, you can head to the Parks Canada website.

📍 Where is Johnston Canyon Located?

Johnston Canyon is located in the Canadian Rockies, Alberta. It is around a 30 minute drive from Banff to Johnston Canyon. The map shows the Johnston Canyon parking lot, the campground and the bungalows as well as the Lower and Upper Johnston Canyon Falls.

Click here to open the map in Google Maps!

How to get there from Banff

By Car

If you are driving from Banff, you will need to take either the Bow Valley Parkway or the Trans-Canada Highway (Hwy 1). As the Bow Valley Parkway is a wildlife corridor, it is closed at certain times of the day and the year. The Trans-Canada Highway is the slightly longer route, but only by a couple of minutes.

Via Public Transport

If you decide not to hire a car whilst in Banff, don’t stress! You can get to Johnston Canyon without a car by catching bus #9 Johnston Canyon from Banff High School Transit Hub. The bus only takes around 35 minutes to reach Johnston Canyon so you won’t add too much extra time to your trip and costs about $5 one way for an adult ticket.

Hop on Hop Off

One of the easiest ways to see the sights in and around Banff without a car is by using the Hop on Hop off bus tour. This is a tour where you aren’t restricted by a guide or by being stuck in a group. You can spend as little or as much time as you want at Johnston Canyon and the other spots along the route. As well as Johnston Canyon, the stops include Moraine Lake, Lake Louise, and the Lake Louise Gondola (admission is not included).

🚕 Where to Park for the Johnston Canyon Trail

There are two parking lots for Johnston Canyon. The second was built as Johnson Canyon became more and more popular and it was realised that one parking lot wasn’t enough.

Johnston Canyon’s main parking lot which is available for parking in is located right next to the trail. Although the parking lot is large, in the Summer the trail is super popular and so the parking lot fills up quickly in the morning.

If the main parking lot is full, turn back towards Banff and park in P2 (a second Johnston Canyon Parking Lot). Both of these parking lots are free to park in, however you will need to show your Parks Canada Discovery Pass on your dashboard as you are parking in Banff National Park.

📰 Get your Parks Discovery Pass here!

Johnston Canyon Trail Stats

There are 3 different viewpoints that you can hike to along the Johnston Canyon Trail, all located along the same trail. These viewpoints are called the Lower Falls, the Upper Falls and the Ink Pots.

📒 Things to Know Before Visiting Johnston Canyon

  • Before visiting Johnston Canyon you should be well aware that this is a touristy location. Don’t expect to be out in the wilderness by yourself. Johnston Canyon is one of the most popular hikes in Banff.
  • There is a hike involved in seeing the canyon. The hike is not hard however it will take time, especially if it is busy as the trail is quite narrow in some sections and you will need to wait for the people in front of you. Make sure you arrive with plenty of time to do the hike and see the lower and upper falls.
  • There is a small café with snacks, hot and cold drinks available one site at the trailhead to Johnston Canyon. I recommend bringing plenty of water and some lunch with you to enjoy along the trail.
  • Dogs are allowed on the Johnston Canyon hike, but they must be on leash at all time. Due to the crowds in the Summer, your dog may not enjoy this trail as much as other trails.
  • It is free to do the Johnston Canyon hike, however you will need a Canada Discovery Park Pass to visit Banff National Park.

❓ Is Johnston Canyon Better in the Summer or Winter

It all comes down to personal preference whether you think it is better to visit Johnston Canyon in the Summer or the Winter.

😎 Johnston Canyon in the Summer

Johnston Canyon Lower Falls in Summer
Johnston Canyon Lower Falls in Summer

The downside to Summer is that it gets extremely busy but the falls are beautiful and the water is a gorgeous blue colour. Summer can also be really hot hiking along the trail with loads of other people, but the icy cool air that comes off the water is absolutely wonderful! You will probably find yourself wish that you could jump into the icy water for a swim to cool off, but the fast move water in the canyon makes it too dangerous so this is not allowed.

⛄ Johnston Canyon in the Winter

Girl on bridge at Johnston Canyon in Winter
Johnston Canyon Trail in Winter

The downside to visiting Johnston Canyon in the Winter is that the trail can be slippery, however you can overcome this by attaching micro spikes to the bottoms of your boots. It can also be quite cold walking along next to the canyon during Winter but the frozen waterfalls make it so worth it. Johnston Canyon in the Wintertime is so so beautiful! It’s amazing to see how much a place can change through the seasons.

Tips for Visiting Johnston Canyon in Winter

  • Wear micro spikes as the trail can be icy and slippery.
  • Wear layers because it can be very cold walking along the side of the canyon.
  • Make note of any road closures.
  • Try to visit in November or lake January to avoid the Winter crowds. It doesn’t get as busy in Winter as Summer, but it is still a popular location.

🥾 How Hard is the Johnston Canyon Hike?

The Johnston Canyon trail is quite a flat trail that takes you along the side of the canyon. We would rate the Johnston Canyon trail as easy to moderate.

This trail is a great option for kids as it is not too strenuous or long and if you go during Summer, you can all get an ice cream at the ice cream cart at the entrance at the end of the hike.

The Johnston Canyon trail is also dog friendly, however dogs must be kept on a leash. The trail does get super busy during Summer and so the downside to taking your dog with you is that they might not appreciate the crowds. We did see some agitated dogs at the lower falls because it was SO BUSY.

Johnston Canyon is stroller friendly in some sections, however a lot of the trail is too narrow for a stroller to fit.

🕐 How Long Will the Johnston Canyon Trail Take?

To the Lower Falls and back, it will take you around 1 hour altogether. If you decide to go all the way to the Upper Falls, it will take approximately 2 hours return.

If you want to opt for a longer hike and decide to hike all of the way to the Ink Pots, it will take you about 4 hours to complete the hike.

📸 Photography Spots Along the Johnston Canyon Trail

The entire Johnston Canyon trail is gorgeous but there are two main spots where the most photos are taken.

Johnston Canyon Lower Falls

The first spot you will reach is the Lower Falls. The hike to the Lower Falls is 2.4km / 1.5 miles return with an elevation gain of 105m / 344 ft. To see the Lower Falls, you will need to detour off the main trail and walk across a bridge and then through a cave. You can see the falls from the bridge and get even closer to them if you go through the cave. Be extra careful in the cave especially in Winter as it can be very slippery!

Johnston Canyon Upper Falls

Next you will come to the Upper Falls. This is where most people turn around rather than continuing on to the Ink Pots. The hike to the Upper Falls is 5km / 3.1 miles return with an elevation gain of 120m / 393 ft. You can see the Upper Falls from a viewing platform which is also a short detour from the main trail.

Ink Pots

As the hike to the Ink Pots is quite a bit longer at 11.3km / 7 miles return, it is a lot less popular than the Lower and Upper Falls which means more peace and quiet for you and better photo opportunities. The elevation gain for the Ink Pots Trail is 574m /1,889 ft.

⛺ Nearby Accommodation

When we visited Johnston Canyon we stayed in Banff in both the Summer and Winter but there is also accommodation at Johnston Canyon.

Johnston Canyon Lodge

The Johnston Canyon Lodge is within walking distance of Johnston Canyon. The resort has studios, 2 bedroom bungalows and family cottages and also has a dining room onsite which offers breakfast, lunch and dinner. There is also a coffee bar and gift shop available.

Click here to check prices for the Johnston Canyon Lodge!

The Campground

You can book the Johnston Canyon Campground, through Parks Canada. The campgrounds in and around Banff do tend to book out quickly so you need to be ready to book as soon as you can. Make note of the booking launch dates at the beginning of the year (these sometimes change from year to year).

🥐 Places to Eat

Johnston Canyon has a café called the Market Café and a bistro called the Blackswift Bistro.

The bistro serves breakfast, lunch, dinner and desserts and has both gluten free and vegetarian options available.

The café is more basic and has freshly baked goods, in-house made healthy sandwiches, yogurt parfaits and hot and cold drinks. The milkshakes were SO good post hike!

When we did the Johnston Canyon hike, we brought our own snacks and then enjoyed a milkshake at the café afterwards.

Join a Tour!

If you are looking to meet other people at the same as visiting Johnston Canyon or if you want to learn more about the Canyon itself, a tour is a great idea! Below is a list of some of the best Johnston Canyon tours with details, prices and links to book. There is a tour type for everyone!

Morning or Afternoon Johnston Canyon Ice walk

💰 Price: < CAD$100
⏰ Duration: 4 hours
⭐ Rating: 4.9/5 – (54 reviews)
Click here to book

Johnston Canyon Tour
Credit: Discover Banff Tours (via GetYourGuide)

On this Winter tour, You can choose from a morning or afternoon tour which will include transport to and from Johnston Canyon. Make sure you watch out for wildlife on this scenic drive! The tour also includes a hot chocolate, maple cookie and the use of ice cleats which you will need to do this hike as the trail will be slippery.

Johnston Canyon Evening Ice Walk

💰 Price: < CAD$100
⏰ Duration: 2.5 hours
⭐ Rating: 4.8/5
Click here to book

Johnston Canyon Evening Icewalk Tour
Credit: Discover Banff Tours (via GetYourGuide)

Similar to the morning or afternoon walk but on this tour you get to explore the frozen waterfalls of Johnston Canyon in quiet darkness at night as you hike under the stars. On this Winter Tour, you will also be provided with a hot chocolate and a snack to warm up with as well as the use to ice cleats.

4-Hour E-Bike and Walking Tour in Johnston Canyon

💰 Price: CAD$170
⏰ Duration: 4 hours
⭐ Rating: 4.8/5
Click here to book

Credit: White Mountain Adventures Banff (via GetYourGuide)

This tour is a combined cycling and hiking tour which will take you to not only Johnston Canyon, but also to Vermillion Lakes which are absolutely gorgeous and worth the visit! You will get to ride along the Bow Valley Parkway and look out for wildlife such as deer, elk and bears!

Banff: Johnston Canyon Hike to the Ink Pots

💰 Price: CAD$220
⏰ Duration: 5.5 hours
⭐ Rating: N/A
Click here to book

Guided hike to the Ink Pots Johnston Canyon
Credit: Freeheelin’ Adventures (via GetYourGuide)

This is a guided hiking tour to the Ink Pots via Johnston Canyon Lower and Upper Falls. This is a great tour for those who are new to hiking in the backcountry and would prefer to hike with a guide. On the tour, you will also learn about the migratory and endangered Black Swift and the flora, fauna, and geology of the Canadian Rockies.

Other Places to See in the Area

If you spending some time in Banff National Park, you should add a few other beautiful places to your list of things to do and see.

Visit Lake Louise

Photo of Lake Louise at sunrise
Lake Louise during sunrise

Lake Louise is absolutely gorgeous in any season! During the Winter, you can skate on the lake or go snow shoeing and in the Summer there are lots of incredible hikes to do such as the Beehive Hike. The castle-like Fairmont Hotel that looks over the lake is also worth checking out. It is a masterpiece of a building! There are also lots of Lake Louise Tours to choose from if you prefer to adventure with a guide and a group.

Drive the Icefields Parkway

A photo of Waterfowl Lakes, one of the best Icefields Parkway Stops
Waterfowl Lakes along the Icefields Parkway

The Icefields Parkway is the stretch of road from Lake Louise to Jasper and it is full of incredible views and lots of wildlife. We saw loads of black bears walking along the side of the road when we drove from Jasper to Banff during Summer. There is still a chance of seeing wildlife during Winter but it is less likely and you probably won’t see any bears because they will be hibernating.

Moraine Lake

Moraine Lake

<Updated January 2023> New in 2023, Moraine Lake Road is closed to personal vehicles. Parks Canada shuttles, Roam Public Transit, and commercial buses are permitted from June to mid-October. Alternatively you can bike round trip 25km to access the lake. For the latest information on park conditions and closures, check the Parks Canada website.

Moraine Lake is a must do activities if you are staying in the Banff area and is open from June to mid-October. The rest of the year the road is closed due to the large amounts of snow that it sees.

Moraine Lake is one of those places that shocks you when you see it in real life, even after you have seen hundreds of photos and videos of the place. The water is a crazy blue and the mountain backdrop is too perfect to be real life!

Our Thoughts

We thought Johnston Canyon was super impressive but especially beautiful during the Winter. There was also less people around when we visited during November as this was the off-season. It is a great activity to do with the whole family and one of the things we recommend doing if you only have 1 day in Banff.

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