Johnston Canyon Hike Best of Banff Waterfalls and Ink Pots

Johnston Canyon is an easy hike in Banff with two beautiful waterfalls and a more moderate hike up to the ink pots. Located 25 km (16 miles) from the town of Banff, Johnston Canyon hike follows along the Johnston Creek. This is one of the most popular of Banff hiking trails. It is suitable for all ages. You will see lots of families or groups hiking this trail. It’s one of my favorite day hikes around Banff and I think it’s the best waterfall hike in Banff. Plus it’s a great hike for anyone traveling solo.

 

Johnston Creek in the Johnston Canyon at Banff National Park in Alberta Canada

Hike through the forest along the Johnston Creek in Banff

 

Johnston Canyon hike basic description

Johnston Canyon is one of the most popular attractions in Banff National Park. The narrow canyon is carved from years of erosion from the Johnston Creek.

Hiking to the Lower Falls and Upper Falls at Johnston Canyon are two key attractions of Johnston Creek hike. The Ink Pots further up the trail are another feature, but fewer people hike to the ink pots compared to the waterfalls. Ink Pots is a longer hike but it’s a beautiful scenic location for a picnic before hiking back down the canyon. I highly recommend completing the full Johnston Canyon hike to the ink pots.

 

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Johnston Canyon hike in Banff - best waterfall hiking trail, ink pots, Rocky Mountain views

 

Johnston Canyon hike distance

All distances and times given are for one way. Double the distance and time for round-trip.

Lower Falls hike is a short .1.1 km (.7 miles) hike – takes about 30 minutes

Upper Falls hike is only 2.6 km (1.5 miles) – will take about 1 hour

Johnston Canyon Ink Pots hike is 5.6 km (3.5 miles) – allow about 2 to 2.5 hours

Note that the Johnston Canyon hike is very busy in the summer. You want to get there early in the morning to avoid the biggest crowds. Or do an early evening hike when most people have dinnertime.

I first hiked Johnston Canyon as a school kid in Calgary. Many schools have camping field trips out to Banff and Kananaskis Country because it’s only around 125 km (75 miles) from Calgary to Banff.

 

Aquamarine waters of Johnston Creek at Johnston Canyon Banff

Aquamarine waters of Johnston Creek at Johnston Canyon Banff

 

Whenever friends or fellow travelers ask where to hike around Banff I always recommend Johnston Canyon because it’s still one of my favorite hiking trails in the Rockies. While on my solo road trip around the USA and Canada I made sure to book a few days in Banff and Lake Louise so I could go hiking in the mountains as well as visit the gorgeous glacier lakes.

 

Waterfalls along Johnston Creek at Johnston Canyon in Banff National Park in Alberta Canada

Waterfalls along Johnston Creek at Johnston Canyon in Banff

 

What I LOVE about Johnston Canyon hike is the color of the water and listening to the water flow. I don’t know about you but when I look at aquamarine water I feel my mood lift to a happy and peaceful place.

 

Johnston Creek at Johnston Canyon hiking area in Banff National Park - Alberta Canada

Johnston Creek at Johnston Canyon hiking area in Banff

 

Johnston Canyon hike to Lower Falls

Hiking to the Lower Falls at Johnston Canyon takes little time and the trail is relatively flat. It’s only 1.1 km (.7 miles) and the elevation gain is around 30 m (100 ft) to the Lower Falls. Allow about 30 minutes.

A bridge across the creek leads to a tiny cave that you walk through to witness the pounding water of the Lower Falls. This area gets very congested because the tiny viewing area through the cave only fits around 8 – 10 people.

Of course this is the busiest section of Johnston Canyon hike because the tour bus folks only do the lower falls and move on to the next attraction. This part of the hike reminds me of visiting Yellowstone it’s so busy.

 

Tourists visiting Lower Falls at Johnston Canyon Banff, one of the most popular hikes

Tourists viewing Lower Falls at Johnston Canyon in Banff National Park

 

Much of the hike to the lower falls is along elevated walkways with railings. These are quite narrow and get crowded with tourists posing for photos or trying to maneuver baby strollers around the tourists posing for photos. Be prepared for big crowds in the summer months.

 

People hike on elevated walkway at Johnston Canyon Banff

Scenic hike along Johnston Creek at Johnston Canyon

 

Johnston Canyon hike to Upper Falls

Hiking to the Upper Falls at Johnston Canyon will be less crowded than the Lower Falls section of the hike. This part of the hike is steeper. Total elevation gain to the Upper Falls is 235 m (774 ft).

 

Banff National Park waterfalls - Upper Falls at Johnston Canyon create a pool at at the bottom - Banff AB Canada

Banff National Park waterfalls – Upper Falls at Johnston Canyon create a pool at the bottom

 

There are two viewing points for the Upper Falls. First there is a small metal viewing platform over the creek. Hike further up the trail to see the falls from above and the pool formed by the waterfall.

 

Upper Falls at Johnston Canyon Banff

Upper Falls at Johnston Canyon Banff

 

Johnston Canyon secret trail to cave and waterfall

UPDATE: THIS PORTION of JOHNSTON CANYON is CLOSED to the public as of summer 2018. This location is a nesting area for birds called black swifts. Read  more at this CBC article about the nesting black swifts at Johnston Canyon.

TRAIL CLOSURE in place until November 15, 2018. The main hiking trails to the upper falls, lower falls, and ink pots are not affected by this closure.

One big surprise for me at Johnston Canyon this year is the hidden cave and waterfall. Although I saw the waterfall before, only from above, I didn’t know about the cave. There is a kind of secret trail to get to the waterfall and hidden cave. Though it’s easy to find when you know where to look.

Before you get to the Upper Falls at Johnston Canyon there is a steep trail to the right. Watch for it and you will be able to find the hidden cave at Johnston Canyon and have a front row seat to a waterfall that others only view from above.

 

Secret hiking trail leads to scenic waterfall and hidden cave in Johnston Canyon Banff

Take the secret trail to this scenic spot in Johnston Canyon

 

Hidden cave hike at Johnston Canyon Banff

Hidden cave hike at Johnston Canyon Banff

 

This cave can't be seen from the regular trail at Johnston Canyon

This cave can’t be seen from the regular trail at Johnston Canyon

 

 

Johnston Canyon Ink Pots hike

Least crowded of all the Johnston Canyon hiking area is the trail to the Ink Pots. The tour bus crowd often goes to the first set of falls and moves along so your best bet for fewer crowds at Johnston Canyon is to keep hiking up the trail all the way to the Ink Pots. Pack your picnic lunch and enjoy a serene space in the mountains with mesmerizing crystal clear pools in shades of aquamarine and turquoise.

What are the ink pots?

The ink pots are five beautiful spring fed crystal clear pools in a gorgeous meadow at the top of the Johnston Canyon hiking trail. Mineral spring water gently bubbles up into the ink pots giving them jewel like shades of aquamarine to turquoise color pools.

The Johnston Canyon ink pots hike is mostly through the forest with some gorgeous views along the way.

Allow about 2 to 2.5 hours to get to the ink pots. Distance from the trailhead is 5.5 km (3.5 miles with an elevation gain of 335 meters (1,100 ft) to a beautiful meadow with Rocky Mountain views.

 

Johnston Canyon Ink Pots hike Banff National Park Alberta Canada

Crystal clear water at Johnston Canyon Ink Pots hike Banff National Park Alberta Canada

 

Johnston Canyon Campground

Lucky you if you get a campsite at the Johnston Canyon Campground just across from the trailhead. There are 132 sites at the campground located at Bow Valley Parkway (Hwy 1A)

  • Fee is $27.40
  • Sites are available from May 25 to September 25
  • Limited mobility/disabled access
  • Online reservation available here
  • Latitude: 51.24234
  • Longitude: -115.83630

Johnston Canyon Campground facilities

  • Hot and cold showers
  • Hot and cold running water in bathrooms
  • Flush toilets
  • Food lockers available for walk-in campers
  • Picnic shelters on-site

Johnston Canyon Campground RV maximum length

Maximum RV length at Johnston Canyon Campground is 27 feet (8 meters) and only 1 RV per site

Can I smoke pot at campsites in Canada?

Yes it’s okay to smoke pot at campgrounds in Canada. As of October 17, 2018 cannabis will be legal across Canada. That brings up questions about where can one smoke marijuana in Canada. According to Parks Canada website, yes you can smoke pot at campsites in Canada because Parks Canada treats the campsites as temporary domiciles. You cannot smoke pot at the common areas or playgrounds.

Smoking pot at campsites, backcountry areas, and on trails is permitted in Canada according to Parks Canada.

 

Map of hiking distance to Lower Falls, Upper Falls, and Ink Pots and Johnston Canyon Banff National Park

Map of hiking distance to falls and Ink Pots at Johnston Canyon Banff

 

Johnston Canyon Hike Visitor Info

Address

 Bow Valley Pkwy, Improvement District No. 9, Alberta Canada

Getting to Johnston Canyon hiking area

Whether you are visiting Banff on vacation or doing a road trip through Alberta you will want to stop at Johnston Canyon. You can even make it a stop on your way to the famous Icefields Parkway. Be sure to allow some time to enjoy the most popular hike in Banff. Go early in the morning to avoid the crowds.

From Calgary

Head West on Trans-Canada Hwy 1 for approximately 120 km (75 miles) to the Bow Valley Parkway exit. Continue for 18 km (11 miles) and watch for signs on the right for Johnston Canyon. The drive takes approximately 1 hour 45 minutes.

From Banff

Head West on Trans-Canada Hwy 1 for approximately 5 km (3 miles) to the Bow Valley Parkway exit. Continue for 18 km (11 miles) and watch for signs on the right for Johnston Canyon. The drive takes approximately 30 minutes.

From Lake Louise

Head East on Trans-Canada Hwy 1 towards Banff for 25 km (15 miles) and take exit 50 towards Banff/Windemere and turn left onto Hwy 93 N. Continue for 1.2 km (.75 mile) and turn right onto Bow Valley Parkway. Continue for about 6 km (3.75 miles) and watch for signs on the right for Johnston Canyon. The drive takes approximately 30 minutes.

 

Waterfall and hidden cave at Johnston Canyon can be found along secret trail

Secret trail leads to this waterfall at Johnston Canyon

 

Distances for Johnston Canyon hike

  • Lower Falls 1.1 km (.7 miles) easy hike
  • Upper Falls 2.6 km (1.5 miles) easy hike
  • Ink Pots 5.6 km (3.5 miles) moderate hike

Trailhead elevation

1,477 m (4,845 ft)

Elevation gain

335 m (1100 ft)

Tips for visiting Johnston Canyon

  • Be sure to wear comfortable walking shoes, running shoes/sneakers are okay for this hike
  • Remember to bring water and snacks especially if you are hiking to the Ink Pots, it’s a beautiful place for a picnic lunch
  • Dogs must be on a leash
  • Parking gets full so be prepared to wait or consider taking a shuttle from Banff
  • Shuttle bus from Banff runs from May 18 to October 8 and costs $5 round trip – check schedule here

 

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Johnston Canyon hike is the best waterfall hike in Banff National Park

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About the Author

Susan Moore's first solo travel experience was traveling around SE Asia for 7 months in 1993. It was life changing and extraordinary. Currently Susan is living a nomadic life, working and roadtripping around the USA and Canada. Read all about Susan » You can reach Susan Moore at Facebook or Twitter or Instagram

2 Comments

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  1. Olivia says:

    Johnston Canyon is a stunning area of Banff. I love the classic turquoise colour of the glacial water. And those waterfalls are out of this world. It’s no wonder why Banff NP sees almost 4 million visitors annually.

    • Susan Moore says:

      Thanks for your comment Olivia! Yes the turquoise water is beautiful. Johnston Canyon is still one of my favorite hikes even though there are tons of tourists there. I just keep hiking up to the ink pots and there’s only a few other hikers up there whenever I go. Love the waterfalls too!

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