Home Destinations Exploring Johnson Lake, Banff

Exploring Johnson Lake, Banff

by Karen Ung

Johnson Lake is a fun year-round destination near the town of Banff with a picnic area, beach, and hiking trails. Visit an old Hermit Cabin, swing, and hoodoos as you explore this beautiful area.

The gems of Johnson Lake, Banff National Park from top left clockwise: View from east end of the lake, hoodoos viewpoint, rope swing, hermit cabin

Johnson Lake is a pretty mountain lake near the town of Banff that has everything you could want on a short outing: views, history, a picnic area, and beach. Although the lake is only about one kilometre long, with two trails around it, you can discover something new each visit. Take the outer loop to reach the swing and hoodoos viewpoint, or take the inner loop to get to the rope swing and Hermit of Inglismaldie’s cabin. There are also amazing views of Mount Rundle and Cascade Mountain.

Johnson Lake Trail at a Glance

  • Distance: 2.8 km (Inner loop) / 3.5 km (outer loop)
  • Elevation Gain: n/a
  • Washrooms: Johnson Lake Day Use Area
  • Parking: Johnson Lake Day Use Area
  • When to go: Year round (traction devices recommended in winter)

Discover the highlights of Johnson Lake Trail, Banff:

Johnson Lake Mountain Swing

To reach the swing, take the trail on the left side of the lake (before the picnic area). After about 500 metres, when you reach a fork in the trail, go up the hill to the swing. You can continue up the hill to go around the north side of the lake on the upper trail. Thank you, Erin Baird, for the directions and beautiful photo!

East End of Johnson Lake

There’s a great view of Cascade Mountain from the east side of the lake – and a bridge!

Hermit Cabin

Built by Billy Carver, “the hermit of Inglismaldie” in 1910, the hermit cabin is an interesting relic of the past. Carver lived here alone for 27 years, occasionally taking work at Bankhead, the local coal operation. Please tread carefully here – the cabin is in disrepair and there are nails sticking out and rusty cans – and do not disturb or take any of the items. My kids swear the cabin is haunted… what do you think?

Directions to the hermit cabin: If you are heading clockwise around the lake, at the south end of the dike, take the first trail on the right. Follow the lakeshore trail for about 200 metres, then take the spur trail to the left (click here for Google map). Within about 30 seconds, you will see the cabin. Return to the main trail and turn left to finish the loop.

Johnson Lake Rope Swing

Johnson Lake Rope Swing – use at your own risk!

On a hot day, expect a lineup at the Johnson Lake Rope Swing on the south side of the lake. It looks a bit sketchy to me as the water is pretty shallow near shore. Use at your own risk and make sure you swing FAR before letting go!

Hoodoos Viewpoint

If you take the outer trail at the end of the dike instead of the inner trail, you hike through spruce and pine forest to an escarpment above the hoodoos and the TransCanada Highway. Mount Rundle is to the south and Cascade Mountain is to the west. Keep kids back from the edge as there’s a big drop-off here.

West End of Johnson Lake

Johnson Lake Bridge (west)

At the west end of the lake, there’s a bridge over a creek that flows out of the lake. Makes for a pretty photo spot!

Things to do at Johnson Lake

Hike and paddle in the summer, and snowshoe and skate in the winter! If you skate at Johnson Lake, please check the ice thickness before venturing out on it and be aware that the ice is thin near the lake outlet (because the water is moving) on the west side of the lake.

Mid to late July is a great time to see wildflowers (south side of the lake). Come back late September when golden aspens steal the show.

Johnson Lake Day Use Area

Johnson Lake Day Use Area has picnic tables, outhouses, a small sandy beach (great place to launch a canoe, kayak, or stand-up paddleboard), and rinse station. Swirling disease has been found here, so please rinse off your boat before leaving to avoid spreading it to other bodies of water.

There is no lifeguard on duty, so wear a PFD and keep kids within arms’ reach!

Since Johnson Lake is very popular, be prepared to picnic on the sand/grass if all tables are occupied. Nearby picnic areas include Cascade Ponds or Two Jack Lake.

Getting Here

Johnson Lake is located 15 kilometres from the town of Banff. Take Banff Avenue 4.5 km to Lake Minnewanka Scenic Drive. Turn right onto Lake Minnewanka Scenic Drive. After 3.6 km, turn right onto Johnson Lake Road. You will reach the parking lot and Day Use Area in 2.2 km.

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