Johnston Canyon, one of Banff National Park’s most popular trails, features catwalks along the canyon’s edge, a small tunnel, and a series of gorgeous waterfalls.
While prospector Johnston never struck gold here, Johnston Canyon is a jewel of Banff. Visit in summer to see seven waterfalls crashing through the canyon; and return in winter for ice falls in a winter wonderland. Going further, past Upper Falls, takes you to the Ink Pots, spring-fed aquamarine pools in a meadow surrounded by mountains. This trail is super busy on summer weekends, so go midweek if you can (or go in the off season).
Johnston Canyon Route Description
The well-marked Johnston Canyon trail begins to the left of the large washroom building. Follow the trail through the trees, cross a footbridge over the creek, and take an immediate right.
Pass the cute cabins of Johnston Canyon Resort, and look down into the canyon every now and then. While Lower Falls and Upper Falls are the star attractions on this hike, there are more waterfalls in the canyon (like Stella Falls!) worth checking out along the way. Note regarding Restricted Activity Order: It is prohibited to go off trail from May 1 – November 15, to protect endangered black swifts that nest in the canyon.
As the canyon walls get steeper and higher, you’ll traverse the cliffs on lofty catwalks (suspended walkways). 8,000 years1 of wind and water erosion made the canyon up to 30 metres2 deep. Peer down at pools and riffles from viewing decks and see if you can spot black swifts and dippers feeding in the icy waters.
In only 1.1 km, there’s a fork in the trail. Going right and down the hill will take you to a bridge and little tunnel that ends at a viewing deck directly across from Lower Falls. Watch water tumbling over the cliff and splashing into the plunge pool, and feel the spray of the mist on your face. This unique viewpoint can be quite busy on weekends and holidays, so we recommend going midweek or in the offseason if you don’t like waiting in line.
Return to the main trail and take the other fork to go to Upper Falls. This section has a lot more elevation than the first part of the trail, but is very moderate. After about a kilometre, at the next fork, take the catwalk at right to the base of Upper Falls, a popular ice climbing spot in winter. If time allows, backtrack to the junction and take the other fork to hike 265 metres to the top of Upper Falls. Going further on this trail will also take you to the Inkpots, six aquamarine spring-fed pools in a meadow. Return the way you came, and enjoy a bite to eat at Black Swift Bistro (open mid May to October long weekend)!
Johnston Canyon At a Glance
- Distance (one way): 1.2 km to Lower Falls / 2.5 km to Upper Falls / 5.7 km to the Ink Pots
- Elevation gain: 50 m to Lower Falls / 120 m to Upper Falls / 330 m to the Ink Pots
- Difficulty: Easy to Lower Falls, Moderate to Upper Falls and the Ink Pots
- Washrooms: next to the trailhead
- Stroller friendly? No – the catwalks are too narrow for others to pass and there are stairs between Lower Falls and Upper Falls
- Parking: Johnston Canyon Day Use (if it’s full, there is additional parking on the south side of the highway)
- Trailhead: West end of the main parking lot, to the left of the washroom building
When to Go
Johnston Canyon is open year round, but check the Banff National Park Trail Report for trail conditions and construction closures.
Johnston Canyon Day Use Area (click link for Google Maps directions) is located 150 km west of Calgary on Highway 1A / Bow Valley Parkway.
Directions from Calgary: Take Highway 1 westbound to Castle Junction (about 157 km). Take the exit to Bow Valley Parkway East / Hwy AB 1A East. Continue east on Bow Valley Parkway for 6.2 kilometres to the Johnston Canyon parking lot (on the left side of the street). The other option is to take the Bow Valley Parkway/Johnston Canyon turnoff just past Banff, but be warned that the road is extremely icy in the winter and the speed limit (if you can go that fast) is only 60 km/hr.
Public Transit from Banff: Take Roam Route 9.
Know Before You Go
- A Parks Canada Discovery Pass / daily admission fee is required to stop in Banff National Park.
- You are in bear territory (yes, bears have been spotted here even though it’s a busy trail!). Review our Bear Safety Tips and keep bear spray accessible.
- Dogs must be kept on a leash, but are not recommended due to how busy and narrow the trail is.
What to Bring
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Good hiking boots, a down hoody or fleece, toque, gloves, and windproof/waterproof shell are recommended year round. Trekking poles are useful for long hikes, steep descents, or babywearing. You should also carry The Ten Essentials including: water, extra food, extra clothes, a first aid kit, headlamp, GPS / compass, and map of the area, sunscreen (this mineral sunscreen is fragrance free, paraben free, and reef-friendly), bug spray (this deet-free one contains 20% icaridin and will repel ticks), and bear spray. Carry bear spray in a Bear Spray Holster or Scat Belt.
A Garmin inReach Mini 2 satellite communicator is highly recommended for contacting Search & Rescue and emergency contacts in the event of an emergency, or communicating with friends and family when you are out of cell phone range. You can send text messages and your GPS coordinates via satellite (but a monthly plan is required)!
In snowy/icy conditions, traction devices such as Kahtoola Microspikes (Available from Amazon, MEC, and Valhalla Pure Outfitters), or Hillsound Trail Crampons (Available at Valhalla Pure Outfitters and Sport Chek) are recommended. See our Fall Hiking Gear Guide for recommended clothing and gear.