In southern Alberta, just to the North West of Banff, and within Banff National Park, there are three terrific hiking opportunities, all at the same spot.
Johnston Canyon offers a wonderful hike up Johnston creek, a tributary to the Bow River. A 1.5-mile hike leads to the lower falls, and that alone is worth the trip because the lower falls are best seen once you, the viewer, pass over a bridge and through a natural tunnel to be sprayed with water from the falls themselves as they spill into a crystal blue pool.
If a person has time and enjoys a further hike, they may wish to continue an extra mile to the Upper Falls. Another 2 miles beyond that and the trail leads to the Ink Pots, a series of colorful pools formed by springs.
The hike to the lower falls and back is about 1 hour. This allows time to stop to take pictures. In addition to the falls and walkways, which are built clinging to the walls of the canyons, you will see Golden Mantled Ground Squirrels along the way. Note: These are not Chipmunks as you may think, their heads and shoulders are solid browns.
The parking lot is often over-crowded and people were parking on the highway itself. There are good washrooms and beyond lies a place to get a bite to eat, an ice cream, and Johnston Canyon rental cabins. The trail starts conveniently near the ice cream stand. If you buy ice cream you should note that you should not feed it, or the cones, to any of the local wildlife.
Dogs are allowed on the trail if kept on a leash, but bikes are not. Small children should be watched closely, as parts of the trail are slippery and they should not be allowed to climb on the railings.
We were impressed at how well the trail was maintained. The catwalks which clung to the side of the canyons felt safe and secure, in real life they are far more spectacular than in photos.
There are seven falls in the series, with the Lower Falls, and then the Upper Falls, being the grandest. The lower falls are 33 feet high, and the upper falls are nearly 100 feet high.
A further walk will take you to the Ink Pots, which are six colorful pools of water, where you can see the spring water as it bubbles up into the ponds.
How to Get to Johnston Canyon
Banff is a tourist city less than two hours west of Calgary, Alberta. You will require a parking pass, which you can purchase when you enter Banff National Park. Take Highway 1 West of Banff to Highway 1A North. The Johnston Canyon will be about 30 minutes from Banff, on your right-hand side. If you are coming from the North, when you are south of Lake Louise you will want to get onto Highway 1A and look for Johnston Canyon after you pass Moose Meadows.
- Bring a water bottle and camera.
- Wear good shoes, the trail can be slippery after rain, and in the off-season.
- Be prepared for rain, especially in the later afternoons, even on sunny days.
- Trails will be less crowded in the mornings, Monday to Friday, and during the off-season. (We went on a Monday in July and there were still lots of people)
- The trail is not suitable for baby strollers or wheelchairs.
- Do not feed the wildlife and bring bags for your litter.
Image Credit: Johnston Canyon Ink Pots