Best Tips to Successfully Hike Johnston Canyon

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A couple taking a selfie at a waterfall at Johnston Canyon hike in Banff National Park

Banff National Park is the most-visited park in Canada. It’s also the oldest. You’ll discover so much to see and do here that you could spend weeks exploring this area of Alberta.

Many visitors enjoy exploring the many lakes as well as completing the Johnston Canyon hike. 

If you haven’t heard of Johnston Canyon and its Upper and Lower Falls, you’re missing out on a beautiful scenic location. Today, we’re diving into the details of this hike and giving you a handful of tips to help you enjoy your experience and make the most of your visit.

Where Is Johnston Canyon?

Johnston Canyon sits about 15 miles from Banff in Alberta, Canada. Lake Louise, another famous location in Alberta, sits about 21 miles from the canyon.

This chasm lies in the heart of Banff National Park, where Johnston Creek has shaped it for thousands of years. People frequently visit to view its high walls, lush vegetation, and cascading waterfalls.

About Banff National Park

Canada’s first national park is also part of the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks UNESCO World Heritage Site. Banff National Park protects the Canadian Rockies, glacial lakes, and peaceful meadows of Alberta.

You’ll also find lots of wildlife here, from large animals like elk, moose, caribou, and black bears to smaller animals like marmots, porcupines, and beavers. The park also protects endangered and threatened species like black swifts, barn swallows, and trout.

Banff National Park welcomes over four million visitors each year. The Athabasca Glacier, Lake Louise, and Castleguard Cave remain some of the most popular attractions.

How Long Is the Johnston Canyon Hike?

You can take a couple of different hikes in Johnston Canyon. The Lower Falls trail is a 1.4-mile out-and-back hike that begins behind the Johnston Canyon Lodge. It’s paved and has railings along the more severe drop-offs.

The trail to the Lower Falls is about 0.7 miles. The trail becomes very steep if you want to continue to the Upper Falls. There is over an 800-foot elevation gain.

For families with young children, you may want to turn back around after visiting the Lower Falls. The entire hike to the Upper Falls is a 3.3-mile out-and-back trail.

You can continue past the Upper Falls to Ink Pots if you want a longer hike. This 7-mile out-and-back trail has an elevation gain of over 1,800 feet.

It’s also important to mention that the entire trail from the Lower Falls to the Upper Falls to Ink Pots becomes extremely slippery in the winter. Hikers should wear microspikes or snowshoes. 

A river at Johnston Canyon hike in Banff National Park

How to Get to Johnston Canyon

Since Johnston Canyon sits within Banff National Park, you must pay the entry fee to reach the trailhead. Daily admission for adults costs $10.50, or you can purchase a Parks Canada Discovery Pass for $72.25. You can find out more about fees on the Parks Canada website.

To reach the Johnston Canyon, drive past Banff along the Trans-Canada Highway. Turn right onto Bow Valley Parkway, and follow it to the Johnston Canyon parking lot.

You can purchase a hop-on hop-off bus ticket if you don’t have a car. The bus departs from Banff and will stop at Johnston Canyon.

5 Tips For Hiking Johnston Canyon

Johnston Canyon is a beautiful and popular part of Banff National Park. We have provided five tips to help you enjoy your hike and experience at Johnston Canyon.

1. Get There Early

Although ample parking exists, the lot will fill up during the peak summer season. The park even built a second parking lot to accommodate more visitors.

Try the main lot first, which is the first right turn at the traffic circle. If it’s full, you must turn back towards Banff to find the second parking lot on the right.

But it’s best to arrive early to beat the crowds. Not only will you be more likely to grab a parking space but you’ll also encounter fewer hikers on the trail. 

2. Try to See Both Upper and Lower Falls

If you can physically hike to both the Upper and Lower Falls, it’s worth it. Don’t rush through your visit. Make time to see both because each provides a unique experience. The trail to the Upper Falls is more strenuous but worth the extra energy. Pack a picnic and enjoy lunch on one of the benches along the trail.

A couple taking a selfie at a waterfall at Johnston Canyon hike in Banff National Park

3. Schedule Extra Time

You’ll be in awe of all the different viewpoints, so take your time. The elevated catwalks along the river can get crowded if you visit during the peak season.

Allow yourself plenty of time to enjoy this hike and not just complete it. Get there early and plan on spending 2-3 hours enjoying nature.

4. Wear Layers

As with any location in Banff National Park, you’ll start out wearing colder clothes, shed layers in the afternoon, and put them back on later in the evening.

The Johnston Canyon hike can be strenuous at specific points, so you’ll probably get hot. But then the mist from the waterfalls will be cold no matter what time of day. Be prepared to take your jacket on and off throughout the hike.

Pro Tip: Ready to start planning your visit to Banff? Then check out our Guide to Banff Camping!

A waterfall at Johnston Canyon hike in Banff National Park

5. Grab a Hot Beverage After

We found it nice that Market Cafe sits on the trail. We got lattes when we were finished, and it was a refreshing treat after a moderate hike. Again, don’t rush through your experience at Johnston Canyon. Allow yourself time to grab a beverage before returning to the parking lot.

Is the Johnston Canyon Hike Dog-Friendly?

You can bring your dog along on your Johnston Canyon hike, just make sure to keep them on a leash. Even if the crowds thin out as you get closer to the Upper Falls or Ink Pots, don’t be tempted to let your pet off the leash.

Wildlife is abundant in Banff National Park. You’re not just protecting your pet from crowds of people or stepping off the trail but also from wildlife.

A dog looking at a waterfall at Johnston Canyon Hike

What to Pack For Your Johnston Canyon Hike

The time of year will affect what you pack for your hike. You definitely want hiking boots, preferably waterproof ones, no matter what time of year you visit Johnston Canyon. If you go in the winter, you’ll want microspikes.

As we’ve already mentioned, wear layers. Pack a jacket. You might want a poncho if you don’t have a rain jacket. The weather here remains cool even in summer, and the mist from the waterfalls will get you wet.

Finally, what you pack for other hikes you’ll also pack for this hike, such as a water bottle, snacks, first aid kit, bear spray, and other essentials.

Keep in Mind: Make sure you have enough energy on the trails by bringing along these Delicious Hiking Snacks!

When Is the Best Time to Hike Johnston Canyon?

The trail through Johnston Canyon remains open year-round. If you want to experience the canyon’s frozen-over waterfalls and winter wonderland, visit in December and January. 

The weather can prove unpredictable in the shoulder seasons of spring and fall. You might have snow, high winds, or rain. You’ll need to be prepared for it all. But there will be fewer crowds than in the summer months. Snow melt also occurs in spring so lots of water will rush down the waterfalls. It’s a powerful sight.

Peak season happens in July and August. The falls and river will still flow well through the canyon, but it won’t be as powerful as the spring.

But you have more sunshine, and most people have time during the summer months for vacations. Expect more people even when you arrive early.

Is Johnston Canyon Worth Hiking?

Banff National Park is an outdoor adventurer’s playground with hiking trails, blue glacial lakes, and snow-capped mountains. Johnston Canyon remains one of the top attractions in the park.

You can easily hike it and visit other nearby places like Moraine Lake or Lake Louise on the same day.

Whatever you do, enjoy it! Don’t rush and go prepared so you can get the most out of this memorable experience. 

Have you ever hiked Johnston Canyon in Alberta, Canada?

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