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Johnston Canyon is close to Banff and rated as an easy hike. The trail is mostly paved, with railings and bridges, and it takes you on a journey through a stunning hundred-foot-high canyon with beautiful trees, streams and waterfalls. Between Upper Falls, Lower Falls and the Ink Pots, there are lots of beautiful sights to see along the way.
Time Required: 3-4 Hours
Location: 38km west of Banff, AB
Distance: 11.4km round trip
Highest Elevation: 1440m
Elevation Gain: 330m
Difficulty: 3/10 – easy to follow trail with some elevation gain
Season: Year-Round – May require micro spikes in the winter
Additional Requirements: N/A
From Calgary: Take the Trans-Canada (Hwy 1) west approximately 121km to Bow Valley Parkway (Hwy 1A). Follow Hwy 1A 17.5 km east and the trailhead for Johnston Canyon will be on your right.
WHAT TO BRING
- Comfortable Footwear: Hiking shoes or a comfortable pair of sneakers. The trail has good footing and is easy to follow.
- Water: It is always a good idea to bring lots of water when hiking.
- Snacks: Bring some of your favorite snacks to enjoy along the hike. Some of our favorite snacks are trail mix, bananas, beef jerky and licorice.
- Weather appropriate clothing: You will be exposed to the elements throughout this hike. Check the weather forecast and plan accordingly.
- Strollers/Wheelchairs: The first part of this hike is wheelchair and stroller accessible. The trail can get very busy so if you can choose a time that’s less busy it may make the hike less stressful. Also note that strollers and wheelchairs can only make it to Lower Falls, the trail from there has uneven terrain and more elevation.
- Ice Cleats: If you decide to do this hike in the winter, the trail can become very icy from the change in temperature so ice cleats may be worth considering bringing.
- Sunscreen: If it is sunny and you’re like Mattson, who easily burns, bring sunscreen!
- Insect Repellent: Insect repellent can greatly improve your hiking experience.
- Bear Spray: You are in bear country. Always hike with bear spray that is easily accessible.
- Camera: There are numerous photo opportunities you won’t want to miss.
- This Guide: Print a copy of this guide to reference throughout the hike
Wildlife: You will be hiking in bear country. It is always advisable to check in at the local Visitor Information Center to learn of any trail closures due to wildlife. Carry bear spray in an easily accessible location. Travel in groups of multiple hikers and make lots of noise to avoid an unexpected encounter.
Leave No Trace: It is important that we enjoy the outdoors responsibly and sustainably. Some key principles to consider when hiking to “Leave No Trace” are:
- Plan ahead and prepare: Proper planning allows adventurers to hike safely while minimizing damage to the land.
- Travel on durable surfaces: Stick to the trail when possible. If there is no trail, or you must travel off trail, stay on durable surfaces to reduce your impact.
- Dispose of waste properly: Pack it in, pack it out.
- Leave what you find: Leave rocks, plants, archaeological artifacts and other objects of interest as you find them.
- Respect wildlife: Observe wildlife from a distance. Never feed wild animals.
- Be considerate of other visitors: Be courteous to others to allow everyone to enjoy their outdoor experience.
To learn more about “Leave No Trace” visit http://www.leavenotrace.ca
Summary: Johnston Canyon is a popular, straight forward, out and back hike. There is basically no need for directions as this is one of the most popular hikes in Banff and the trail is very well maintained. The highlights of the hike are Lower Falls, Upper Falls and the Ink Pots.
From the parking lot, enter the trail through the pretty obvious wooden arch that says Johnston Canyon at the North end of the parking lot (Route marker #1 on the map). From there you will follow a paved trail, very easy to follow, that has railings and steps and is manageable for all skill levels. The trail follows the canyon and eventually ends up at Lower Falls. The distance from the trailhead to Lower Falls (Route marker #2 on the map) is 1.2km with 50m elevation gain.
From Lower Falls to Upper Falls (Route marker #3 on the map) the trail gets slightly more challenging with 70m more elevation gain and 1.3km further to walk. Although the trail isn’t wheelchair accessible from Lower Falls on, it is still very manageable for nearly all skill levels. There may be a lineup of people waiting for their turn to take a picture at the Upper Falls.
If you have the energy and want your adventure to continue it is only another 3.2km and 210m elevation gain to reach the Ink Pots (Route marker #4 on the map). This trail is not paved and travels up through the forest then back down the other side of the ridge. Eventually the trail opens out of the trees to a nice meadow where you’ll find the Ink Pots. The Ink Pots are spring fed mineral pools that will occasionally bubble up and swirl with different colors. The Ink Pots are a great spot for a picnic before you begin your hike back.
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Have fun out there!