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Johnston Canyon Hike What You Need to Know

Johnston Canyon Hike: What You Need to Know

Heading to Banff National Park to take on the Johnston Canyon hike? It’s definitely worth it. We should know – several of our staff have taken on the trail multiple times! 

If you need a little help from those who’ve gone before you, you’re on the right page. Our comprehensive guide to the Johnston Canyon hike covers everything from the best time to go to what to bring. Let’s begin!

Overview of Johnston Canyon Hike

Location: Bow Valley Pkwy, Improvement District No. 9, AB T1L 1K2, Canada
Length: Approximately 2-3 hours (there and back) and covers just under 6.0 km
Difficulty Level: Easy
Parking: 6.2 km down the road from Castle Junction (parking is free, but passes are required)
Facilities: Johnston Canyon Lodge, Banff cabins, heated washroom, cafe and bistro, gift shop, bike racks
Notable features: Waterfalls, catwalks and bridges, The Ink Pots, wildlife

What is there to see at the Johnston Canyon hike?

What is there to see at the Johnston Canyon hike

There’s a lot to see at the Johnston Canyon hike, such as an adventure through the Canadian Rockies that will take you through forests, alongside Johnston Creek, and up close and personal with some stunning waterfalls.

The trail starts off easy, with a leisurely walk through the forest alongside the creek. You’ll pass by the gorgeous Lower Falls and a bridge that serves as a perfect viewpoint for awesome photos.

As you continue up the canyon, you’ll encounter more waterfalls and even some catwalks that lead you over Johnston Creek. The Upper Falls are particularly impressive, with two viewing platforms that give you an incredible view from above.

Plus, if you’re up for a bit more of a hike, you can continue on to the Ink Pots, which are a series of colorful mineral springs that bubble up from the ground. 

When is the best time to visit Johnston Canyon?

The best time to visit Johnston Canyon is in the spring, fall, and winter months due to milder weather, fewer crowds, and the chance to experience a winter wonderland with frozen waterfalls and snow-covered trees.

The trail can get pretty busy during the summer, so if you want to avoid the crowds and enjoy a more peaceful hike, the shoulder seasons are your best bet.

If you want to go in winter, that can also be a good idea. The canyon is transformed into a white wonderland, with frozen waterfalls and snow-covered trees. 

It’s a completely different experience than hiking in the warmer months and one that’s definitely worth considering. Just make sure you’re prepared for the colder temperatures and slippery trails.

What are the peak hours to avoid at the Johnston Canyon hike?

It’s best to avoid the peak hours at the Johnston Canyon hike between 10:00 AM. and 4:00 PM during the summer months (June to August). Weekdays are generally less busy than weekends, so plan your visit accordingly.

During peak hours, the narrow trail and boardwalk can become congested, making it difficult to move freely and enjoy the scenery. Visiting early or late in the day also allows you to enjoy the hike at your own pace without feeling rushed or surrounded by other hikers.

How do I get to the Johnston Canyon hike?

To get to the Johnston Canyon hike, you will need to drive from either Banff or Lake Louise. The recommended route is to take the TransCanada Highway and exit at Castle Junction, then turn onto the Bow Valley Parkway.

If you’re starting from Banff town to get to Johnston Canyon, it’s about a 25 km drive to the Canyon. For those coming from Lake Louise, it’s roughly 33 km along the Bow Valley Parkway

The quickest route is to take the TransCanada highway to exit AB-93N (Castle Junction), and then take a right turn onto the Bow Valley Parkway. The parking lot is just 6.2 km down the road from Castle Junction.

But, here’s a secret tip for you – if you’re in the mood for a picturesque drive, take the entire Bow Valley Parkway from Banff to Lake Louise and stop at Johnston Canyon along the way. 

1. Getting to Johnston Canyon by Car

Driving is probably the most convenient option. The good news is that there’s a parking lot right by the trail, so you won’t have to walk too far.

In case the parking lot is full, don’t worry! There’s an overflow parking lot nearby and even a campground at Johnston Canyon.

Here are your options for driving:

  • If you’re coming from Calgary, just take the Trans-Canada Highway towards Banff, then turn right onto Bow Valley Parkway until you reach the parking lot at Johnston Canyon. 
  • If you’re coming from the other direction, you can simply hop on Bow Valley Parkway in town and follow it for 40 minutes until you reach the canyon. 
  • If you’re short on time, taking the faster route via Trans-Canada Highway and turning left at Castle Junction is also an option.

2. Getting to Johnston Canyon by Tour

Now, if you’re not feeling up to driving or prefer the convenience of a guided tour, there are options for you to consider when getting to the Johnston Canyon hike.

If you’re visiting during the off-season or simply want everything arranged on your behalf, you can book a tour from Banff or even Calgary. 

GetYourGuide and Radventures both offer shuttle services and tours to Johnston Canyon in the winter and off-season, so you can still experience this must-visit spot even when the weather gets cold.

And if you want to make the most of your time in Banff, consider the Hop On Hop Off Tour, which will take you to many of the main destinations like Lake Louise and Moraine Lake in addition to Johnston Canyon. 

So sit back, relax, and let someone else do the driving while you enjoy the scenery.

3. Getting to Johnston Canyon by Hop-on-hop-off Bus

If you don’t have access to a car during your trip, there’s no need to worry about missing out on hiking Johnston Canyon. You can opt for a hop-on hop-off bus one-day ticket, which departs from Banff and takes you to some of the top attractions in the area, including Johnston Canyon.

This is a great alternative, especially if you’re short on time and want to make the most of your day in Banff. Plus, you won’t have to worry about driving or finding parking.

4. Getting to Johnston Canyon by Public Transport

You can also take advantage of the Roam Route 9 bus service from Banff to Johnston Canyon. This service runs between the end of June and mid-September, and the schedule may vary each year, so be sure to check their website before your trip.

The fare for a return trip should cost around CAD 6, but there are also passes available if you plan on using the service multiple times. It’s the best option if you want something cost-effective.

5. Getting to Johnston Canyon through Bike

Are you feeling adventurous? Renting a bike and cycling to Johnston Canyon is a unique and fun way to get there!

Starting from Downtown Banff, you can cycle along the picturesque Legacy Trail until you reach the beginning of the Bow Valley Parkway, which leads to Johnston Canyon. Don’t forget to bring a lock so you can secure your bike while you hike to the canyon!

10 Tips to Remember for the Johnston Canyon Hike

Whether you’re a seasoned hiker or a first-timer, it’s always important to be prepared when hitting the trails. That’s why we’ve put together this list of 10 tips to remember for the Johnston Canyon hike. 

From safety tips to preparation advice, we want to ensure you have a safe and enjoyable experience while exploring one of Banff’s most iconic destinations. 

Grab your hiking shoes and let’s dive in!

  1. Stick to the designated trail: The trail is there for a reason, so stick to the marked path and avoid taking shortcuts. It’s designed to keep you safe and minimize your impact on the environment.
  1. Watch for wildlife: It’s not uncommon to see wildlife like bears and cougars along the trail, so be sure to read up on wildlife safety before you go. Make noise to avoid surprising animals and always be alert.
  1. Bring plenty of water: Staying hydrated is key on any hike, and Johnston Canyon is no exception. Bring plenty of water and consider a water filtration system to refill along the way.
  1. Dress in layers: The weather in the Rockies can be unpredictable, so it’s important to dress in layers. Bring a waterproof jacket in case of rain, and wear comfortable, sturdy shoes.
  1. Pack snacks: Hiking can take a lot out of you, so be sure to pack some snacks to keep your energy levels up. Some trail mix, fruit, or energy bars can be a great pick-me-up!
  1. Use sunscreen: The sun can be intense at higher altitudes in this area, so protect your skin by applying sunscreen before you head out.
  1. Respect the environment: We all want to enjoy the beauty of Johnston Canyon, so let’s do our part to keep it pristine. Pack out what you pack in and follow Leave No Trace principles by not littering or leaving any trash behind.
  1. Stay alert: Keep your eyes and ears open as you hike, especially around waterfalls or narrow pathways. Watch your footing and stay aware of your surroundings.
  1. Bring a map: Even though the trail is well-marked, it’s always a good idea to bring a map in case you need to double-check your location. Plus, it can be a fun way to learn more about the area!
  1. Check the weather forecast: Weather can change rapidly in the Rockies, so check the forecast before you head out. Avoid hiking during thunderstorms or other dangerous weather conditions, and be prepared for anything the weather might throw your way.

An Optional Side Trip and Nearby Attractions 

After completing the Johnston Canyon hike, you might want to consider extending your adventure by exploring some of the nearby trails, as well as dining or lodging options in the area. We’ve listed our recommendations below.

1. Ink Pots Trail 

The Ink Pots Trail is a popular side trip for visitors to Johnston Canyon. We mentioned it earlier in the article, but it’s worth highlighting again as it’s a fantastic extension to the main hike. 

The trail is a slightly challenging 5.6-kilometer round trip and will take you to a series of natural pools known as the Ink Pots. The pools are a beautiful turquoise color and are a great spot for a picnic or a dip if you’re brave enough to take the plunge. 

2. Mount Lady Macdonald

Another nearby attraction worth considering is Mount Lady Macdonald, which offers spectacular panoramic views of the surrounding mountains. This hike is much more challenging than the Johnston Canyon hike. 

However, if you’re up for the challenge, the reward is well worth it. The hike starts at Cougar Creek Trailhead and takes approximately 4-6 hours round trip. 

Along the way, you’ll encounter steep inclines, rocky terrain, and some scrambling sections. Once you reach the top, you’ll be rewarded with stunning views of the Bow Valley and Canmore.

3. Johnston Canyon Secret Cave

Heard of the Johnston Canyon Secret Cave? It’s definitely an attraction we recommend.

The secret cave at Johnston Canyon is located before the Upper Falls. Look for a dirt trail to your right about 130-150 meters before the Upper Falls viewing platform. It’s a steep descent and can be slippery, so be careful.

Once you reach the cave, you’ll be rewarded with the same stunning view you’ve seen on Instagram. Just remember: the cave is closed to the public from May to November. You could face a fine of up to $25,000 if you try to visit during that time. 

4. Johnston Canyon Cabins

For those who are searching for top-notch lodging and dining options in the Johnston Canyon vicinity, look no further than the Johnston Canyon Cabins. 

These cabins are family-owned, and they provide some of the most exquisite cabin-style accommodations in Alberta, conveniently located right at the beginning of the Johnston Canyon hike.

With 42 cabins of varying sizes and amenities, you’re sure to find the perfect fit for your needs. And with luxury amenities like a wood-burning fireplace, flat-screen TV, and bathrobes, you’ll feel like you’re staying in the lap of luxury.

But the amenities don’t stop there. The Johnston Canyon Cabins also operate the Black Swift Bistro and the Market Cafe, which are the only dining options along the whole parkway. 

5. Castle Mountain Chalets

Nestled in the serene Castle Junction, just 8 minutes away from the Johnston Canyon, lies one of the best lodging options in the area – Castle Mountain Chalets.  With stunning mountain views, this accommodation is perfect for those who love nature and adventure.

Their chalets come equipped with a fully-equipped kitchen, a flat-screen TV, and a private bathroom with free toiletries. They also offer a business center, free WiFi access, and free private parking. 

If you’re interested in outdoor activities, Castle Mountain Chalets is the perfect base camp. With hiking, skiing, and fishing all possible within the area, you’ll have plenty to do during your stay. 

Plus, the lodge even offers a ski pass sales point for your convenience. What’s not to like?

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