Johnston Canyon’s parking lot is only 25 minutes away from Banff making it one of the closest hikes to town. Like my advice for almost anything and everything, make sure to get there early! We arrived around 8:00 in the morning and made it into the main parking lot easily. There were only a handful of other hikers and families hiking when we arrived so it was nice to have some space while hiking the narrow walkways. If you’re not a morning person and decide to hit the trail around midday, be prepared to hike in a single file line behind heaps of people. The good news is that the crowd does thin out some after the first waterfall (but is still pretty crowded).
One of the coolest part about hiking Johnston Canyon is the fact that you are right in the canyon. They constructed walkways with safety rails and bridges that are attached to the sheer canyon walls and if you are afraid of heights like I am, it can be nerve-racking during some portions of the trail. I definitely made use of the safety rails and didn’t look down during the sketchy parts (even when I felt one of the cement planks move and my heart skipped a beat).
As you hike, you can hear the sound of the creek below you which just adds to the long list of what makes this place so great. I would also love to hike this trail in the winter and see everything frozen and covered in snow. I’ve read that in the winter time, people go ice climbing in the canyon and it’s a cool sight to see.
Lower Falls is half a mile from the trailhead and Upper Falls is a mile after that. In between Lower and Upper Falls, you can find the not so secret hidden cave. If you have time, definitely take the detour to see the cave. Trust me, it will be worth it. If you have a lot of time, check out the Ink Pots. These cool springs are about another mile and a half past Upper Falls. We didn’t have enough time to get all the way to the Ink Pots (cause a. we got a little lost looking for the cave, and b. we wanted to see Peyto Lake in the afternoon), but I would love to see them the next time we are up in Banff. I will have to say that the hike back to the parking lot was a little bit more “camera friendly” than it was in the morning. Since you’re hiking in a canyon, direct sunlight doesn’t really make an appearance until midday. But either way, I seriously took so many pictures during this hike.
Johnston Canyon Hike
The parking situation at Johnston Canyon is a lot better than some places (like Moraine Lake) but definitely still come early. By late morning and the afternoon, the trail gets super crowded and it gets hard to walk on the narrow walkways especially since the route is “out and back”. Bring bug spray! Mosquitos love the moist dark environment of the canyon and we definitely saw some big boys out there. If you’re hiking all the way to the Ink Pots, take plenty of water with you (and some food). It’s a much longer hike and according to a lot of people, it’s a great picnic spot.