Johnston Canyon hike to upper falls

Johnston Canyon Hike to the Lower and Upper falls in Banff: 2023

Affiliate Disclosure

Are you thinking about doing the Johnston Canyon hike in Banff?

Visiting Johnston Canyon and hiking to see the lower and upper waterfalls is one of the most popular things to do in any Banff Jasper itinerary.

The hike is easy, well marked and doable by people of all abilities. With minimum effort, this hike rewards you with extraordinary views of the Johnston Canyon, Johnston Creek and multiple waterfalls!

If you have time to do only one hike in Banff, hike the natural and breathtaking Johnston Canyon and see the spectacular lower and upper waterfalls. The Johnston Canyon is carved by thousands of years of water erosion from the Johnston Creek.

This is one of the best and totally free things to do in Banff! Johnston Canyon is only around 30 minutes drive from Banff downtown making it very easy to visit.

On my family trip to the Canadian Rockies we visited Johnston Canyon and hiked all the way to the Upper falls. It was amazing and one of the best memories of the trip!

Where is Johnston Canyon?

Johnston Canyon is a scenic canyon in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. Johnston Canyon is in between Banff town and Lake Louise, along Bow Valley Parkway AB-1A route.

Johnston Canyon Trailhead
Johnston Canyon Trailhead

Is Johnston Canyon worth visiting?

Johnston Canyon is very popular for its scenic views of Johnston Creek, waterfalls, hiking trails, bridges, and blue spring pools called ‘Ink Pots’.

The hiking trails are very easy to do and rewarding with spectacular views with minimum effort, making the Johnston Canyon worth visiting and the Johnston Canyon hike one of the top things to do in Banff.

How to reach Johnston Canyon?

Johnston Canyon by car

The most convenient way to reach Johnston Canyon is by car. The parking lot at Johnston Canyon is free so if you are planning to rent a car in Banff or if you own a car, then driving to Johnston Canyon makes the most sense.

Johnston Canyon distance and driving times from:

  • Banff – 32 km/20 miles, around 30 minutes
  • Lake Louise – 33 km/ 21 miles, around 30 minutes

Johnston Canyon by E-bike

For an more scenic and adventurous day, you can go from Banff to Johnston Canyon on an E-bike tour with an experienced guide. The return back to Banff is via shuttle.

✅I recommend this small group guided E-bike tour to Johnston Canyon

Johnston Canyon by Public Transit

Alternatively, you can take the Roam transit bus Route Number 9 from Banff town to Johnston Canyon to avoid parking issues in the peak months of July and August.

Parking at Johnston Canyon

Parking at Johnston Canyon is free. There is a huge parking lot called P1 at the main trailhead. There is another parking lot called P2 a little further from the trailhead near the Johnston Canyon campground.

In the busy summer months of July and August, parking at Johnston Canyon can get full. So plan accordingly, you can take the Roam transit bus 9 to reach Johnston Canyon as well.

Johnston Canyon Hike Levels and Statistics

The Johnston Canyon hike has three levels. – Lower falls, Upper falls, and Ink Pots which are blue water spring pools that look like Ink Pots.

Trail sign and Cafe at the Johnston Canyon Trailhead
Trail sign and Cafe at the Johnston Canyon Trailhead

Johnston Canyon hike to the Lower Falls Statistics:

  • Trail Length: 1.4 miles/ 2.3 km out and back
  • Elevation: 344 feet / 105 m
  • Difficulty: Easy, paved, doable by most people
  • Time needed: Around 25 minutes one way to reach the lower falls from the Trailhead

Johnston Canyon hike to the Upper Falls Statistics:

  • Trail Length: 3.2 miles/5.1 km out and back from the Trailhead
  • Elevation: 859 feet / 262 m
  • Difficulty: Moderate, still doable by most people
  • Time needed: Around 1 hour one way to reach the upper falls from the Trailhead

From the lower falls, the hike to the upper falls is another 1.8 miles and around 500 feet elevation. The crowds here are much less than the lower falls trail.

After the upper falls, the hike to the Ink Pots is very strenuous with another 4 miles and around 1100 feet elevation.  

Johnston Canyon Hike to the Lower Falls Experience

Johnston Canyon hike to the Lower falls is a very easy scenic hike that is doable by people of all abilities.

The lower falls trail is paved the whole way and there is hand rail in most parts. The trail starts out with an easy walk on a dirt path along a pine forest. You can see the rushing Johnston creek next to the trail pretty much the entire time.

Johnston Canyon hike to lower falls
Johnston Canyon hike to lower falls

A little further into the hike you start walking along elevated boardwalks along the canyon wall. There are railings on the boardwalks and the trail path is wide. I was amazed at how well maintained the boardwalks are.

The lower falls can be reached in less than 30 minutes with enough stops for taking photos and admiring the canyon and the creek. To see the falls up-close, you have to cross the metal bridge and go across a small cave which is a tunnel in a canyon rock.

Johnston Canyon lower falls and the cave
Metal bridge that goes to Johnston Canyon hike lower falls and the cave

On busy days, there might be a line to get across the tunnel, make sure you don’t miss the view from the tunnel. The tunnel is short and takes hardly a couple of minutes. Watch your head as the tunnel ceiling is low!

Johnston Canyon hike lower falls
Johnston Canyon hike lower falls and the cave to the right

The tunnel/cave opens up to magnificent views of the lower falls. You will get soaked or at least sprayed with the mist from the falls as they are so close to the cave opening. It is definitely refreshing to feel the water from the falls after the hike.

Johnston Canyon Hike to the Upper Falls Experience

From the Lower falls the trail continues upwards to the Lower falls or you can go back to the trailhead. After the Lower falls, I recommend not to miss the Upper falls. It’s only around 30-40 minutes more from here to reach the Upper falls.

The Upper falls hike is a dirt trail and there is some incline. It is very important to stay on the designated trail here to protect the endangered Black Swift birds as the canyon is a nesting habitat for them.

The upper falls are really magnificent. It is quite humbling to see the water roar and drop from that height. There is a nice metal viewing platform built on the canyon for some great views. The mist from the waterfall is so welcoming after the hike! 

Johnston Canyon hike upper falls
Johnston Canyon hike Upper falls and viewing platform

Make sure to carry enough water for the hike as on a hot day you will need to stay hydrated to climb the incline to the upper falls.

The descent is fairly easy as it is all downhill. We made it all the way to the parking lot from the Upper falls in around 30 minutes. It was a total of 2-3 hours for the entire hike.

There is a restaurant at the base of the Johnston Canyon, a gift shop and restrooms. 

During winter months the waterfalls and Johnston creek freeze and you can walk in the frozen canyon through guided tours. 

Time needed: You will need an hour to hike up to the lower falls. To hike the upper falls you will need around 2 hours. Plan for 4 to 5 hours if you are hiking all the way to the Ink Pots.

Extending the Johnston Canyon Hike to the Ink Pots

If you started early in the day and want to explore beyond the Upper falls, the same trail takes you all the way to the Ink Pots which are blue water spring pools.

The hike to the Ink Pots is very strenuous with another 4 miles / 6.4 km and additional elevation of around 1100 feet / 335 m elevation.

It will take you another 2 hours to reach the Ink Pots from the upper falls. And a total of 1.5 to 2 hours to return all the way to the Trailhead from the Ink Pots.

There is an alternate trail to go to the Ink Pots from the Johnston Creek trailhead called the Moose Meadows route to Ink Pots.

Johnston Canyon Hike in Winter

Johnston Canyon is one of the rare hiking places that are accessible year round even when covered in snow. During the winter months of December to March the Canyon turns into a winter wonderland.

The trails and boardwalks are covered with snow making it ideal for snowshoeing or walking with ice cleats. The falls are frozen while flowing and it is just a spectacular sight of water frozen in time while flowing.

The snow and ice hanging from the Canyon walls is magical to see. No words can describe the beauty of the Canyon during winter nor can any pictures do it justice.

If you are not an experienced hiker in snow conditions, it is best to take an Ice walk tour and explore the canyons as part of a tour. The guide will provide a lot of information about the history of the canyon and wildlife.

✅I recommend this highly rated Johnston Canyon Icewalk tour with an experienced guide!

Johnston Creek
Johnston Creek

Johnston Canyon Travel Tips and FAQs

Below tips will be helpful to make the most of your visit to Johnston Canyon in Banff.

Do I need the Banff Park pass to hike Johnston Canyon?

Yes, as Johnston Canyon is inside the Banff National Park, you will need the Banff entry permit to reach Johnston Canyon.

How much does it cost to hike the Johnston Canyon?

Johnston Canyon parking and hike is free to all, as long as you have a valid National Park permit. You would need the permit to enter Banff National Park and reach Johnston Canyon. They do not check the permit again at Johnston Canyon.

Best time of the year to do the Johnston Canyon hike?

June to August are the best months to do the Johnston Canyon hike as the snow is melted and the waterfalls are full and roaring with water. I did this hike in early June and the trails were clear of snow and the waterfalls were really powerful.

Winter is a good time if you are interested in snowshoeing. Spring months of April and May might not be a good idea as the trail can be icy, wet and slippery.

Johnston Canyon hike
Johnston Canyon boardwalk

Best time of the day to do the Johnston Canyon hike?

Early in the morning and late in the evenings while it’s still daylight are the best times to do the Johnston Canyon hike. I did this hike with my family in the evening starting from the parking lot around 4 PM and it was perfect weather. The crowds were much less in the later part of the evening.

Are there restrooms at Johnston Canyon?

There are restrooms at the parking lot near the trailhead. There are no restrooms along the trail, so using them at the beginning of your hike might be a good idea!

Are dogs allowed at Johnston Canyon hike?

On-leash dogs are allowed at Johnston Canyon hike. We saw several dogs during the hike and they were on leash.

Stay on the designated trail to protect the Endangered Black Swift

In Johnston Canyon it is very important to stay on the designated trail paths, because the Canyon is a nesting habitat for the endangered Black Swift birds from Spring to early Fall.

Where to eat near Johnston Canyon hike?

The best option would be to pack a lunch and/or snacks with you to eat after the hike. There is a seasonal Café/Bistro at the Johnston Canyon Lodge and Bungalows at the start of the trailhead.

Banff town is only 30 minutes away with tons of restaurants to pick from.

Where to stay for Johnston Canyon hike?

The closest accommodation option would be the Johnston Canyon Lodge and Bungalows which is at the start of the Trailhead, near the parking lot. These are cabins in a forest setting with private bathrooms and kitchenettes.

Another beautiful chalet type accommodation is only 7 miles away at the Castle Mountain Chalets. Really nice cabins with mountain views, barbeque facilities, full kitchens.

Banff town makes a great base to explore Johnston Canyon and other activities in Banff. Moose Hotel and Suites is a great hotel to stay with an excellent location in Banff town. The suites have kitchenettes and living rooms making it ideal for families. You can walk to several restaurants and shops.

What else can you do after the Johnston Canyon hike?

Banff town is only around 30 minutes drive from Johnston Canyon and has a lot of activities to do like riding the Banff Gondola, taking a dip in the Banff hot springs, or strolling in Banff downtown and having dinner in a nice restaurant.

Lake Louise is 30 minutes in the other direction and is the most beautiful lake in the Canadian Rockies.

Icefields Parkway drive begins from Lake Louise and goes to Jasper and is an incredibly scenic drive with plenty of must do stops to see waterfalls and vistas.

Johnston Canyon hike
Johnston Canyon hike – well maintained trails with gorgeous scenery

What to pack for Johnston Canyon hike?

You don’t need much for the Johnston Canyon hike as it is well maintained and easy to walk on. Normal walking shoes or hiking boots should be fine. Below are some items to consider for the hike:

  • Water in a reusable water bottle
  • Snacks and maybe lunch
  • Sunscreen
  • Sunglasses
  • Cap or hat
  • Backpack with first aid kit and other essentials
  • Hiking shoes, sneakers will work too for this hike
  • Hiking poles are not needed for this hike but keep it if you need it for ascending / descending
  • Ice Cleats if hiking in the winter

Final Takeaways: Johnston Canyon Hike to Lower Falls, Upper Falls and Ink Pots

Johnston Canyon hike is a beautiful easy hike with well maintained trails. It is doable by most people and rewards you with amazing scenery of canyons, waterfalls, creeks and bridges with very minimum effort.

The hike to the lower falls can be finished in an hour and the hike to the upper falls can be finished in around 2 hours, making it very easy to combine with another activity in your trip to Banff and the Canadian Rockies.

Hope you enjoy this hike as much as we did and make awesome memories.

Related Posts

Check out other posts from my trip to the Canadian Rockies!