- 1.2 km, 30m elevation gain to Lower Falls (from trailhead)
- 2.4km, 90m elevation gain to Upper Falls (from trailhead)
- Boardwalk through canyon, some uneven ground and stairs but very family-friendly
Johnston Canyon is the main staple on the Bow Valley Parkway, Highway 1A where we send visitors looking for wildlife, for a unique waterfall experience near the Banff township, or who want a more scenic drive up to Lake Louise. Only 30 minutes away by car, but also accessible by bike or shuttle (coming soon this summer!), Johnston Canyon is best visited in the early hours of the morning or later in the evening to avoid the hordes of tour bus guests.
This time I visited Johnston Canyon with Julie, Cristel and two lovely french friends they’d just met: Marianne and Mathilde. Together, we piled into my taxi car in the late afternoon and headed over! It’s only 1.2 km and a 30m elevation gain to the Lower Falls, which you can reach quickly from the parking lot in 15-20 minutes. The best time of year to visit the falls are about two weeks ago, in April-May when the waterfall is both partially frozen and thundering with melted water. By the time we went in mid-May, the waterfall had completely unfrozen, which is beautiful in its own way.
We continued along the boardwalk which was almost completely unfrozen to the Upper Falls. They are an extra 1.2 km and 90m elevation gain from the Lower Falls (total 2.4 km and 120m from parking lot, one-way). It takes an average person about 45 minutes to make their way up, and more if you’re stopping often to take photos of the smaller waterfalls and of the canyon along the way! But, once you’ve reached the end of the boardwalk right at the base of them, you’ll find yourself staying for longer to admit the power of these falls. In the wintertime, you’ll also be stunned by the frozen water and snow along the canyon walls, and if you’re lucky enough you’ll spot a couple of ice climbers!
The real secret to the Upper Falls is continuing on the trail towards the Inkpots. About 5 minutes up the path from boardwalk end point, you’ll find yourself at the top of the Upper Falls – a much more impressive viewpoint in my opinion! For those who have the time and relish some extra work, they can continue along the Inkpots trail to an open meadow with blue-green ponds, nicknamed the Inkpots. These are only an additional 3.0 km and 210m gain. Not bad if you want to turn it into a half-day hike! We decided not to continue on as the Bow Valley Parkway closes from 8:00pm – 8:00am at this time of year, and we didn’t want to find ourselves on the wrong side of the barrier! (We did make a quick detour though to the secret hidden cave to see the Pirate Rock!)
This is a really great, family friendly and easily-accessible hike right near Banff. As long as you time it right or don’t mind the crowds in the summertime, it’s definitely worth a visit!