Johnston Canyon in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada is a great 2 hour hike that takes you through some of the best scenery the Rockies has to offer. #travel #daytrip #hiking

Banff’s Best Easy Hike: Johnston Canyon

Johnston Canyon is one of those places in Banff that feels unreal. The walkway through the canyon clings to the side of the cliff and takes you along the teal water past multiple waterfalls. I’ve done this hike both as a day trip from Calgary and as part of a three day trip to Banff. This easy hike really is not to be missed if you are visiting Banff.

Even though Johnson Canyon is a popular hike, it remains my favourite hike in Banff. I’ve done the hike multiple times and plan to do it on future visits to Banff as well. Another favourite hike in the area is Grassi Lakes near Canmore.

This post contains affiliate links, If you make a purchase through these links I will earn a commission at no extra cost to you. Thank you!

Getting to Johnston Canyon

From Calgary, you can arrive at Johnston Canyon in about 2 hours of driving. To get to the canyon, you need to take the Bow Valley Parkway (Highway 1A), which branches off of the TransCanada Highway after the town of Banff. Even if you aren’t stopping at Johnston Canyon, the Bow Valley is a scenic drive, although slower than the TransCanada.

Johnston Canyon is a hotspot for tourism so it is always busy and can be difficult to find parking. It is definitely one of the busiest hikes in the park. I’ve always managed to find parking here though, although sometimes it is on the roadside instead of in the parking lot. After parking, there is a small bridge that takes you to the trail. There is also a small gift shop and café here if you want to grab a bite to eat or a drink. There are no bathrooms on the trail route so it’s best to make use of the one near the parking lot.

Hiking Johnston Canyon, Banff National Park

The trail is divided into three sections, the Lower Falls, Upper Falls, and the Ink Pots. The Lower and Upper Falls are both very easy hikes, as the trail is quite wide and even with only moderately uphill sections. It’s well maintained and the highlight of the trail is easily the boardwalk through the canyon.

You don’t need to be physically fit and really only need to bring water and a camera. I’ve seen people in flip flips here so just wear comfortable shoes. The hike to the Lower and Upper Falls could easily be done by children. It takes about 2 hours to hike to the Upper Falls and back.

I have to admit despite wanting to hike to the Ink Pots, I always spend so much time on the drive and hike taking photos that I never leave myself with enough time. One day I will make it though.

There aren’t many opportunities to see wildlife on these trails other than squirrels and chipmunks.

Lower Falls

The hike to the Lower Falls will give you many photo opportunities. The hike takes you on a scenic boardwalk through the canyon. Depending on the time of year you visit, the water will vary between light aqua-green to a vibrant emerald colour. You can even hike Johnston Canyon in winter. No matter the season, Johnston Canyon is a beautiful hike.

Near the beginning of the hike, you are closer to the river level before walking up higher on the boardwalk.

At the end of the hike, the walkway to view the Lower Falls can be crowded. However, with a bit of patience, it’s never been a problem. There is a small cave you can go through here to get close to the spray of the waterfall. If you want to take photos with a tripod, try to go outside of the hours of 10am-4pm.

The Upper Falls

The Upper Falls is walk is enjoyable as the crowds have thinned out a little bit. This part of the hike is also where some of my favourite parts of the canyon are.  There is another waterfall on the way as well as deep canyons and colourful canyon walls.

A bend in the river is a very popular spot to take a photo. Many people go off-trail to get down to the river and the small cliff overhang, but to avoid cliff erosion you should stay on the trail. This unofficial trail was closed by park officials in 2018. The cave here is the only known nesting site of Black Swifts in Alberta. Because of tourists (including myself!) visiting this cave, the number of nesting pairs at this site has dramatically dropped. I definitely won’t be going off-trail at Johnston Canyon in the future having known this.

Just before the Upper Falls are these cliff sides that are a vibrant yellow-ochre colour.

At the end of the hike to the Upper Lakes, you are rewarded with this view of a waterfall. It isn’t the grandest waterfall in Banff but it is a logical endpoint to the hike at Johnston Canyon.

The Canyon and Bow Valley Parkway

Overall, despite being a busy trail, this is my favourite hiking trail in Banff. There are just so many scenic points along this hike. You can spend about two hours or more here, depending on how many times you stop for photos.

Castle Mountain can be seen on the scenic drive of the Bow Valley Parkway. This spectacular mountain is one of the most beautiful and unique in Banff.
Castle Mountain on the Bow Valley Parkway

Definitely worthy of a day trip from Calgary or as a stop on your Banff vacation. If continuing on to Lake Louise, stay on the Bow Valley Parkway for a scenic drive. On the way you can stop and see Castle Mountain.  

On the opposite side of the road as Castle Mountain is this fantastic view of the river and railroad. The whole road is filled with scenery like this, just pull over whenever you see a small parking lot or signs.

Morant's Curve on the Bow Valley Parkway is a scenic viewpoint in Banff National Park that takes in the Bow River and the curve of the railway track with mountains in the background. It's famous for being used in many railway ads in Canada as it is one of the most scenic parts of the railway.
Morant’s Curve on the Bow Valley Parkway

Like this? Pin it for Later!

Similar Posts


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *