Johnston Canyon to Ink Pots in Banff National Park is a moderate 12km hike through the most beautiful landscapes of the Canadian Rockies you can do all year round. Deep canyon filled with countless waterfalls and even magical turquoise bubble pools at the end makes for a great half-day trip from Banff.
Visiting Johnston Canyon has been one of my earliest memories when we moved to Banff National Park years ago. We both worked for a travel company that provided their employees with free transport to the most picturesque places around Banff. We didn’t have a car, and public transport was nonexistent.
So we jumped on an opportunity to visit Johnston Canyon on a guided tour. Unfortunately, that only allowed us to visit the Lower Falls, what a shame.
Later I’ve read that the hike through Johnston Canyon to the Ink Pots is one of the most beautiful hikes in Banff. So next time, we hopped on our bikes and rode 25 km from Banff to the Johnston Canyon trailhead so we can hike the whole trail. And it was worth every sore muscle on my body.
Maybe that’s why we returned six years later to the Johnston Canyon to spend my birthday in the Canadian Rockies. The beauty of the Ink Pots and Johnston Canyon didn’t fade, although the popularity and consequently the rules on the trail changed dramatically.
After our numerous visits to the canyon, including the frozen wonderland during winter, it’s about time I tell you all about it, how you can visit and all the tips I’ve gathered so you can enjoy Johnston Canyon and Ink Pots yourself!
Visiting Banff soon? Read our comprehensive travel guides:
- Adventure travel guide to Banff National Park
- 100 things to do in Banff National Park
- Best time to visit Banff National Park
- 2-week Canadian Rockies itinerary
- Banff itinerary for 3 days
- Banff on a budget
Johnston Canyon Hike to Ink Pots
Without a doubt, the Johnston Canyon hike became one of the most popular in Banff National Park. During the high season in summer, there are Parks Canada rangers offering information about the hike and area. Passing the washroom, you will see a trail leading through a bridge across Johnston Creek. When you see Johnston Canyon Lodge and a small café, the trailhead is on your right.
Although it’s marked as a moderate hike, if you’re not a couch potato, I would say it’s easy (but not flat).
- Distance: 1.2 km one way
- Elevation gain: 30 m
You will be hiking on a well-trodden wide path all the way to the Ink Pots. Lower Falls are only 1.2 km one way from the lodge. Most of the trail is flat, paved, and follows Johnston Creek to the falls.
In a few sections, you will walk right above the turbulent turquoise waters of Johnston Canyon on catwalks. The final bridge at the Lower Falls will take you through a short rock tunnel to see the falls up close.
The picture below was taken in autumn several years ago. Nowadays, there’s usually a long line to get to the falls through the rock tunnel. It’s beautiful to see the falls up close so I suggest arriving early in the morning and getting there as soon as possible.
- Distance: 2.7 km one way
- Elevation gain: 30m
The main trail continues uphill along the creek with views of more waterfalls. Just 1.5 km further, you will arrive at Upper Falls (a favourite place for ice climbers during winter). There are two viewpoints:
- one is at the bottom accessed through a catwalk
- the other one offers a viewing platform from the top of the waterfall, and you can find it along the main trail
Only a few people continue further from Upper Falls to the Ink Pots, and I highly suggest you do so. You’ll leave the crowds behind and hike to a valley with bubbling colourful mineral pools.
Johnston Canyon Ink Pots
- Distance: 6 km one way
- Elevation gain: 335 m (4-5 hours round trip)
The last 2 km to the Ink Pots are on an even wider trail and uphill, with the last short section being totally flat. Once you arrive at a meadow surrounded by mountain peaks, you are at the Ink Pots. They consist of 5 blue-green pools that are cold mineral springs.
What you want to know about Johnston Canyon Ink Pots:
- the sandy bottom of the pools release air and water through little holes, so they are constantly bubbling
- every pool has a different colour; blue pools fill out faster than green pools
- the year-round temperature of the pools is 4C, and they never freeze
Johnston Canyon Ink Pots via Moose Meadows
This is an alternative route to or from Johnston Canyon Ink Pots.
If you hiked to Ink Pots, chances are it’s quite late in the day, and you will be fighting crowds on your way back to the parking lot.
An alternative option is to take the trail via Moose Meadows. When you’re coming back from Ink Pots, you’ll see a sign on your right side. It’s a trail through the forest which nobody takes and therefore provides an excellent option for the return. It ends at Moose Meadows parking lot (only a short walk away from Johnston Canyon parking lot).
How to get to Johnston Canyon
Driving to Johnston Canyon
Johnston Canyon is located in Banff National Park, just 25 km west of the town of Banff. Take Trans-Canada Highway heading west, and then take the exit to Bow Valley Parkway/1A.
Bow Valley Parkway (from Banff’s direction to Johnston Canyon) has a seasonal closure for all traffic from March 1 to June 25 from 8 pm to 8 am to give wildlife enough space and not disturb them.
If for any other reason, this section of the road is closed, you can still get to Johnston Canyon. You would take Trans-Canada Highway to Castle Junction and access Johnston Canyon from the west side.
The trailhead to Johnston Canyon is clearly marked along the highway.
Johnston Canyon parking
Johnston Canyon has one main parking lot with public washrooms. It gets full early in the morning during summer, so you might need to use the overflow parking lot just before you reach Johnston Canyon or park along the road further away from the trailhead.
Another option would be to use the parking lot at Moose Meadows. If you’re driving from Banff, it’s about 1.5 km north of Johnston Canyon.
In summer, from late June to mid-September, when the parking situation is the worst, you can take a shuttle bus from Banff to Johnston Canyon, check out the Roam schedule here.
Accommodation near Johnston Canyon
If you’d like to stay in the Johnston Canyon area, you have several options:
- Camping: you can reserve Johnston Canyon Campground through this website
The campground is located just across the start of the trailhead to Johnston Canyon. It’s available from May 26 to September 25 and has picnic shelters, hot showers and flush toilets. The fee is 29.25 CAD + 9.25 CAD for a fire pit (if you wish to use it).
It’s an ideal place if you’re planning a multi-day hike that starts from the Ink Pots or if you want to be closer to Lake Louise and Moraine Lake.
If you’re looking for an adventurous trip and have freedom over your day while staying in campgrounds, book a Smile Campervan from us – a budget, family & pet-friendly option.
Camping in summer offers you the most freedom while enjoying being in nature and staying on a budget. Read our comprehensive guide about camping in Banff National Park for all camping options and lots of pictures of the campgrounds.
- Lodges & bungalows – the closest and best rated are: Johnston Canyon Lodge & Bungalows if you’re looking for a romantic getaway; Castle Mountain Chalets right by the Bow River & Baker Creek Mountain Resort in Lake Louise.
- Stay in Banff – it’s the closest town with plenty of hostels and hotels to choose from
Tips for visiting Johnston Canyon
Johnston Canyon hiking tips
Johnston Canyon trail is free year-round.
A small cafe is at the beginning of the trail with refreshments, such as drinks, sandwiches, and ice cream. Washrooms are available at the parking lot.
Before you go hiking any trail in the Rockies, check current trail conditions on Trail Report from Parks Canada.
Johnston Canyon cave
Beware that it’s forbidden to enter the cave during summer when the signs indicate the closure. It is due to the restoration of the area and protection of nesting black swifts. Parks Canada is regularly on patrol giving fines to disrespectful visitors.
Johnston Canyon cave (between Lower and Upper Falls) can be visited in winter only.
Johnston Canyon guided tour
A guided tour in Johnston Canyon is available, departing from Banff. However, you don’t need a guide for this hike. Maybe if you don’t have a car or want to save yourself a headache from the parking situation, this might be a good option.
National park pass
To visit any national park in Canada, you are required to purchase a Park Pass (daily or yearly).
- 10.50 CAD per person for a daily pass, 21 CAD for a group/family
- 72.25 CAD per person for a yearly pass, 145.25 CAD for a group/family
The yearly Discovery Pass is valid for all National parks in Canada. You can purchase it at the gate when you enter the national park, in the Visitor’s Centre or online here.
On Bow Valley Parkway, there’s usually a bunch of mountain sheep snacking on grass or salt from the highway. Wildlife often frequents the road, and therefore the speed limit is 60km/h. If you drive early in the morning or later in the evening, there’s a good chance to see an elk and maybe even a bear along the road.
See our post wildlife in Canada for the best tips on where to spot some amazing animals.
Visit the Parks Canada website to learn about your and wildlife’s safety. It’s not allowed to feed any wildlife, even squirrels which you will see plenty of.
If you want to stop & watch, please be aware of other cars and signal that you’ve stopped. You should never approach wildlife and only observe from the distance. If you’re outside the car, you have to be at least 100 meters from a bear and 30 meters from elk (otherwise, you face very high fines).
Remember this: If you approach an animal, it might get scared and charges you. Parks Canada has to put down any animal that charges people, so you will be responsible for its death.
Packing list for Johnston Canyon Hike to Ink Pots
Bear in mind that you’re deep in the canyon so the temperature is always lower than elsewhere.
Our hiking essentials include:
- Paper map of the area and downloaded map of the hike on the phone (even though you don’t need one for Johnston Canyon)
- External battery for the phone (especially for using GPS on the phone)
- Lifestraw water bottle with a filter so we can drink from anywhere
- Extra snacks
- Windproof & waterproof jacket (yes, in summer as well)
- Fleece or down jacket as unexpected snowstorms happen in summer
- My absolute favourite trail running shoes
- Bear Spray
And a few other items as well. For a full list of our gear, check out our hiking packing list for summer in the mountains. You can see the full list with links to purchase our favourite gear on our Amazon page.
Johnston Canyon swimming/cliff jumping
Swimming at Johnston Canyon is not forbidden. However, to reach Johnston Creek, you would need to go off-trail which is very damaging to the environment. I know a girl who swam underneath the Lower Falls in winter, but unless you’re very experienced, I don’t recommend swimming in winter or getting close to the powerful waterfall in summer.
If you’d like to refresh after the hike, you can dip your legs in the Johnston Creek below the bridge close to the lodge (at the beginning of the trail). There’s a small path leading to the creek. Otherwise, I recommend swimming at Johnson Lake, close to Banff, which is a very popular swimming spot in summer.
As far as I’m aware, there’s no cliff jumping at Johnston Canyon. Although I love cliff jumping and would love to try it at Johnston Canyon, it would be very hard to climb above the falls. And once again, it would require going off-trail.
Swimming or even dipping your legs in Ink Pots is forbidden, as posted signs say.
If you’re hiking in the Canadian Rockies, you’re hiking in a bear country. You should always carry a bear spray (can be purchased at Visitor’s Centre or outdoor stores), know when and how to use it and make noise while hiking (to let bears and other wildlife know that you’re there, so you don’t scare them)! Carefully read these instructions on how to behave around bears.
Even though Johnston Canyon is a very popular place with lots of people, Parks Canada advises carrying a bear spray within reach at all times. You can purchase one at outdoor stores in Banff or ask at your hotel who might rent it to you for a daily fee for your hikes.
More hiking trails in Banff & Canadian Rockies
- Healy Pass – takes you through the sea of wildflowers
- Mount St. Piran – to see the famous Lake Louise from above
- Aylmer Lookout – day trip, backpacking trip or bike & hike trip above Lake Minnewanka
- Sulphur Mountain – you can hike up the hill and take the gondola down
- Rockbound Lake – trail leading to an alpine lake and starting close to Johnston Canyon
- Ha Ling Peak in Canmore – newly opened after major construction it can be hiked in winter as well
- Grassi Lakes in Canmore – an easy and gorgeous hike
- Floe Lake in Kootenay National Park – a lesser-known gem with a turquoise lake with a giant wall in the background
Love hiking? Read our post 20 best hikes in Banff National Park and the 15 best day hikes near Calgary.
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What do you think about Johnston Canyon Ink Pots? Worth a visit? Let us know your experience if you’ve been.
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