Johnston Canyon Hike 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. A deep canyon filled with countless waterfalls and magical turquoise mineral 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 first visited Johnston Canyon on a guided tour, which only allowed us to see the Lower Falls. But once I learnt that Johnston Canyon Hike to the Ink Pots is one of the most beautiful hikes in Banff, we hopped on our bikes and rode 25 km from Banff to the Johnston Canyon trailhead so we could hike the whole trail. Since then, it’s been one of our favourite day trips from Calgary.

Johnston Canyon hike to Ink Pots

We returned to Johnston Canyon many times; the beauty of the Ink Pots and Johnston Canyon didn’t fade, although the popularity and rules on the trail changed dramatically.

After numerous visits to the canyon, including the frozen wonderland during winter, it was time to write a Johnston Canyon travel guide.

Johnston Canyon hike to Ink Pots

This blog post includes:

  • Detailed description of the trail to Lower & Upper Falls and Ink Pots (including a secret route without the crowds)
  • How to get to Johnston Canyon
  • Accommodation near Johnston Canyon
  • Essential info for visiting: wildlife encounters & safety, guided trips, packing list, and more
  • Insider tips so you can enjoy Johnston Canyon and Ink Pots to the fullest

Is Johnston Canyon open in 2023?

Yes, it is. Johnston Canyon is fully open in 2023. The confusion behind the rumours that the Johnston Canyon Hike is closed stems from the seasonal closure of Bow Valley Parkway (although part of Johnston Canyon was closed in 2022 due to construction). But there’s also an alternate route, so you can always get to Johnston Canyon.

Bow Valley Parkway, the main road from Banff to Johnston Canyon, is closed seasonally as a part of Parks Canada’s biking pilot project from 2022 to 2024. Bow Valley Parkway (the eastern section) is closed to public vehicle traffic from 8 am to 8 pm daily, from May 1 to June 25, 2023 and then again from September 1 to September 30, 2023, to allow cyclists an amazing car-free biking experience.

During that time, you can bike the 17 km road to Johnston Canyon or use an alternate route via the Trans-Canada Highway with an exit at Castle Junction (see below).

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.

While there’s a big parking lot with many additional parking spots along the road, it fills up quickly. I suggest arriving at the Johnston Canyon parking lot at 10 am during the summer week and by 8 am during the weekend.

A heated washroom facility with a water fountain is outside to fill your water bottle. 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 Johnston Canyon Hike is officially marked as a moderate hike, if you’re not a couch potato, I would say it’s easy (but not flat).

Johnston Canyon Hike consists of:

  • Lower Falls
  • Upper Falls
  • Ink Pots

Let’s talk about each section in more detail.

Johnston Canyon hike to Ink Pots

Johnston Canyon Lower Falls

  • Distance: 1.2 km one way
  • Hiking time: 1 hour round-trip
  • Elevation gain: 30 m

You will be hiking on a well-trodden wide path all the way to the Ink Pots. Johnston Canyon 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.

Johnston Canyon hike to Ink Pots

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, a truly stunning view year-round, whether you like to be sprayed by the waterfall in summer or admire the frozen beauty in winter.

The first picture below was taken in the off-season. The second was taken in the summer mid-day. As you can see, it gets incredibly busy.  Seeing the falls up close is beautiful, so I suggest arriving early in the morning and getting there as soon as possible.

Johnston Canyon hike to Ink Pots

Johnston Canyon Upper Falls

  • Distance: 2.7 km one way
  • Hiking time: 2 hours round-trip
  • Elevation gain: 30m

The main trail continues uphill along the creek with views of more waterfalls. Just 1.5 km further from the Lower Falls, 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

Upper Falls at Johnston Canyon

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 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.

Johnston Canyon hike to Ink Pots

What you want to know about Johnston Canyon Ink Pots:

  • The sandy bottom of the pools releases 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 hike to Ink Pots

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 return from Ink Pots, you’ll see a sign on your right side (before reaching the Upper Falls). It’s a trail through the forest that nobody takes, providing an excellent option for the return. It ends at the Moose Meadows parking lot (a short walk 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 Banff. Take the 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 September 1 to September 30, from 8 pm to 8 am.

If this section of the road is closed for any other reason, you can still get to Johnston Canyon. You would take the Trans-Canada Highway to Castle Junction and access Johnston Canyon from the west.

The trailhead to Johnston Canyon is 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.

 

Shuttle bus to Johnston Canyon

In the high season, from mid-May to the beginning of October, when parking is the worst, you can take a shuttle bus from Banff to Johnston Canyon. It operates daily from May 14, 2023, to October 15, 2023, and then on weekends and holidays only throughout the rest of the year. Check out the Roam schedule here.

Johnston Canyon hike to Ink Pots

Accommodation near Johnston Canyon

If you’d like to stay in the Johnston Canyon area, you have several options:

Camping at Johnston Canyon Campground

The Johnston Canyon Campground is located just across the start of the trailhead to Johnston Canyon. It’s available and has.

  • Operating dates: from May 25 to September 25, 2023
  • Amenities: picnic shelters, hot showers, flush toilets, dump station, drinking water
  • Fees: 29.25 CAD (+ 9.50 CAD/day for a fire permit).
  • Reserve your campsite here

It’s ideal if you’re planning a multi-day hike that starts from the Ink Pots or want to be closer to Lake Louise and Moraine Lake.

Johnston Canyon hike to Ink Pots

TIP
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 pictures of the campgrounds.

Lodges & bungalows near Johnston Canyon

  • Johnston Canyon Lodge & Bungalows is right at the Johnston Canyon trailhead. They offer on-site dining and cozy accommodations with a fireplace. Check the prices and reviews here.
  • Castle Mountain Chalets are located at Castle Junction, about 6 km north of Johnston Canyon Trailhead, right by the Bow River. They offer cozy cabins in the forest with a fully equipped kitchen. Check the prices and reviews here.
  • Baker Creek by Basecamp is about 20 km north of Johnston Canyon. They offer a log cabin design with kitchenettes or kitchens, a fireplace, a fitness centre, a steam room, a sauna & ice skating rink in winter. Check the prices and reviews here.

Stay in Lake Louise

Lake Louise is the closest town, with plenty of hostels and hotels. We enjoyed our stay at Lake Louise Inn, with its warm pool and hot tubs. Check their prices and reviews here.

Our recommended places to stay in Lake Louise:

  • Budget pick – HI Lake Louise Alpine Centre Hostel – offering dorms, private rooms & family rooms, a café on-site, cooking facilities, and a play room for kids
  • Value pick – Deer Lodge – walking distance to Lake Louise lakeshore offering rooftop hot tub with Victoria Glacier views, restaurant on-site
  • Luxury pick – Lake Louise Inn – offering on-site restaurants, fireplace, swimming pool & hot tubs

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 hike to Ink Pots

Johnston Canyon secret cave

Beware that entering the cave during summer is forbidden 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 tours

There are several guided tours of Johnston Canyon available running year-round. These are the most favourite:

  • Hop-On Hop-Off Bus – a great option for a shuttle from Banff that visits Johnston Canyon, Lake Louise, Moraine Lake, and Lake Louise Gondola
  • E-bike and Walking Tour in Johnston Canyon – a 4-hour guided biking tour along Vermilion Lakes in Banff and through Bow Valley Parkway to Johnston Canyon with a shuttle back to Banff.
  • Johnston Canyon Icewalk – a half-day guided hiking tour from Banff to 30-meter-high frozen Upper Falls in Johnston Canyon.
  • Johnston Canyon Hike – a 2.5-hour guided tour through the canyon running year-round to see bustling or frozen waterfalls.
 

 

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.

Wildlife

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 on wildlife in Canada for the best tips on where to spot some amazing animals.

Johnston Canyon hike to Ink Pots

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 a distance. If you’re outside the car, you must be at least 100 meters from a bear and 30 meters from elk (otherwise, you face high fines).

Remember this: If you approach an animal, it might get scared and charge you. Parks Canada has to put down any animal that charges people, and you’re the one responsible for its death.

Johnston Canyon hike to Ink Pots

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 hiking/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, you would need to go off-trail to reach Johnston Creek, which damages the environment and it’s prohibited.

I know a girl who swam underneath the Lower Falls in winter. Still, 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, dipping your legs in Johnston Creek is no longer an option since it’s all fenced off for restoration. I recommend swimming at Johnson Lake, close to Banff, a popular summer swimming spot, or a quick dip for legs in Bow River at Castle Junction.

There’s no cliff jumping at Johnston Canyon. Although I love cliff jumping and would love to try it at Johnston Canyon, climbing above the falls would be very hard. And once again, it would require going off-trail.

Swimming or dipping your legs in Ink Pots is forbidden, as posted signs say.

Bear safety

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.

FAQ about Johnston Canyon

Is Johnston Canyon worth it?

After visiting many times in all seasons, I still think it’s one of the best hikes in Banff National Park, no matter the weather. Visiting Johnston Canyon is my #1 recommendation if it’s raining cause you’re deep in the canyon, and the rain doesn’t take away the beauty.

 It’s short and easy to Lower Falls and breathtaking to Upper Falls. There are many cascading waterfalls and rock features to admire along the way.

How long does it take to hike Johnston Canyon?

The Johnston Canyon Hike to Upper Falls takes about 2-3 hours to return. You gradually gain some elevation, and the path is well-trodden and wide. If you make it to Johnston Canyon, I highly recommend hiking to Upper Falls and, if your energy levels allow, all the way to Ink Pots.

How much does it cost to hike Johnston Canyon?

Johnston Canyon is free to enter. All hikes in Banff National Park and the Canadian Rockies are free, as long as you purchase a Park Pass if you’re in a national park.

Can you hike Johnston Canyon without a guide?

Absolutely. You don’t need a guide to hike Johnston Canyon; you don’t even need a map. The few crossroads on the trail are clearly marked for different viewpoints and hiking directions.

Johnston Canyon with kids & strollers

We visited Johnston Canyon with our son in a stroller and had no issues getting to Lower Falls. You leave the stroller on the side before the short path to the bridge before accessing the short tunnel to Lower Falls. I would not recommend a stroller for Upper Falls but rather a carrier since the trail gains more elevation and is more uneven.

Since the trail through the Johnston Canyon is so easy, our 3-year-old son had no problem hiking to Lower Falls by himself in winter. Therefore, I recommend visiting Johnston Canyon for all ages and abilities.

More hiking trails in Banff & Canadian Rockies

Love hiking? Read our post 20 best hikes in Banff National Park and the 15 best day hikes near Calgary.

Visiting Banff soon? Read our comprehensive travel guides


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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About Maya Steiningerova

Heyo, I’m Maya! An adventure athlete currently living near the Canadian Rockies with my partner in crime Michal. I love running in the mountains, jumping in the ice cold lakes, mountain biking and trying not so common activities, such as mountaineering. By showing that an ordinary person can live an extraordinary life, my hope is to inspire you to live an adventurous life and provide you with tips and tools for your own adventure.

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