One of the busiest places in the Canadian Rockies is Johnston Canyon in Banff National Park. It is one of the most popular day hikes in the area. The scenic trail, with views of turquoise flowing water below canyon walls covered with tall evergreen trees, consists of the ‘Lower Falls’, the ‘Upper Falls’, and the ‘Ink Pots’. The area is open year-round, so you can enjoy the refreshing flowing falls in the summer or the beauty of the frozen falls in the winter. Walking to the falls is easy, people of all ages and fitness levels enjoy the area.
With so many people that visit annually, some with their dogs, there is rarely wildlife to see except for the small squirrels who are not afraid of people. They chase after each other playing, not paying any attention to people… unless they think you have food… and you’re going to give it to them. Being so used to people feeding them don’t be surprised if they will come very close to you and may even crawl up on your shoes, as they did mine, but were disappointed when I had nothing to give.
The Trail To The Lower Falls
Passing by Johnston Canyon Lodge, you begin your walk on a paved path towards the lower falls. The refreshing smell of the trees, the sounds of the creek flowing to your right, and the views of the mountains and forest instantly relax the body. The paths connect with steel catwalks with railings and are attached to the limestone canyon walls. After a slight increase in elevation over the 1.1 km walk, you will arrive at a viewpoint of the lower falls. You can cross over the creek on a bridge to get a closer front-facing misty view of the falls. At the end of the bridge is a cave-like viewing point where you will feel the cool wet waters of the falls. Some people turn around here, but there is still much more to see.
The Trail To The Upper Falls
Fewer people continue up the paths to the Upper Falls. The path covers more of an elevation, but with a couple of zigzags, it is still a very manageable hike for all fitness levels. There are several scenic viewpoints from the paths and catwalks. The upper falls at Johnston Canyon in Banff National Park have two distinct viewing areas. One, a catwalk that leads to a platform where you can see the full falls, facing them at the mid-level of the falls. The second one is up a steep trail to a platform overhanging the canyon. Years ago, a kayaker soared over the falls to claim a spot in the Guinness Book of records.
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The Trail To The Ink Pots
Continuing up to the Ink Pots is a more difficult hike with few people going up to the top. The path is dirt, with some steep hills, and views of the forest and mountains along the way. Many people take short breaks along the wide path while hiking up an additional 3 km from the upper falls to the Ink Pots. You want to make sure that you bring some water with you. It is even better if you pack a few snacks as you will be out for several hours if you decide to go to the Ink Pots. After the moderate climb through the forest, it opens to a large meadow. The Ink Pots consist of several pools made up of emerald-colored mineral springs that bubble to the surface. The water slowly flows from one pot to another eventually connecting to the river that flows down the falls and the canyon. Now that you have arrived at the Ink Pots, you can relax on one of the many benches and have a snack if you brought some with you. The Ink Pots are about 5.9 km with an elevation gain of 215 meters. Allow 4 hours for a complete round trip, including the lower and upper falls.
The area is open all year round, but as a lover of warm weather, I went in August. It was perfect weather; however, there were a lot of people there. If you don’t like crowds, then try going in the spring or fall when school is in and most people are at work.