Johnston Canyon Banff – Lower and Upper Falls Hike + Tips

Johnston Canyon Banff – Lower and Upper Falls Hike + Tips

Canada
Canada

When Is the Best Time

Johnston Canyon is an incredibly beautiful gorge formed in the last 8000 years by the Johnston Creek and the erosion continues by water and ice. It is a popular canyon and walk to the Lower and Upper Falls with more than one million visitors annually. We combined the Moraine Lake to Consolation Lake hike with Johnston Canyon in one day which is a 50-minute drive only. 

Johnston Canyon lower waterfall
One of the seven waterfalls along the trail.

The Johnston Canyon hike can be done throughout the year however, it is crowded to specific times. The best times for Johnston Canyon are spring, fall, and winter. If you wish to visit in the summer come early before 10 am before the parking is jammed.

The emerald Upper Falls and Pool in Johnston
The upper viewpoint to the Upper Falls

You heard about a closure in Johnston Canyon? Yes, since October 2020 a small section of the catwalk shortly before the Upper Falls got closed for indefinite time due to damage. However, the upper viewpoint of the Upper Falls and also the Ink Pots are still accessible.

Weather and Crowds Johnston Canyon

Johnson Canyon and Creek and the catwalk in the back

There is a microclimate inside the canyon. It is shady, cool, and moisty the entire year. The damp air fills the forest and determines the life in it. The winter is wonderful with icicles at the canyon wall.

Old grown trees full of lichen
Old man's beard lichen - a symbiosis of algae and fungi.

To give you an overview of what kind of weather and temperatures to expect, I divide the months and seasons slightly differently.

Spring (April-May)

Lower Waterfall and its emerald pool
Johnston Canyon Lower Waterfall

April is a cold month day temps are on average 9°C/48°F and nights are freezing below 0°C/32°F. Finally, in May temps rise up to 14°C/57°F but nights are still around freezing. End of May the Johnston Canyon campground will be opened. 

Summer (June-August)

Stella Waterfall in Johnston Canyon
Stella Waterfall one of the seven waterfalls in Johnston

June tends to be a summer month reaching almost 20°C/68°F during the day. However, nights are chilly also the entire summer temperatures are below 10°C/50°F. The summer is the wettest season but overall, it is frequently sunny or partly cloudy. July and August are the warmest months topping 20°C/68°F. The summer is the most beautiful time therefore the busiest of all. If possible, avoid weekends and come early to Johnston Canyon before both parking lots are full. It’s hard getting parking at midday. 

Fall (September-October)

A man walking on the catwalk in Johnston Canyon above Johnston Creek

The first half of September still feels like a summer month with temps slightly below 20°C/68°F but dropping mid-September to an average daily temp of 15°C/59°F. September is as wet as the summer and decreasing precipitation in October but even snow can already occur.

Waterfall after the Upper Falls in Johnston Canyon
This waterfall is located after - at the top of the Upper Falls.

We experienced awesome weather during our visit in September but during the last days of our vacation, the weather changed quickly from mild temps to snow and hail. At the end of September, the Johnston Campground gets closed due to the unpredictable cold and weather.

Winter (November-March)

Icicles in Johnston Canyon in winter

Winter is a wonderful and gorgeous time. Big icicles are hanging in the Johnston Canyon everything is white and it’s quiet in here. With a little luck, you can watch ice climbers which conquer the frozen Upper Falls. January and February are the coldest months with day temps around -5°C/23°F and nights are utterly cold on average -14°C/7°F. The trail is icy and slippery in the winter and crampons are recommended for this hike.

Tips and Packing List

crampons on snow
Crampons are essential in the winter.
  1. The last restroom is at the parking and trailhead.
  2. Arrive early, especially in the summer and avoid weekends.
  3. Bring a jacket or fleece pullover – The damp air lets you shiver even in the summer.
  4. Bring water and a snack – There is a café next to the trailhead but nothing along the hike.
  5. Enjoy the quiet winter wonderland.
  6. Wear proper shoes, especially in the winter.
  7. In winter, the trail is slippery, and spikes/crampons are essential.
  8. Carry a headlamp in your backpack in case you need longer than expected for the hike.

Best Months to Visit

Jan
Feb
Mar
Apr
May
Jun
Jul
Aug
Sep
Oct
Nov
Dec

Location and Tips

Alberta, Banff
Canada
Canada

Johnston Canyon is located just a 25 minutes ride from Banff in Alberta, Canada, a 45 minutes drive from Canmore and less than two hours from Calgary. It is an excellent walk for the entire family with children, strollers, and elderlies until Lower Falls.

Hiking Trail Description

The catwalk in Johnston Canyon above Johnston Creek
This hiking track is well-maintained.

The Johnston Canyon Hike is one of the busiest in Banff, probably the busiest of all but also one of the most beautiful and not difficult in the Bow Valley Parkway. The crowds are spread on the entire trail, and the track is very well maintained. Jaw-dropping views are around every corner of this hike.

One of the the seven falls in the Johnston Canyon

Enjoy the awe-inspiring steep canyon walls, the deep pools in the canyon, and the lush forest. You pass seven waterfalls smaller and bigger on the whole trail to the Upper Johnston Canyon Falls. Definitely one of the Must-Do hikes close to Banff in Canada. Hiking Map Picture

Distance – Length and Time for the Johnston Canyon Hiking Trail

Hiking Sign for all directions with distance in Johnston Canyon
The trail is also well-marked.
  • Lower Falls – 1.2 km – easy – return 1 hour

  • Upper Falls + 1.4 km – moderate + return 1-1.5 hours

  • Ink Pots + 3 km – moderate + 2-2.5 hours

  • Return Hike 11.2 km roughly 4-5 hours

Johnston Canyon Waterfall

The first part until the Lower Falls is a fairly easy stroll of 1.2 km from the parking, gaining little elevation. It is a paved and well-maintained track with railings for your protection leading through the gorge above Johnston Creek. The Lower Falls are 10 meters high, the Upper Falls are more impressive with a height of 30 meters.

The well maintained catwalk through Johnston Canyon
The well-maintained and safe track above Johnston Creek.

After the Lower Falls, you hike up some steps, and the trail is a bit steeper, now gaining elevations of roughly 100 meters. This part to the Upper Falls is a moderate hike. Shortly before the Upper Falls; and another railing, circa 150 m, a slippery path is leading down to the right to the secret cave. It is a well-known Instagram spot and is overrun nowadays. Please consider, walking off-trail means destroying nature. The cave is currently closed..

Are There Bears on the Trail

A man with bear spray in his hand
A bear spray is essential on all other trails.

It is a narrow and busy hiking track nearly impossible to bump into a bear so no worries. Usually, this is a safe hiking trail. Nevertheless, we always carried a bear spray with us.

Parking Johnston Canyon Google Maps P1

Parking Sign for P1 and P2 Johnston Canyon

Although there are two parking lots, they fill up quickly before midday, especially in the busy summer. We arrived in the afternoon, and it was still pretty busy mid-September. Come either early or during the week to avoid lining up and onside road parking. The main parking where restrooms are available has more than 100 spaces, and the second parking is a view hundred meters away.

Camping Johnston Canyon

Tent in the forest on Johnston Campground
Our tent and tarp due to the forecasted rain.

The campground is ideally located close to the outstanding Johnston Canyon walk. A flush toilet, showers, and a kitchen shelter are available. There are 132 sites, but it is advisable to book your campsite in advance in summer.

Please get in touch with me if you wish to use any of my photos, but I will take action against picture theft.

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Created by
Micha Herber-Bleich
Micha Herber-Bleich
I am always open, curious about new…