The Ultimate Guide to Johnston Canyon: All You Need to Know

Johnston Canyon Banff

Johnston Canyon is one of the most popular destinations in Banff National Park. It attracts many hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. Especially in the summer but also in the winter, Johnston Canyon is an excellent place to enjoy nature. 

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Coordinates: 51.3938°N 115.9478°W

Throughout many thousands of years, Johnston Creek carved its path in the limestone in the area. This has resulted in a spectacular gorge with waterfalls, tunnels, pools and unusual rock formations. One of the most famous natural phenomena you will encounter during your trip through the canyon are the so-called inkpots. These are five green-blue mineral water springs.

Johnston Creek rises at an altitude of 2500 meters (8200 ft) north of nearby Castle Mountain in a glacial valley southwest of Badger Pass and south of Pulsatilla Pass. The stream flows into the Bow River south of Castle Mountain.


Johnston Canyon is located on the Bow Valley Parkway (Highway 1A), 25 kilometers (15.43 mi) from Banff and a stone’s throw from the former gold mining town of Silver City at the foot of Castle Mountain. All that remains of the town is a plaque informing visitors of the dreams of prosperity that once flourished in Banff National Park.


The best time to visit Johnston Canyon is in May and early June. At this time of year, the water mass in the canyon is the largest because the snow has just melted (or is still melting). This makes for beautiful pictures at the waterfalls. It is also much less crowded than in the summer. In the high season it can be too crowded.

Johnston Canyon is also an absolute must in the winter. I mean, how often do you get to see the spectacular sight of a frozen waterfall? Also, the canyon offers different activities in the winter than in the summer, such as ice walks and snowshoeing.


The best times to visit Johnston Canyon are early in the morning, say between 7:30 and 9:00 am, and at the end of the day, say after 6:00 pm. While it doesn’t really matter what time of day you visit the canyon, the hordes of tourists during the high season are a big drawback in my opinion.

I remember walking along the canyon boardwalk at around 2:00 pm and feeling a bit annoyed because I could barely move in some places because of all the people. So come early or late and you might have a better experience exploring this beautiful canyon.


If you want to do the 2.4 kilometers (1.5 mi) loop to the Upper Falls, it will take you two to three hours to hike Johnston Canyon. You can also turn around at the Lower Falls. This loop is only 800 meters (0.5 mi) and will only take you between 30 minutes and an hour. It depends on how crowded the canyon is and how often you want to stop for food, drinks, or snapshots.

Johnston Canyon's lower falls in Banff National Park


The Bow Valley Parkway (Highway 1A) runs parallel to the Trans-Canada Highway (Highway 1). Although there is plenty of parking, the parking facilities quickly fill up in the morning during the peak season. Therefore it’s recommended to arrive early (before 8 am) or late in the afternoon. 

Public Transport to Johnston Canyon

Since the car park at Johnston Canyon fills up quickly during peak season, it may be convenient to take the bus to the canyon. The bus leaves the Transit Hub at Banff High School on Banff Avenue, directly across from the Elk and Avenue Hotel. From here the bus runs directly to Johnston Canyon. 


The bus runs from 09:00 to 18:00 from Banff, seven days a week during the peak season. From Johnston Canyon back to Banff, the bus runs from 09:45 to 19:20, seven days a week. It’s possible to bring along your bike. The bus has room for up to three bikes. 

The timetable can be found on under the heading ‘Schedules & Routes’ (route 9). Reservation is not necessary but recommended. The service operates from 21 May to 19 September. 

More information:

Bow Valley Regional Transit Services Commission
Address: 221 Beaver Street, Banff
Phone: +1-403-762-0606


Another way to get to Johnston Canyon is to take a sightseeing tour. Just sit back and relax while a guide tells you a thing or two about your surroundings.

Here’s a list of tours that’ll take you to Bow Lake (among other destinations):

Detailed information about these tours:


Because Johnston Canyon is one of the most touristic locations in Banff National Park, a large parking lot was built near the canyon. It’s divided into two parts and can accommodate a lot of vehicles.

However, during the high season it’s still not enough as many cars are parked along the road. Depending on the time of day you visit Johnston Canyon, you might run into parking problems.

Also read: everything you need to know about parking in Banff National Park


As Johnston Canyon is one of the most visited areas in Banff National Park, it can be very busy during the high season. The canyon is located just off the Bow Valley Parkway (Highway 1A), making it very easy to get to. There are also several worthwhile hiking trails that start at or near the canyon, adding to its popularity.


During the summer, the weather in Banff National Park is often moderate and pleasant. But since you’re in the Rocky Mountains, this can change at any time, so it’s important to pack accordingly. Here’s a short list of things to pack for your visit to Johnston Canyon.

  • Sturdy hiking boots
  • Warm jacket for the cooler mornings and evenings
  • Long pants (in case there are too many mosquitoes, it varies from year to year)
  • Sunscreen
  • Sun glasses
  • Water bottle
  • Snacks
  • Bug repellent
  • Camera (or smartphone)


Staying overnight at Johnston Canyon is possible at the Johnston Canyon Lodge. It’s situated within walking distance of the canyon. There are many other options in the area as well as in Banff and Lake Louise. Below are three of the best.

#1 Johnston Canyon Lodge

✓ Bbq facilities
✓ Pets allowed

Book it


If you want to spend the night within a stone’s throw of Johnston Canyon, Johnston Canyon Lodge and Bungalows is the place to be. This hotel with 42 bungalows and cabin accommodations is located on Highway 1A, about halfway between Banff and Lake Louise Village and a perfect location to explore the park as the Lodge is conveniently situated at the trailhead of Johnston Canyon. An overnight stay is 350 CAD or more in the high season.

Johnston Canyon Lodge and Bungalows 
Address: Bow Valley Parkway, Hwy 1A, Banff National Park

#2 Storm Mountain Lodge & Cabins

✓ Hot tub
✓ Airport shuttle

Book it


Secluded, cozy, beautiful and perfectly located for exploring Banff National Park and beyond. Storm Mountain Lodge & Cabins is a great place to stay. Check it out!

Storm Mountain Lodge & Cabins
Highway 93 south, Banff

The premises of the Baker Creek Lodge in Lake Louise, where the lodges are situated amongst pine trees

#3 Baker Creek by Basecamp

✓ Pet friendly
✓ Gym

Book it


If you want a luxurious experience that’s not as expensive as the Fairmont Château Lake Louise, Baker Creek by Basecamp is a stunning option. The photo above speaks for itself.

Baker Creek by Basecamp
Bow Valley Parkway (Highway 1A), Lake Louise

Camping at Johnston Canyon

It’s possible to camp at Johnston Canyon. If you wish to build a campfire you must have a permit, which is sold on most campgrounds. Please note that Johnston Canyon is very touristy, so the campground is likely to be full in high season. The nearest alternative is Castle Mountain Campground.

Johnston Canyon Campground

Address: Bow Valley Parkway, Improvement District No. 9
Phone: +1 877 – 737 3783 
Overnight stay: subject to availability, reservations possible
Number of spaces: 132
Facilities: water, showers, flush toilets, handicap spots, camp kitchen, fire pits, picnic tables, rubbish cans and sani dump. 
Campfire permit: available at the campground
Kind of accommodations: motor homes and tents
Price: CAD 28.00
Period: 15 July – 26 September
Distance to Johnston Canyon (Lower Falls): 1.1 km (0.68 mi)

Castle Mountain Campground

Address: Bow Valley Parkway, Improvement District No. 9
Phone: 877-737-3783
Overnight stay: based on availability
Number of sites: 43
Facilities: male and female washrooms with hot and cold running water, but no showers, community camp kitchen with wood-burning cooker and fire pits.
Campfire permit: available at the campground
Kind of accommodations: motor homes (maximum 7.3 meters long) and tents
Price: CAD 21.97
Period: closed until further notice
Distance to Johnston Canyon: 5.3 km (3.27 mi)

As Johnston Creek approaches the Bow River, it flows through Johnston Canyon


It’s possible to take a guided tour of Johnston Canyon at Discover Banff Tours. Furthermore, in winter you can do a spectacular ice walk with a guide. And, of course, Johnston Canyon is the starting point for several great hikes. In winter, the canyon is also suitable for spectacular snowshoe hikes.  

Hikes around Johnston Canyon

Johnston Canyon lies at the foot of Castle Mountain and its area offers several great hikes. Some short, some long, always breathtakingly beautiful. The table below provides an overview of the most popular hikes. I’ve also added a short description for five of them.

Arnica Lake12.9 km (8.01 mi)5-6 hrs753 m (2,470 ft)Vista Lake viewpoint on Highway 93 South, on the east side of the road
Boom Lake10.9 km (6.77 mi)2.5 – 3.5 h230 m (755 ft)Boom Lake Day-use Area
Castle Lookout7.4 km (4.57 mi)3 hrs550 m (180 ft)Castle Lookout car park
Ink Pots11.6 km (7.17 mi)4-5 hrs529 m (1,736 ft)Behind Bridges Restaurant & Cold Beer Patio
Lower Falls2.3 km (1.43 mi)1 hour105 m (344 ft)Behind Bridges Restaurant & Cold Beer Patio
Rockbound Lake17.5 km (10.87 mi)6 – 8 hrs911 m (2,989 ft)Rockbound Lake car park
Silverton Falls1.8 km (1.11 mi)40 mins90 m (295 ft)Rockbound Lake car park
Twin Lakes16 km (9.87 mi)6 – 7 hrs715 m (2,345 ft)Vista Lake viewpoint on Highway 93 South, on the east side of the road
Upper Falls5.3 km (3.29 mi)1.5-2 hrs263 m (863 ft)Behind Bridges Restaurant & Cold Beer Patio  
Vista Lake2.8 km (1.73 mi)1.5 hours120 m (394 ft) downVista Lake viewpoint on Highway 93 South, on the east side of the road
Hiking trails around Johnston Canyon

Arnica Lake

The Arnica Lake Hike is a scenic trail of 12.9 kilometers (8.01 mi) long and has an elevation gain of 753 m (2,470 ft) meters. The trailhead is located at the small Vista Lake parking lot.

The hike takes you through a forested area and along a river, with views of two gorgeous Banff lakes along the way. If you want to extend your hike, you can connect to the Twin Lakes trail.

The trail is rated as moderate and is suitable for hikers of all skill levels. It’s a great option if you want to experience the beauty of the park without putting in too much effort on those sweltering summer days. The trail is well-maintained and easy to follow, with clear signage along the way.

Boom Lake

The Boom Lake Hike is a moderately long, but reasonably easy hike. The trailhead is located at the Boom Lake Day Use Area parking lot on Highway 93 South, about 8 kilometers (4.97 mi) southwest of Castle Junction. The hike is a 10.9 kilometers (6.77 mi) round trip with an elevation gain of 230 meters (755 ft). The trail is rated as easy to moderate.

The hike takes you through a pleasant forested area with areas of exposed rock. The trail is packed dirt with some rocky sections. The highlight of the hike is Boom Lake, surrounded by towering rock cliffs. It’s a great spot for a picnic.

Ink Pots

The Ink Pots at Johnston Canyon in Banff National Park

The Ink Pots hike is a popular and moderately challenging trail. The trailhead is located at the Johnston Canyon parking lot. The hike is a 11.6 kilometers (7.17 mi) round trip with an elevation gain of 529 meters (1,736 ft). The trail is rated as moderate and is suitable for hikers of all skill levels.

The hike takes you through a beautiful forested area with views of the Johnston Canyon and its waterfalls. The highlight of the hike is the Ink Pots, a series of small mineral springs with crystal clear blue-green water. The Ink Pots are surrounded by stunning mountain views, making it a great spot for a picnic or to simply relax and take in the scenery.

It can be very busy during peak season, so it’s recommended to go early in the day to avoid the crowds.

Lower Falls

The Lower Falls hike is a popular and easy trail located in Johnston Canyon. The trailhead is located at the Johnston Canyon parking lot. The hike is a 2.3 kilometers (1.43 mi) round trip with an elevation gain of 105 meters (344 ft).

The hike offers views of Johnston Canyon and its waterfalls. The highlight is the Lower Falls with a breathtaking 30-meter drop. Several overlooks along the way allow you to admire the beauty of the canyon.

Upper Falls

The Upper Falls at Johnston Canyon in Banff National Park

Once you’ve reached the Lower Falls, you can continue your hike through Johnston Canyon to the Upper Falls. This hike is approximately 5.3 kilometers (3.29 mi) round trip with an elevation gain of 263 meters (863 ft). The trail is rated as moderate and is suitable for hikers of all skill levels.

The Upper Falls obvisously is the highlight of the hike. It’s a stunning waterfall that drops 40 meters. Several viewing platforms allow for some stunning Insta-material.

Rockbound Lake

The Rockbound Lake hike is a lesser-known and moderately challenging trail. The trailhead is located off the Bow Valley Parkway, about 25 km northwest of Banff. The hike is a 17.5 kilometers (10.87 mi) round trip with an elevation gain of 911 meters (2,989 ft).

The hike takes you through a forested area and along a river, with gorgeous views of Castle Mountain. The highlight of the hike is Rockbound Lake, a beautiful alpine lake surrounded by towering rock cliffs.

Overall, if you’re looking for a challenging and scenic hike, the Rockbound Lake hike is a great option. The trail is well-maintained but can be steep and rocky in places, so it’s important to wear proper hiking shoes. Also make sure you bring plenty of water. 

Mountain biking in the surroundings of Johnston Canyon

In the Rocky Mountains around Johnston Canyon you can also do some magnificent mountain biking, guaranteeing beautiful views.

Redearth20 km (12.35 mi)330 m (1083 ft) up / 95 m (312 ft) downRedearth Creek car park
Mountain biking trail near Johnston Canyon

Cross-Country Skiing near Johnston Canyon

In the winter, the area around Johnston also lends itself to cross-country skiing. With the echo of the summer crowds long gone, you can enjoy the winter coat of the Rockies in relative peace. Provided, of course, that you stay away from the ski slopes. Below are some popular routes.

Castle Junction8.7 km (5.37 mi)31 m (102 ft) upCastle Junction on the Bow Valley Parkway (Highway 1A)
Redearth Creek21 km (12.96 mi)335 m (1099 ft) upRedearth Creek Trailhead
Cross country skiing trails near Johnston Canyon

Johnston Canyon Icewalk

Banff National Park may receive most of its tourists in the summer months, but there’s also plenty to do in the winter. What about a spectacular ice walk in Johnston Canyon? A memorable experience in the snow with frozen waterfalls, spectacular ice pillars and beautiful views. Not only is the view of the canyon utterly different in winter than in summer, but it is also considerably less crowded than in the high season. This makes exploring the canyon a more exclusive experience.

Banff Tours offers three ice walks. All tours are guided.  

1. Johnston Canyon Icewalk

Departure: Banff (pick-up possible at most hotels)
Duration: 4 hours, of which 2 – 2.5 hours for the ice walk itself
Distance: 5.4 km (3.4 miles)
Elevation: 135 m (443 ft)
Season: November – April
Times: 8:30 am – 12:30 pm and 1:30 pm – 5:30 pm
Price: 82 CAD adults (13+), 52 CAD children (8-12)

2. Private Johnston Canyon Icewalk

Departure: Banff (pick-up possible at most hotels)
Duration: 4 hours, including 2 – 2.5 hours for the ice walk itself
Distance: 5.4 km (3.4 mi)
Elevation: 135 m (443 ft)
Season: November – April
Times: 8.30 am – 12.30 pm
Price: 186 – 339 CAD

3. Johnston Canyon Evening Icewalk

Departure: Banff (pick-up possible at most hotels)
Duration: 3.5 hours, including 1.5 – 2 hours for the ice walk itself
Distance: 2.2 km (1.4 mi)
Elevation: 65 m (213 ft)
Season: December – April
When: Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday
Departure times: 6:30 pm and 7:30 pm
Price: 82 CAD adults (13+), 52 CAD children (8-12)

Snowshoeing at Johnston Canyon

Another great winter activity at Johnston Canyon is snowshoeing. This is a relatively easy way to walk across the thick blanket of snow that lies there in the coldest months. In contrast to the summer months, a unique way to explore the area at your leisure and admire the beautiful nature in its winter coat. Expect to see incredible ice formations and the enchanting sight of a frozen waterfall.

Johnston Canyon Snowshoe Trail6.8 km (4.2 mi)2 – 3 hrs120 m (394 ft) upBehind Bridges Restaurant & Cold Beer Patio
Snowshoeing trail near Johnston Canyon

Also read: the guide to via ferrata in Banff. 

More Information

Banff Tours
Address: Sundance Mall, 215 Banff Avenue, Banff

Tourists sightseeing at Johnston Canyon in summer


Johnston Canyon is named after a prospector who mapped the canyon around 1885 named Johnston. His first name is unfortunately unknown. Johnston camped at the beginning of the creek, where he searched for gold in the silt of the canyon. His efforts soon proved fruitless, and he moved on at the end of the summer.

Teahouse on Johnston Creek

At that time, Rocky Mountains Park had just opened. Over the years tourism in the park was beginning to take off and encouraged by the growing tourism – particularly from Europe – a small wooden teahouse was built at Johnston Creek in the early 20th century. It only served as a resting place for the horse tram between Banff and Lake Louise.

Years later, Walter Camp and his wife Marguerite, residents of Banff, concluded a lease agreement with Banff National Park. In 1926, they bought the wooden teahouse and built a bungalow camp with small cabins at the canyon’s mouth. As a result, Johnston Canyon Resort Cabins & Bungalows was born.

The boardwalk through Johnston Canyon seen from above with on the left the Upper Falls

Camp Discovers Six Waterfalls in Johnston Canyon

Camp, his wife Marguerite and their four children Bennett, Dolena, Stella and JJ spend their summers in these cabins. They also rent them out to tourists, and in the late 1920s, he discovered six waterfalls. He gives each of them a name. Two of them he named Stella and Marguerite. 

He built footpaths through the limestone rocks and maintained them. The paths consisted of suspension bridges and ladders built from trees felled in the area. Once he finished making Johnston Canyon accessible, Camp charged his visitors an entrance fee. This way, he could support his family. 

Parks Canada Assumes Responsibility for Johnston Canyon

Camp died in 1979. Parks Canada subsequently approached his family to discuss the use of the canyon. Not wanting to charge an entrance fee for a hiking trail in the park, Parks Canada assumed responsibility for the track. After taking over Camp’s facilities at the canyon, Parks Canada replaced Camp’s suspension bridges and ladders with suspended steel walkways.

Camp’s descendants did retain their log cabins, however. According to the Johnston Canyon Lodge website, these are now run by his great-great-grandchildren.


Banff Visitor Centre
Opening hours (daily): 9 am – 5 pm
Address: 224 Banff Avenue, Banff
Phone: +1 403 – 762 1550

Lake Louise Visitor Centre
Opening hours (daily): 9 am – 5 pm
Address: Samson Mall, 201 Village Rd, Lake Louise
Phone: +1 403 – 522 3833


Do I need a Canada park pass for Johnston Canyon? 

Yes, you need a valid park pass to enter Banff National Park, which includes Johnston Canyon. You can purchase a pass online or at various locations throughout the park, including the Banff and Lake Louise Visitor Centres.

Are dogs allowed at Johnston Canyon? 

Yes, dogs are allowed at Johnston Canyon but they must be on a leash at all times and you must clean up after them.

Is Johnston Canyon stroller friendly?

Yes, according to users of, the best stroller-friendly trail to hike in Banff is Johnston Canyon to Ink Pots.

Can I swim in the Ink Pots?

No, unfortunately, you can’t swim in the ink pots. A Parks Canada sign asks people to always stay on trails and bridges.

Can I fly a drone at Johnston Canyon?

No, flying drones is not allowed in Banff National Park, including at Johnston Canyon.

Can I picnic at Johnston Canyon?

Yes, you sure can! There are several picnic tables tucked into the trees near the canyon trail. It gives you beautiful mountain views across the highway.

Can I hike around Johnston Canyon?

No, but you can get close. You can hike along the east, north and west shores of the lake. They’re easy and nearly flat hikes, although the hike that takes you along the west shore eventually takes you into the mountains.

Can I bike to Johnston Canyon? 

Yes, you can bike to Johnston Canyon. It’s actually quite easy to get there on the Bow Valley Parkway, which conveniently connects Banff and Lake Louise. Just be careful. It’s a busy road as it’s very scenic.

A small waterfall in Johnston Canyon in Banff National Park

Can I get altitude sickness at Johnston Canyon?

Johnston Canyon is located at an elevation of 1,440 meters (4,720 ft), which is technically NOT considered high altitude. However, you may still experience symptoms of altitude sickness such as headache, nausea, and fatigue. To avoid these symptoms, stay hydrated, avoid alcohol and strenuous activity, and acclimate slowly to the altitude.

Can I hike Johnston Canyon in winter?

Yes, you can hike Johnston Canyon in the winter. Although not nearly as busy as in the summer, Johnston Canyon is a popular winter attraction in Banff National Park. You can see a frozen waterfall and even do some ice climbing.

Is there cell service at Johnston Canyon?

Maybe. You may find cell service at the Johnston Canyon trailhead, but it’s unreliable. As you hike through the canyon, you won’t get any service. Cell service in Banff National Park is generally spotty.

Do I need bear spray at Johnston Canyon?

Yes, bear spray is recommended at Johnston Canyon and all areas of Banff National Park. Bears are common in the park, and can be unpredictable. 

You can rent or buy bear spray in Banff as well as in Lake Louise.

In Banff, it is available at the Visitor Centre (224 Banff Avenue) and at most sporting goods stores, such as Atmosphere (124 Banff Avenue), UNLTD Skate & Snow (319 Banff Avenue), and Monod Sports (129 Banff Avenue). 

You can also visit the Visitor Centre in Lake Louise (201 Village Road) and Wilson Mountain Sports (101 Lake Louise Drive). 

To keep bears at bay, make noise by talking, singing, or clapping your hands. Bears are more likely to avoid you if they hear you coming. 

And always hike in a group. As Johnston Canyon is busy there will always be other people on your trail which makes a bear encounter less likely.

Other articles you might be interested in:
How to Make Sure Mosquitoes Don’t Ruin Your Stay in Banff
Plan Your Banff Itinerary – Know the Distances
How Much Does a Banff Vacation Cost in 2023? (Crazy Numbers)


As a former Banffite, I love writing about my favorite part of the world. I keep coming back to enjoy the park's mesmerising beauty. It never fails to impress me. With my extensive knowledge of the area, I aim to provide you with the best information on Banff that you can find on the internet.

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