Johnston Canyon Hike, Banff National Park, Canada

Hiking the Johnston Canyon Trail in Banff National Park, Canada

We were nearly finished with the Johnston Canyon hike when we encountered a line of people blocking the path in front of us. No one seemed to know what was happening—the only thing we knew was that we were stuck for the time being. Because the trail was a narrow catwalk attached to a cliff and hanging over the river, there were no alternate routes to take. After 20 minutes or so, the line started to move at a glacial pace. Once we made it to the front of the bottleneck we gasped with horror. The trail and metal guardrail were twisted into a pretzel. We were rushed over the damaged trail, and it wasn’t until we crossed to safety that we found out what had happened.

Johnston Canyon Hike, Banff National Park, Canada

Johnston Canyon Hike, Banff National Park, Canada

Sadly, a tree had dislodged from the cliff above and it fell onto the trail, knocking out a young boy in the process. The boy had to be airlifted out of the park in critical condition, and we never did find out what happened to him. We sure do hope he recovered from his injuries. It was a terrifying situation and it shut down the trail for several days.

Johnston Canyon Hike, Banff National Park, Canada

Thankfully, the Johnston Canyon Trail has reopened and is now safe to traverse once again. We were happy to see it reopen as it is one of the most popular day hikes in Canada’s Banff National Park—with good reason, too. Despite the unfortunate accident the day of our hike, the Johnston Canyon Trail is a relatively easy hike. And because the catwalk is affixed to the cliff and deep inside the canyon, it allows access to an area that would otherwise be extremely difficult to reach.

Johnston Canyon Hike, Banff National Park, Canada

The trail is perched above the Johnston Canyon Creek and attached to the limestone cliffs that twist their way along the river. You will find yourself walking under overhanging cliffs, through caves, and over the river when exploring all the waterfall viewpoints. In addition to the catwalk portion of the trail, there are small sections of the hike that travels through the woods. The trail is easy to follow, and the elevation gain to the upper falls is only around 393 feet.

Johnston Canyon Hike, Banff National Park, Canada

Johnston Canyon Hike, Banff National Park, Canada

There are several different trails combined into one here—Lower Johnston Falls (1 mile roundtrip) and Upper Johnston Falls (3 miles roundtrip) being the most popular. If you would like to hike a longer distance, you can continue on and make your way to the Ink Pots, which clocks in at around 6.7 miles roundtrip.

Johnston Canyon Hike, Banff National Park, Canada

When we arrived mid-afternoon, the parking lot was overflowing and people were everywhere. We decided to return to the trail later once the traffic cleared out and the light was better for photography, but we made our way down to the trailhead for a quick look around. Well, before we knew it, we were well on our way and had unintentionally started the hike.

Johnston Canyon Hike, Banff National Park, Canada

Johnston Canyon Hike, Banff National Park, Canada

Johnston Canyon Hike, Banff National Park, Canada

Our initial plans were to hike all the way to the Ink Pots, but we didn’t bring any water since we were originally planning on returning the trail later in the evening. And, because we heard fresh flowing river water throughout the entire hike, we started to get extremely thirsty before we even made it to Upper Johnston Falls! Once we reached the upper falls, we took a break, soaked our feet in the chilly water and decided to head back to the car so we could guzzle all the water in sight.

Johnston Canyon Hike, Banff National Park, Canada

Johnston Canyon Hike, Banff National Park, Canada

Johnston Canyon Hike, Banff National Park, Canada

The seven sets of cascading waterfalls were beautiful, and it had an aqua hue to it just like the waters at several of the lakes throughout the park. We thoroughly enjoyed the Johnston Canyon Trail, but it was a bittersweet afternoon when it ended on such an unfortunate note. It just goes to show that you never know what to expect when it comes to nature!

Johnston Canyon Hike, Banff National Park, Canada

Trail Information & Tips:

Elevation Gain: Lower Falls: 98 feet; Upper Falls: 393 feet

Distance: Lower Falls: 0.5 miles one way, 1 mile roundtrip; Upper Falls: 1.5 miles one way, 3 miles roundtrip

Starting Point: Johnston Canyon Parking Lot on the Bow Valley Parkway (Hwy 1A), 22 km west of the town of Banff

Tips:

  • The hike to the Lower Johnston Falls is around 30 minutes and the hike to reach Upper Johnston Falls is around one hour. Allow 2-2.5 hours return trip if you are planning on hiking all the way to Upper Johnston Falls.
  • Don’t forget your water! It can be a long hike and the rushing water will definitely make you thirsty.
  • Dress in layers—the trail is sunny in some parts and shaded in others. You will likely encounter a variety of temperatures throughout the hike.
  • If you decide to head all the way to the Ink Pots, allow around four hours to get there and back. The trail is 6.7 miles roundtrip and has an elevation gain of just over 1,080 feet.

 

22 Comments
  • Bilyana
    Posted at 03:28h, 30 April Reply

    Such a beautiful place! I would love to hike there and basically everywhere in Canada. Thanks for the tips!
    Bilyana recently posted…The Best Mountain Views in EuropeMy Profile

  • Danik
    Posted at 04:10h, 30 April Reply

    I have very fond memories of doing this trip two years ago. I love the hike down to the end and checking out the waterfalls. Such a beautiful place. 🙂
    Danik recently posted…The Curious Explorers guide to Paris: Eiffel Tower QuarterMy Profile

  • Christina Pfeiffer
    Posted at 06:09h, 30 April Reply

    Your photos are beautiful. Johnston Canyon is a fabulous spot to go hiking. I’ve only been there in winter, and I can definitely say that the frozen scenery is jaw dropping. Banff National Park is one of my favourite places in Canada.

  • Amelie
    Twitter:
    Posted at 10:07h, 30 April Reply

    Gosh, I do home this boy made a full recovery. I hate not knowing the end of stories like this, it just keeps haunting me forever. Nonetheless, your photos are amazing as always. Makes me proud and happy to stay I’m Canadian 🙂

  • claudia
    Posted at 11:19h, 30 April Reply

    I am saving the info about this hike if I ever visit as this is a dream destination for me and the hike distance is not bad. And the color of the water ohhhh myyyyyy. Though I am worried about all the crowds , maybe September is a better month to visit?

    • Jenna Kvidt
      Posted at 00:21h, 03 May Reply

      Thanks, Claudia! It is definitely a gorgeous area! I would think the crowds would be much less come September–the weather might be a bit chilly, but I think it would still be a great time to visit!
      Jenna Kvidt recently posted…15 Awesome Urban Adventures in MilwaukeeMy Profile

  • melody pittman
    Twitter:
    Posted at 19:38h, 30 April Reply

    I guess I never really thought about natural disasters happening on the trail before. Hope that kid is okay. Otherwise, your hike looked awesome and you sure got some great photos! Canyon Trail is gorgeous! I would expect nothing else from Banff.

  • Barbara
    Posted at 06:27h, 01 May Reply

    This place looks absolutely stunning. I feel like I should go back and explore more of Canada. I think it is number one in the World for nature.

  • Megan Jerrard
    Twitter:
    Posted at 18:23h, 01 May Reply

    My prayers are with the boy and his family that he recovers – proves that you never really do know when you’re out in nature. Impressed that they opened the area and made it safe so quickly – it does look like a stunning hike. But yes, definitely a way to dampen the excitement from the day 🙁

  • Nisha
    Twitter:
    Posted at 21:57h, 01 May Reply

    It looks like fun trail. That too with two waterfalls.. It is a very nice place to spend the day indeed. I wonder if they allow swimming.

    • Jenna Kvidt
      Posted at 23:47h, 02 May Reply

      Yeah, I’m not sure about swimming! There were a couple of areas with access to the river where it might be possible, but a large portion of the trail didn’t have access to the river. Either way it was a great way to spend the day!
      Jenna Kvidt recently posted…15 Awesome Urban Adventures in MilwaukeeMy Profile

  • anto
    Twitter:
    Posted at 13:20h, 02 May Reply

    This shows that the forces of nature are inevitable and I really hope the young boy is doing fine. I was in Johnstone Canyon many years ago and remember I loved it, especially because of the dramatic rocks and the beautiful colored water. Would love love love to go back one day!

  • Sandy N Vyjay
    Posted at 23:00h, 02 May Reply

    This Canyon trail is definitely Instagram worthy. All your photos are amazingly gorgeous. This post will be extremely helpful in planning a trip.

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