Exploring Johnston Canyon | Banff, Canada
Written by Brian Callender | Photography by Julie Boyd
Created by erosion over the centuries, Johnston Creek flows through Johnston Canyon before emptying into the Bow River. The glacial blue waters flow under a canopy of lush forest and thunder over jagged cliffs and rushing cascades, which make this a very special place. Exploring Johnston Canyon is a memorable experience for all who visit Banff National Park. It is one of the best, and thus, most popular places to visit.
Exploring Johnston Canyon: Getting There
Located approximately 30 minutes north of the town of Banff, Johnston Canyon can be accessed via the less popular, Bow Valley Parkway.
On Wednesday morning, we woke up, packed the car, and jumped on the road for a full day of adventure. This would be our last day in Banff, and to start, we planned to visit Johnston Canyon before heading onward to Jasper National Park. As with most popular tourist destinations, its best to get an early start to avoid crowds. However, as perpetual late starters, we arrived at the parking lot around 10:00 a.m. and found no available spaces. Many cars here opt to park along the roadside, but we were fortunate to find a spot in the the lot for Johnston Canyon Resort. Grabbing our gear, we made our way into the canyon to explore.
Exploring Johnston Canyon: The Trail
The trail itself, winds through the canyon along a paved path and over footbridges and catwalks, following the creek on the right. Since the trail is an easy walk, be prepared for all sorts of crowds. On our visit, we encountered everything from families with strollers to an elderly woman on her scooter trying to make it up and over a small incline.
While exploring Johnston Canyon, there are two waterfalls that can be reached as you make your way along the trail. Lower Falls is the first of the two and just 0.5 mile from the start of the trail head.
You can see the falls from the walkway, however an up close view can be had by ducking into a small cave. On our visit, there was about a fifteen minute wait to get a closeup of the falls, as there was a fairly long line. We waited our turn though, and had a good laugh about feeling like we were waiting in line for a ride at Disneyland!
After taking in the views at Lower Falls, we continued along the canyon en route to Upper Falls, another mile further. Similar to Lower Falls, the crowds here meant another wait in line for views of the falls.
For those looking to continue the adventure, the trail climbs out of the canyon to the less visited, Ink Pots, adding another 2 miles to the hike. Since we had a full day planned, we opted to skip this portion on our visit to explore Johnston Canyon (next time!) and headed back to the car.
Exploring Johnston Canyon: The Secret Cave
Later in the trip, we realized we had missed a secret spot, the Johnston Canyon Cave! After some debate, we made the decision to head back to the canyon on our last day in Canada. On this visit to explore Johnston Canyon, we arrived in the early evening and found plenty of parking, a good sign! Off peak was the ideal time to visit, as there were very few people on the trail as we made our way back to the cave.
*Note: Parks Canada has closed this unofficial trail to the Cave to protect the Black Swifts who nest there. We do not recommend visiting it again until the Parks have removed the barriers to entry.
Access to the cave is just beyond the lower falls, off to the right via a trail that leads down to the river. Keep your eyes peeled, as the trail was something we didn’t catch on our first trip to the canyon.
The cave itself is both peaceful and a bit creepy. Much of the wall of the cave has been graffitied by people who had, like us, found the cave and unlike us, decided to make their names a lasting memory. If your visiting nature, it’s important to remember to leave the place as you found it. Believe me when I say that no one wants to see your name written on rocks, trees, or anywhere else in beautiful place like Johnston Canyon!
For a short time, we had the cave to ourselves and Julie took full advantage, snapping some stunning photos, as we soaked in the serene setting. Before long, a few more people found the cave and we decided it was time to head back out. We loved exploring Johnston Canyon and would definitely recommend checking it out, especially if you can avoid the crowds!
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