The Johnston Canyon trail in Banff National Park is a great way to spend a couple of hours either by yourself, with family/friends or with your favourite canine.
Located just outside of Banff, Johnston Canyon is an easy excursion to go on, especially if you have hired a car.
At the canyon there are 2 main car parks which can be used. The main one is at the trailhead and is fairly sizeable however as this is the main area containing tourist information and restrooms it is as you can imagine, very popular. For this reason there is a second overflow car park just down the road from the canyon. If the car parks are especially busy then there is ample parking along the roadside.
In addition to the canyon trail itself there is of course the river itself which can be waded in at the trailhead.
There are also facilities at the trailhead including rest rooms, a cafe serving hot food and a shop selling the usual tourist items.
Johnston Canyon offers 2 main attractions, the lower falls and the upper falls, both of which are easily accessible via the same trail.
As you can see below the trail starts at a wide and shallow gradient allowing you to walk from the trailhead in comfort.
From here the Johnston Canyon trail follows the naturally carved route through the canyon created by the river and is a combination of raised metal walkways, laid concrete and rocks.
Hiking to the Lower Falls
The Lower Falls are a 0.5 mile walk from the trailhead which although steep in places, has a trail that is well paved and easy for even the the most amateur hiker. Near the trailhead of the canyon the walkways are low to ground level offering great views along the canyon.
As you make your way further up the canyon trail towards the Lower Falls the height of the walkways does get a lot higher. You also have to walk along metal walkways which can get icy in bad weather so if you have a fear of heights you may not be too keen on some of the next bit of the walk!
At the lower falls itself there is a walkway facing onto the waterfall giving you a great view of this beautiful waterfall.
There is also a walkway through the rocks which takes you up close to the plunge pool. This viewing area is small and can only cater for about 4 or 5 people however so it is a bit of ‘one in one out’ affair.
If it’s busy as it was during our visit you should expect to queue here for 5-15 minutes to take a look. The queuing is worth the wait however as the view, noise and power of the waterfall is incredible.
As you leave the Lower Falls behind you, you’ll continue the trail further up the canyon with one final fantastic view of the Lower Falls presented to you.
The Upper Falls
The Upper Falls are around 1.5 miles from the trailhead and a further 1 miles along the trail from the Lower Falls. Much like the Lower Falls this part of the trail is easy to access without too much effort under foot. Along the route you are presented with numerous other impressive views of the canyon.
A short walk further along the canyon and you will arrive at the Upper Falls where there are couple of different viewing areas. The first viewing area is along a walkway at the base of the falls. Although the Upper Falls are very impressive, this lower viewing area offers what I would describe as an ‘OK’ view of the falls. The view here is a little restricted due to the angle of the viewing walkway which doesn’t quite go far enough into the canyon to get a full view. As the best view here is right at the end of the platform it’s a bit like the Lower Falls where you’ll need to wait your turn to achieve the best view.
From this lower viewing area you go back on yourself a little and head up a path that takes you to the top of the Upper Falls. As per the photo above, the elevation here is quite a lot and the path is steep over a very short distance. Luckily the path is in good condition!
Once you reach the upper river level there are 2 separate viewing areas. The first is a viewing platform that faces onto the falls which is far more impressive than the lower viewing area. Here, the viewing platform hangs off the side of the rocks over the canyon offering an uninterrupted view of the water cascading over the edge. If you don’t like heights you might want to give this platform a miss!
Walk a little beyond this platform to behind the area where the falls drops over the edge and you’ll discover another viewing point with a small but beautiful cascade of water.
From here there are several other hiking routes you can take to explore the canyon further however for us this was what we came for so we made our way back down the trail.
Our Opinion on Johnston Canyon
Johnston Canyon is a well known attraction in Banff National Park and for good reason. Not only are the falls themselves interesting to look at but the whole experience of hiking through a canyon to get to them adds an extra element of awe.
Just remember to prepare for this hike like any other walking trip as on the day we visited the temperature was rising throughout the day – the hike can be tiring and steep in places so make sure you bring plenty of water with you.
The Johnston Canyon trail is quite safe for families (though some parts have no barriers and steep edges), it’s easy under foot and is definitely a must visit location if you are in the area – it’s just around the corner from Banff so it really accessible if you are staying there like we were. We absolutely loved it here so make sure you add this to your holiday itinerary, you won’t be disappointed!
Have you been or thinking of heading to the Johnston Canyon this year? Let us know in the comments!