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8 Things to do at Johnson Lake in Banff

Johnson Lake is a beautiful and popular lake in Banff National Park. Just a short drive from the Town of Banff, a visit to Johnson Lake is an excellent thing to do in Banff, any time of year. Don’t rush your stop at this stunning Banff lake as there are so many things to do at Johnson Lake.

With a large day use area, Johnson Lake is a scenic spot for a picnic in Banff. On a hot summer day get out on the water with a stand-up paddleboard, dinghy or kayak. Even in the spring, fall or winter, you’ll find plenty of fun activities at Johnson Lake in Banff.

Visiting Johnson Lake, Banff is a great thing to do with kids

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Johnson Lake Directions

The Johnson Lake day use area is not far from the Town of Banff along the Lake Minnewanka Road. You have several options to get to Johnson Lake:

Drive to Johnson Lake, Banff

A drive from Calgary to Johnson Lake will take about 90 minutes, while the drive from Banff to Johnson Lake take about 15 minutes.

The Johnson Lake parking lot is a decent size and offers free parking. Due to the popularity of Johnson Lake, the parking lot can fill up fast on weekends and holidays. If you want to increase your odds of getting a parking spot at Johnson Lake, arrive early in the day and avoid peak hours if possible.

wildflowers in Banff along the Johnson Lake Trail

Take the Public Bus to Johnson Lake

It’s easy to take public transportation to Johnson Lake. The Roam Route #6 bus travels from the Town of Banff to the Johnson Lake parking lot. Learn more about the Banff Roam bus in Getting Around Banff Without a Car.

A Roam Transit bus passes Two Jack Lake near Johnson Lake in Banff National Park

Cycling to Johnson Lake

From May 1 – 20, cyclists will get a huge treat from Parks Canada as the Minnewanka Loop Road will be closed to vehicle traffic Monday – Thursday. During the road closure, the Minnewanka Loop will remain open to hikers and bikers.

The Lake Minnewanka Loop is a popular cycling route within Banff National Park. It’s an easy 3km ride along the Rocky Mountain Legacy Trail from the Town of Banff to the Cascade Ponds Connector, which is at the beginning of the Minnewanka Loop.

From the Cascade Ponds it’s a 7km ride to the Johnson Lake parking lot. Cycling is a great option if you want to see more of Banff National Park while getting some bonus exercise.

This park bench along Johnson Lake in Banff offers amazing views of Cascade Mountain across the water

8 Things to do at Johnson Lake, Banff

1. Johnson Lake Hike

If you’d like a nice, scenic walk around a beautiful lake in Banff National Park, look no further than the Johnson Lake hike. Alternating between lakeside and forest settings, the 3km hike around Johnson Lake is one of the best easy hikes in Banff National Park.

The kid-friendly hike around Johnson Lake, Banff is one of our favorites. The easy hiking trail goes all the way around this beautiful lake in Banff

As you circumnavigate this beautiful lake in Banff, take the time to soak in the amazing vistas of some of Banff’s most beautiful mountains, including Cascade Mountain and Mt. Rundle.

The Johnson Lake hike is an especially popular kid-friendly hike in Banff. Kids love playing on the fun little bridges, throwing rocks in the lake, and staying afterwards to play at the Johnson Lake beach.

the Johnson Lake trail is a great hike around a lake in Banff

For more information, see our full post on the Johnson Lake hike in Banff.

2. Have a Picnic at Johnson Lake

There’s something special about having a picnic near a lake in Banff National Park. Johnson Lake is a popular picnic spot in Banff, with approximately 16 picnic tables available for day use. Most of the picnic tables at Johnson Lake are near the water, while some are tucked away in a forest setting to provide some nice shade on a hot summer day.

There's free parking at Johnson Lake, Banff National Park - a great spot for a picnic in Banff

If all the Johnson Lake picnic tables are taken, there’s plenty of good spots to plop down a picnic blanket. The area near the beach is a good spot for a picnic, but the best spot for a picnic at Johnson Lake is on top of a small hill on the north-east shore of the lake.

There is a large meadow at the top of this hill next to Johnson Lake which is perfect for picnic blankets. From up here, the views of Johnson Lake, Cascade Mountain and Mount Rundle are amazing.

With views of the Banff lake and Mount Rundle, the small hill on the north shore is the best picnic spot at Johnson Lake

To get to this Banff picnic spot, follow the Johnson Lake hike in a counterclockwise direction until you cross a bridge across a little stream. Keep hiking until you see a spur trail up a lakeside hill – this hill will be a little steep, but it’s short. Just be sure to wear shoes with good grips and you’ll be ok reaching this excellent Banff picnic spot.

3. Johnson Lake Swimming

Want to feel alive… like really, really alive?? Try going for a swim in Johnson Lake! The water temperatures in Banff lakes are exhilarating, so it’s not for the faint of heart!

To be honest, swimming at Johnson Lake is mostly for kids, who don’t seem to notice the bone-chilling water temperatures, but a few adventurous adults will go for a dip. I recommend trying a swim in Johnson Lake it if you are visiting Banff from afar – a swim in a freezing cold lake in Banff is a memory you won’t soon forget!

The Johnson Lake ‘beach’ is modest by most standards, but it’s a great spot go while visiting Banff with kids in the summer. I’m always amazed by kids’ ability to have fun in the water, whether it’s on the beach in Mexico, or a small patch of sandy dirt near a beautiful lake in Banff. They just don’t care – playing in the water is awesome!

beaches in Banff National Park - Johnson Lake with kids

With Quarry Lake in Canmore starting to charge for parking in 2021, you can expect Johnson Lake to be extremely busy on hot days. Get here early to secure a parking spot and a good spot near the beach.

4. Stand-up Paddleboard Johnson Lake

Johnson Lake is a perfect spot to go stand-up paddle boarding in Banff. A modest sized lake and surrounded by trees, the wind conditions at Johnson Lake will almost certainly be better here than at nearby Lake Minnewanka.

Stand up paddle boarding in Banff on Johnson Lake

We love stand up paddle boarding at Johnson Lake – there’s such a fun atmosphere here. Johnson Lake is approximately 1.5km long, so it’s big enough that you can go for a good float, but it’s small enough that you shouldn’t encounter waves, etc. The views of Cascade Mountain as you paddleboard back to the beach are awe-inspiring.

There’s plenty of room in the day use area to inflate your board and with an established beach area, it’s easy to get your stand-up paddleboard into the water at Johnson Lake.

Be sure to rinse off your SUP before and after your paddle on Johnson Lake – there’s a rinsing station with a hose near the wooden fence as you leave the parking lot and enter the day use area. Look for colorful signs discussing invasive species risk – the hose is right below.

calm lakes in Banff for paddle boarding - Johnson Lake

As of June 2021, Banff National Park requires a Self-Certification Permit for any non-motorized watercraft, fishing equipment and aquatic recreational equipment.

5. Kayaking at Johnson Lake

The water sports don’t end at stand-up paddleboarding. Kayaking is also a popular water sport at Johnson Lake. Again, help keep the ecosystem healthy and intact by rinsing your kayak before and after going into the water at this beautiful lake in Banff.

6. Float the Day Away

Kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding at Johnson Lake are a lot of fun, but it can also be a lot of work. If you’re looking for a lazy day out on the water, simply bring your dinghy and enjoy a relaxing day floating out on Johnson Lake, enjoying the world-class views that only a lake in Banff National Park can provide.

Due to the near-freezing water temperature in Johnson Lake, the risk of hypothermia is significant. Always wear a flotation device and if possible, don’t go out on the water alone.

7. Mountain Bike to the Water Tower

You know that green water tower you see on the side of the TransCanada Highway as you’re driving towards the Town of Banff? Well, you can mountain bike to that water tower from Johnson Lake!

kid friendly bike trail in Banff - Johnson Lake to the Water Tower Trail
Kid Friendly Bike Ride in Banff National Park

This 4.3km (one-way) Banff mountain bike trail runs from Johnson Lake to Cascade Ponds. The mountain bike trail is well-groomed and easy for all skill levels from Johnson Lake to the water tower, but the trail becomes more challenging beyond.

The stretch of mountain bike trail from the water tower to Cascade Ponds has a many tree roots and a long set of stairs to contend with, making this stretch a little harder.

We recommend doing this easy Banff mountain bike trail as a out-and-back. Start mountain biking towards the water tower at Johnson Lake and go as far as you feel comfortable, then turn back.

mountain biking trails at Johnson Lake in Banff with Kids

The trailhead for the Johnson Lake to Water Tower mountain bike trail is found on the right-hand side, just before crossing the bridge in the day use area. There are also hiking trails on the right just after the bridge, but don’t be confused with these – if you’ve crossed the bridge – you’ve gone too far.

For a different biking experience in Banff, try cycling the Rocky Mountain Legacy Trail between Banff and Canmore.

8. Bird Watching

Although Johnson Lake isn’t as well known for Banff bird-watching as the Vermilion Lakes or Johnston Canyon, it still holds its own. Being a large lake in Banff near the Bow River, Johnson Lake attracts many beautiful birds. We’re not birders ourselves, but we enjoy taking pictures of the beautiful birds we see at Johnson Lake.

birding in Banff National Park - a Cedar Waxwing in a tree along the Johnson Lake trail
Cedar Waxwing

Not Permitted – Fishing at Johnson Lake

To reduce the potential spread of whirling disease, fishing at Johnson Lake has been prohibited since 2017.

3 Things to do at Johnson Lake in Winter

We love visiting Johnson Lake in winter. In fact, it’s fair to say we’ve visited Johnson Lake in the winter more times than in the summer. It’s such a beautiful scene, with a frozen Banff lake surrounded by snow-covered trees and icy mountain peaks.

Johnson Lake in winter - easy snowshoeing banff trails

If you are lucky enough to visit Banff in the winter, we highly recommend you try one of these fun things to do at Johnson Lake:

1. Wild Ice Skating

If the conditions are just right, for a few magical weeks in early winter the lakes in Banff freeze over before they are covered with snow. Once the ice is thick enough, it creates a rare opportunity to go wild ice skating in Banff National Park.

lake in Banff for wild ice skating -Johnson Lake

Wild ice skating at Johnson Lake is a popular thing to do in Banff in winter. It’s a small, shallow lake which freezes reasonably early in the season, making it perfect for early season wild ice skating in in Banff. Being out on the lake means there are no trees to block your spectacular views of the surrounding Rocky Mountain peaks.

2. Snowshoe Johnson Lake Trail

The reason we visit Johnson Lake so much in winter is to enjoy the short, easy snowshoe trail around Johnson Lake. When we are in the mood for a quick & easy winter activity in Banff, Johnson Lake is our go-to.

The Johnson Lake snowshoe trail is one of our favorite things to do in Banff in winter

The Johnson Lake snowshoe trail follows the same trail as the Johnson Lake summer hike. It’s a popular easy Banff snowshoe trail, so the snow will most likely be hard-packed on the trail.

3. Winter Hike Johnson Lake

The fact that the Johnson Lake snowshoe trail is so popular, makes it a good opportunity for an easy winter hike in Banff. The trail is usually so hard packed that you don’t actually need snowshoes to manage any deep snow.

Johnson Lake - easy snowshoe trails in Banff

If you choose to winter hike the Johnson Lake trail, we recommend having good traction devices on your feet as the hard-packed trail can get quite icy and slippery on the hills. We love our Kahtoola Microspikes for winter hiking in Banff, but Yaktrax are another good option.

We recommend using traction devices for Chester Lake winter hiking

Facilities at Johnson Lake, Banff

Picnic Tables

Johnson Lake has approximately 16 picnic tables scattered around the day use area. Many of the picnic tables have good lake and mountain views, but some are tucked away in the shade of the evergreen forest.

Toilets

There is a building with 4 toilets in the Johnson Lake parking lot.

Beach

Johnson Lake has a modest little beach for kids to play on. It’s mostly dirt and small rocks, but your kids won’t mind. A visit to the Johnson Lake beach in summer is a very popular thing to do with kids in Banff.

Watercraft Washing Hose

There’s a water hose attached to a wooden fence in-between the parking lot and the Johnson Lake day use area. Use this hose to clean your stand-up paddleboard, kayak, dinghy or any other floatation device before and after your visit to Johnson Lake.

Help fight invasive species in Banff National Park by using the rinse station for your SUP, kayak or dinghy at Johnson Lake

This is a very important step to help Parks Canada manage non-native, invasive species within Banff National Park. Please do your part to help.

Food storage

On the other side of the wooden fence are a set of food storage lockers. If you bring food to Johnson Lake and need to leave the area for a while, lock your food in one of these bear-proof food storage lockers.

Bike racks

For those who ride their bikes to Johnson Lake, there are two sets of bike racks to lock up your bike. Bikes have a habit of disappearing, so don’t forget your bike lock.

Camping near Johnson Lake

There is no Johnson Lake campground in Banff National Park. The closest campgrounds to Johnson Lake are:

Camping in Banff near Johnson Lake

Competition for Banff National Park camping reservations can be quite fierce. If you are unable to get a campground, consider a stay at one of these inexpensive Banff hotels.

The iconic "Castle in the Rockies" - the Banff Springs Hotel

If you’d like to treat yourself, a stay at the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

We hope you enjoy your visit to Johnson Lake, Banff. Have fun!!

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Johnson Lake is a beautiful and popular lake in Banff National Park. Just a short drive from the Town of Banff, a visit to Johnson Lake is an excellent thing to do with kids in Banff. With a large day use area, Johnson Lake is a scenic spot for a picnic in Banff or to get out on the water with a stand-up paddleboard, dinghy or kayak.

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