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Johnson Lake Hike – Banff

One of the most underrated hiking trails in Banff National Park, the Johnson Lake hike is an enjoyable short hike around the shores of a beautiful lake. On this easy Banff hike you’ll enjoy a wide variety of beautiful Banff scenery, including beautiful stretches of forest, views of Johnson Lake and the surrounding mountains.

A visit to Johnson Lake day use area is a popular thing to do with kids in Banff. Located in the Minnewanka Loop, the Johnson Lake day use area has tons of picnic tables and a little beach area for kids. You’ll be amazed at how kids won’t notice how cold the water is at this beautiful lake in Banff.

The Johnson Lake hike is one of the best easy hikes in Banff, Alberta

In addition to being a beautiful picnic spot, there are many fun things to do at Johnson Lake including kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding and of course, the Johnson Lake hike.

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

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Johnson Lake Hike Highlights

The Johnson Lake hike is a flat, easy hiking trail which circumnavigates this beautiful lake in Banff National Park. Being a loop trail, you can hike the Johnson Lake train in either direction.

The easy hiking trail around Johnson Lake Banff is great for kids

For some reason, we always tend to do the Johnson Lake hike in a counter-clockwise direction, so that is how this post is written. But feel free to hike Johnson Lake in the opposite direction if you wish – there’s no clear benefit to hiking it in one direction vs. the other.

wildflowers in Banff along the Johnson Lake Trail

Although it is one of the best easy hikes in Banff, the Johnson Lake trail is a little confusing as there are two hiking trails to choose from on the north shore and two hiking trails on the south shore.

To promote social distancing during COVID, Parks Canada has posted a sign in the Johnson Lake day use area recommending which hiking trail you should take based on your direction of travel. Don’t worry – it’s all pretty easy to figure out.

To promote social distancing, Parks Canada has installed many one-way signs along the Johnson Lake Trail in Banff National Park
One-way trail signs promote social distancing on the Johnson Lake Trail

From the Johnson Lake day use area, you’ll see a nice little bridge where water leaves the Banff lake to create a charming little stream. Head south towards the bridge and take a few moments to read the interpretive signs before crossing.

While you are standing on the bridge, stop and gaze across the blue waters of Johnson Lake and enjoy views of Mount Inglismaldie (2,964m), Mount Girouard (2,995m) and Mount Peechee (2,935m).

Snowcapped mountains surround Johnson Lake in Banff National Park

Shortly after crossing the bridge, you’ll reach a picnic table on the hiking trail. This is the trail junction for the two hiking trails along the north section of the Johnson Lake hike:

Johnson Lake – South Shore – Outer Trail

Continue hiking straight ahead at the picnic table to take the Johnson Lake south shore outer trail. For those doing the Johnson Lake hike counter-clockwise, this is the recommended counter-clockwise route during Covid restrictions.

hiking Johnson Lake with kids is a fun family activity in Banff, Canada

The outer trail takes you away from the shores of Johnson Lake, and to be honest, isn’t as nice as the inner trail which hugs the lakeshore. But we support Parks Canada’s efforts and encourage you to take this alternate trail if you are hiking counter-clockwise.

The Johnson Lake south shore outer trail is still pretty nice if you forgive it for taking you away from the shores of the beautiful Banff lake. The hiking trail is through a nice stretch of forest taking you to the top of a hill which overlooks the TransCanada Highway. From here, you’ll enjoy some nice views of Mt. Rundle, which is one of my favorite mountains in Banff.

The outer loop on the Johnson Lake Trail has views of hoodoos, Mt. Rundle and the TransCanada Highway

Johnson Lake – South Shore – Inner Trail

Turn left at the picnic table to continue the Johnson Lake hike along the shoreline. This leg of the Johnson Lake trail is one-way for clockwise hikers. This is an especially beautiful leg of the Johnson Lake trail, so during Covid you may wish to hike around the Banff lake clockwise. When Covid is finally gone, we recommend everyone take the south shore inner trail.

Along this stretch of the Johnson Lake hike, you’ll always have a nice view of the beautiful Banff lake as you walk through a lush, mossy forest. At times you’ll be slightly elevated above Johnson Lake and others you’ll be within a few feet of the water.

turquoise water and mountain views at Johnson Lake Banff

The inner and outer legs of the southern Johnson Lake hiking trails converge at the south-east end of the Banff lake.

From this hiking trail junction, you’ll hike east along a raised berm on the eastern edge of Johnson Lake towards another small bridge. If you’re looking for an epic adventure, the trail to the summit of Mount Girouard is on the right, just before the bridge.

Johnson Lake Trail Banff Canada

As you cross the bridge take a moment to look across the length of this beautiful lake in Banff National Park for incredible views of the majestic Cascade Mountain (2,998m).

Shortly after crossing the bridge, the Johnson Lake trail reenters the forest and turns west along the northern shore of the Banff lake. Watch for a bench with even more amazing views of Cascade Mountain across Johnson Lake.

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

Approximately 300m after leaving the bridge, you’ll reach the trail junction for the two north shore Johnson Lake hiking trails:

Johnson Lake – North Shore – Inner Trail

Go left at the trail junction to continue hiking along the shores of Johnson Lake. This section of the Johnson Lake trail is recommended for one-way for clockwise travel during Covid.

lakes in Alberta Canada - Johnson Lake, Banff National Park

This leg of the Johnson Lake hiking trail hugs the shoreline along the bottom of a short, but steep hill. Never straying far from the shores of Johnson Lake, this leg of the hiking trail is reasonably flat and easy.

Johnson Lake – North Shore – Upper Trail

Go right at the junction and climb a short, but steep hill to get to the upper (outer) trail on Johnson Lake’s north shore. This section of the Johnson Lake trail is recommended for one-way for counterclockwise travel during Covid.

This is our preferred trail on this side of Johnson Lake as the elevated views of the Banff lake, Mount Rundle and Cascade Mountain are outstanding.

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

There used to be two of the iconic Parks Canada Red Chairs up here, but our most recent visit to Johnson Lake in April 2021, the chairs were gone… a quick peek on the map of red chairs in Banff shows that Johnson Lake is no longer a location for these chairs.

find the red chairs in Banff National Park for amazing views. These red chairs used to be at Johnson Lake, Alberta

Oh well, bring a hiking picnic blanket and take advantage of the views in the open, flat area where the red Adirondack chairs used to be.

Halfway along the hill, watch for a trail heading downhill on the right. This leg of the Johnson Lake hiking trail meets up with another small, unnamed Banff lake, with some pretty amazing mountain views in the distance.

Eventually the two northern Johnson Lake trails converge near a bridge over a pretty mountain stream. This leg of the hiking trail has many wooden rails which kids can’t resist climbing.

Soon you’ll reach the final trail junction of the Johnson Lake hike: go right to take a shortcut back to the parking lot, or better yet, turn left to return to the lakeshore for a final walk along the beautiful shores of Johnson Lake.

Johnson Lake Trail Location

The Johnson Lake trailhead is in the Johnson Lake day use area in the Lake Minnewanka Loop area of Banff National Park. You have several options to get to Johnson Lake:

Drive to Johnson Lake, Banff

It’s a 90 minute drive from Calgary to Johnson Lake, or just a 14 minute drive from Banff to Johnson Lake.

The Johnson Lake parking lot is a decent size and offers free parking, but this is one of the most popular places to visit in Banff, so it can fill up fast on weekends and holidays. Arrive early and avoid peak hours if possible.

A reflection of Cascade Mountain as seen from the Johnson Lake hiking trail in Banff National Park, Canada

Take the Bus to Johnson Lake

The Roam Route #6 bus travels from the Banff townsite to the Johnson Lake parking lot. Learn more about the Roam bus in Getting Around Banff Without a Car.

Roam public transportation is an easy way to Johnson Lake, Banff on a budget

Cycling to Johnson Lake

Cyclists will get a huge treat from Parks Canada in May 2021 – the Minnewanka Loop Road will be closed to vehicle traffic Monday – Thursday from May 1-20, 2021. 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 Banff townsite 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.

Enjoy views of Mt. Rundle all the way to the Three Sisters from the Johnson Lake Trail in Banff National Park

Johnson Lake Hike Trailhead – Clockwise Direction

Johnson Lake Hike Trailhead – Counterclockwise Direction

Johnson Lake Trail Statistics

Given there are several iterations of the Johnson Lake hike, we will give the statistics for the traditional, non-Covid lakefront hike around the Banff lake.

easy hikes in Banff - Johnson Lake with kids

How Long is the Johnson Lake Hike?

The Johnson Lake hike is a pretty short Banff hike, clocking in at just over 3km long. For perspective, if you hike the longest version of the Johnson Lake hike (using both of the outer trails) the total hiking distance grows to only 3.9km.

the trail around Johnson Lake in Banff National Park has some beautiful forest sections

How Steep is Johnson Lake Trail?

If you stick to the lakeside trails, the Johnson Lake hike is remarkably flat with a total elevation gain of only 70m. If you take the scenic upper trail along the northern side of Johnson Lake, you’ll need to climb one short, steep hill which adds about 20m to this total.

How Hard is the Johnson Lake Hiking Trail?

The Johnson Lake hike is one of the easiest hikes in Banff. It’s short, flat and easy but it delivers a ton of incredible Banff scenery. With this combination, it’s no surprise the Johnson Lake hike is such a popular Banff hike.

We rate the Johnson Lake Trail as an “easy Banff hike”.

Flowers in Banff - Shooting Star Flower on the Johnson Lake Hike
Shooting Star wildflower on Johnson Lake Trail

How Long Does It Take to Hike Johnson Lake?

It should take a typical adult roughly 40-60 minutes to hike the Johnson Lake loop trail.

We recently hiked Johnson Lake with our kids (5 & 7) and it took us 1.5 hours.

Johnson Lake Trail Map

Outside of Covid restrictions, it’d be nearly impossible to get lost on the Johnson Lake hike. Just find the hiking trail and follow it all the way around the beautiful Banff lake.

As you can see from the Johnson Lake trail highlights above, there are a few recommended one-way detours during Covid to assist in social distancing. The additional Johnson Lake trails are reasonably well marked with trail signs, but we recommend having a trail map on your phone to ensure you find your way.

Johnson Lake hike trail map on a sign posted along the hiking trail

We used the AllTrails app while hiking the Johnson Lake Loop Trail. We use AllTrails for all our adventures in the Canadian Rockies and hiking with kids around the world. In addition to helping stay on the trails, we like the ability to track our stats (distance, elevation gain, etc.).

To find the traditional Johnson Lake hiking map on AllTrails, simply search for “Johnson Lake”.

There isn’t an updated map for the one-way Covid detours on AllTrails, but having the base map on your phone will help you make sure you return back to the main trail at the junctions described above. Again, don’t worry too much if you don’t want to have the trail map on your phone – all the Johnson Lake trails are pretty easy to follow.

Johnson Lake Alberta hiking

Being so close to Banff and the TransCanada Highway you should have some cell service on this Minnewanka Loop hike but expect it to be spotty. It’s always a good idea to download the trail map onto your phone ahead of time just in case.

Hiking Johnson Lake Trail with Kids

A visit to Johnson Lake is one of the best things to do with kids in Banff; we’ve been hiking Johnson Lake with our kids for years. It’s such a flat and easy trail that it was always a go-to for us when we wanted an easy kid-friendly hike in Banff.

The kid-friendly hike around Johnson Lake is one of our favorites easy hikes in Banff

There are so many reasons why we recommend the Johnson Lake trail with kids. The Johnson Lake day use area has a small beach for kids to play in the water. This is a fun treat for kids at the end of the hike. Use it as a reward to encourage kids to keep moving forward on the hike.

beaches in Banff National Park - Johnson Lake with kids

The forest around Johnson Lake is really fun for kids to explore. There’s tons of fallen trees to climb on, up and over, flowers to admire, birds and squirrels to find.

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

The hiking trail gets close enough to Johnson Lake for the kids to throw lots of rocks into the water.

There’s a few bridges for the kids to cross. Kids always love bridges while hiking.

The Johnson Lake hike is short and easy enough for most kids to complete themselves, even if they are little. This is a huge confidence builder for little kids and is a good building block for harder hikes.

Where to Stop for Lunch or a Break

The most obvious answer to this question is to grab one of the many picnic tables in the Johnson Lake day use area. The picnic tables all have nice views of Johnson Lake, while some are also in the forest to give welcome shade on a hot day.

Have a Banff picnic at the Johnson Lake day use area in the Minnewanka Loop - a great alternative to Quarry Lake in Canmore

The Johnson Lake hike is short enough that you likely won’t need to stop mid-way for a break. But that doesn’t mean you won’t want to stop and have a snack or picnic lunch while enjoying the scenery of this beautiful lake in Banff.

There is a single picnic table on the Johnson Lake trail just after you cross the bridge on the west side of the lake. It might be worth trying this one if all the picnic tables in the day use area are full.

The forest is full of places to have a snack. There are many fallen trees along the trail, so just find one which looks comfy and have a seat.

The best place for a break on the Johnson Lake trail is up on the hill on the northern side of the Banff lake. There’s a large, flat clearing up there which makes a perfect spot to lay down a hiking picnic blanket and soak in the views.

With views of the Banff lake and Mount Rundle, the small hill on the north shore is the best picnic spot along the kid-friendly Johnson Lake hike

Johnson Lake Hiking Safety Tips

Johnson Lake is very near a “core area for Grizzly Bears” in Banff National Park. Before hiking Johnson Lake, please take the time to educate yourself on Bear Safety in Banff National Park. And please, make lots of noise as you hike to alert the bears of your presence.

An enjoyable easy hike around Johnson Lake Alberta

Cougars also live in Banff National Park. Learn more about Cougar Safety in Banff National Park.

Don’t let this scare you off – chances of a dangerous wildlife encounter in Banff are very low, but you never know what will happen with Banff wildlife, so be educated and prepared.

We recommend you check the latest Johnson Lake Trail Report for trail conditions, wildlife warnings and possible closures before you head out.

Johnson Lake Trail Logistics

On-leash dogs are allowed on the Johnson Lake hike. With lots of spots for your dog to go for a swim, Johnson Lake is a great Banff hike for dogs.

For those who take advantage of the excellent bike ride on the Minnewanka Loop to Johnson Lake, there are two sets of bike racks near the parking lot.

There are washrooms in the Johnson Lake day use parking lot.

There is a rinse station in-between the Johnson Lake parking lot and the picnic area. Use this hose to clean stand-up paddle boards, kayaks, etc. before putting them in Johnson Lake. This step is vital to prevent the spread of invasive diseases.

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

There are food storage bins next to the watercraft cleaning hose. If you have any food with you, but wish to leave it behind for your hike around Johnson Lake, the bear-safe food storage bins are the perfect solution.

There are no drinking water facilities at Johnson Lake, so fill your reusable water bottles or hydration packs before you leave home.

Open fires are not permitted at Johnson Lake.

What to Bring for Hiking Johnson Lake

Generally speaking, you don’t need a lot of hiking gear on short day hikes in Banff. Check out our list of hiking essentials with the hiking gear and clothing we recommend to enjoy your hike, regardless of the variable Banff weather and trail conditions.

A full sundog seen over Johnson Lake in Banff Alberta
Sundog over Johnson Lake

Johnson Lake Hike Footwear Recommendation

The Johnson Lake trail is well groomed all the way around the lake. Unless you are doing the Johnson Lake hike in winter, you won’t need any special hiking shoes for this hike.

If you plan to do a lot of Banff hiking during your visit, you’ll need a proper pair of hiking shoes.

Johnson Lake Hike in Winter

Johnson Lake is one of our favorite places in Banff and we enjoy visiting it all year round. In addition to being a beautiful place to go wild ice skating, you may also enjoy the Johnson Lake hike as a winter hike or snowshoe trail.

Cascade Mountain in January as seen from Johnson Lake, Banff National Park, Canada

Johnson Lake Winter Hike

A beautiful frozen lake in Banff covered by snow-capped Rocky Mountains are what makes the Johnson Lake winter hike special.

Johnson Lake, Banff in winter - hiking, snowshoeing and skating

The Johnson Lake winter hike is popular enough that the trail is usually hard packed snow (unless you arrive early the morning after a snowfall). With so many pairs of feet trampling the snow down, the Johnson Lake trail can get icy and slippery. The hills along the hiking trail that don’t seem very high in the summer suddenly become slippery and a bit dangerous in the winter.

Johnson Lake hike with kids- easy winter hiking trails in Banff

The best way to enjoy the Johnson Lake winter hike is with some proper foot traction devices. We love our Kahtoola MicroSpikes, but Yaktrax are also a popular alternative.

Johnson Lake Snowshoe Trail

Another great traction device to use on the Johnson Lake trail in winter are snowshoes. To be honest, the Johnson Lake trail will be so well travelled in winter that you won’t need snowshoes to manage any deep snow on the trail, but the crampons underneath snowshoes are very useful for traction on the icy trail.

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

We have enjoyed snowshoeing Johnson Lake and also as a winter hike. Both are great ways to enjoy Johnson Lake in winter – your choice of activity depends on what gear you have and/or what activity you feel like.

Explore more snowshoe trails in Banff

Johnson Lake Avalanche Risk

We are not avalanche experts, so please educate yourself and make smart, informed decisions while safely enjoying the beauty of Johnson Lake in winter. You are responsible for your own safety.

That said, this easy Banff winter hike should have low avalanche risk. Johnson Lake sits safely on the bottom of the very flat Bow Valley which runs between the Town of Banff and Canmore. The nearest mountains to Johnson Lake are Mount Inglismaldie and Mount Girouard. The bottom slopes of these mountains are separated from Johnson Lake by over 1km of well forested, flat valley floor.

Banff hikes with low avalanche risk - johnson lake winter hike

We highly recommend consulting the Banff Avalanche Bulletin published by Avalanche Canada before you go. The Johnson Lake winter hike / snowshoe trail would be classified as “Below Treeline”.

Interested in more easy winter hikes near Johnson Lake? Check out our comprehensive list of easy winter hikes in Banff and Kananaskis.

We hope you love the Johnson Lake hike as much as we do!

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