Visiting Johnston Canyon in 2021 will look a little different than it usually does. Here is what you need to know about visiting Johnston Canyon in Banff in 2021:
Visiting Johnston Canyon in 2021
- Is Johnston Canyon Open in 2021?
- 4 Ways to Visit Johnston Canyon in 2021
- A Guide to the Johnston Canyon Hike
- Johnston Canyon Hike Highlights
- Johnston Canyon Hiking Trail Stats
- How to Get to Johnston Canyon
- Johnston Canyon Map
- Hiking Johnston Canyon with Kids
- Where to Stop for Lunch or a Break
- Johnston Canyon Trail Safety
- Johnston Canyon in Winter
- Johnston Canyon in Spring
- Johnston Canyon Logistics
- What to Bring Hiking in Banff
- Footwear Recommendation
- Stay at Johnston Canyon
- Help Protect the Endangered Black Swift Bird
- Kid-Friendly Banff Hikes
- Kid-Friendly Kananaskis Hikes
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Is Johnston Canyon Open in 2021?
Yes, Johnston Canyon is open in 2021. The difference is that access to this top Banff attraction will be limited due to the public closure of the Bow Valley Parkway (Highway 1A) – the only road to visit Johnston Canyon in Banff.
In normal times, Johnston Canyon is one of the most popular attractions in Banff National Park. While the Johnston Canyon hike is beautiful, fun and unique, the large crowds can take away from the experience. A visit to Johnston Canyon in 2021 will be much more peaceful, and therefore enjoyable.
If all goes well with vaccinations, 2021 may be the last chance you’ll have to visit Johnston Canyon without the crowds. Don’t miss this chance!
4 Ways to Visit Johnston Canyon in 2021
With the Bow Valley Parkway road closure, no private vehicles may drive to Johnston Canyon on until further notice. While this may inconvenience some visitors to Banff, the upside is that there is no better time to visit Johnston Canyon than in 2021!
With the Bow Valley Parkway closure, here is how you can visit Johnston Canyon in 2021:
1. Cycle the Bow Valley Parkway to Johnston Canyon
The closure of Highway 1A has created a once-in-a-lifetime Banff cycling opportunity (ok, ok – twice in a lifetime if you count the 2020 road closure). The Johnston Canyon hike is usually one of the most crowded attractions in Banff, but you can now enjoy this beautiful Banff canyon with significantly smaller crowds.
Cyclists have two options to bike to Johnston Canyon in 2021:
- The shortest route to bike to Johnston Canyon is to park at Castle Junction. From here it’s a reasonably flat 6km bike ride to Johnston Canyon. There are a few hills along the bike ride, but most cyclists will have no issue. We’ve included this short and fun bike ride to Johnston Canyon in our favorite kid-friendly bike rides in Banff.
The Castle Junction parking lot is pretty small, so we advise you get there as early as possible. It took us approximately 35 minutes to ride our bikes to Johnston Canyon with our kids. Without kids, it should only take about 15 minutes to cycle to Johnston Canyon.
- The more challenging way to bike to Johnston Canyon is to start at the eastern end of the Bow Valley Parkway. There’s no parking at this end of Highway 1A, so you’ll need to park at the Fenlands Banff Recreation Centre or Banff Train Station.
From here, it’s a short bike ride along the Legacy Trail connector to the Bow Valley Parkway. All together it’s a 19km bike ride from Banff to Johnston Canyon with a few more hills to contend with.
There are bike racks in the main entrance to Johnston Canyon and in the P1 parking lot. Be sure to bring a bike lock for your bike. We can’t guarantee the safety of your bike helmet, but in the 5+ times we’ve ridden our bikes to Johnston Canyon, we’ve left our helmets with our bikes with no issues.
2. Take the Roam Bus to Johnston Canyon
For those who don’t wish to cycle to Johnston Canyon, the public transit Roam bus to Johnston Canyon will resume service on May 9, 2021. Roam Route #9 has two bus stops in the Town of Banff:
3. Stay at the Johnston Canyon Lodge & Bungalows
The only public cars allowed on the Bow Valley Parkway during the mandated road closure are for guests of the Johnston Canyon Lodge & Bungalows. These cosy Banff cabins are just a stone’s throw from the Johnston Canyon trail.
We’ve always loved staying at the Johnston Canyon cabins and we’re sure you will too. There is no better time to stay at the Johnston Canyon cabins than in 2021!
4. Walk to Johnston Canyon
A final option to get to Johnston Canyon in 2021 is to walk from Castle Junction instead of riding a bike. The walk from Castle Junction to Johnston Canyon follows the same route as the bike ride. It’s along the side of the highway, so it’s not the most interesting hike in the world, but it’s better than nothing.
People walking to Johnston Canyon need to keep in mind that it’s 6km each way, plus the miles you’ll put on hiking Johnston Canyon. If you hike 5km return to the Johnston Canyon Upper Falls, this will result in a total hiking distance of 17km. This will take the average person 4-5 hours to hike to the Johnston Canyon Upper Falls and back.
A Guide to the Johnston Canyon Hike
I’ve been enjoying the Johnston Canyon hike in Banff for over 40 years now and I never get tired of it. Sure, people say Johnston Canyon is too touristy, but it’s one of the best Banff attractions for a reason… it’s short, easy, beautiful, fun and quite simply one of the best easy hikes in Banff!
I still have clear memories of the excitement I felt on the Johnston Canyon hike as a kid. Walking directly above Johnston Creek on elevated catwalks bolted to the side of the canyon was such a thrill. Equally exciting was entering a dark cave to get so close to the Johnston Canyon Lower Falls that you get soaked.
My first time on the Johnston Canyon hike was as a kid, but I still feel this excitement to this day, and I’m not alone; I see big smiles on visitors of all ages each time I treat myself to the Johnston Canyon hike. It’s a scenic, fun and unique place and in my opinion, the Johnston Canyon hike is one of the best easy hikes in Banff.
Johnston Canyon Hike Highlights
The Johnston Canyon trail leads visitors up into the belly of a dramatic canyon created by the flow of Johnston Creek. The Johnston Canyon trail alternates between being in a lush pine forest and on elevated walkways above the flowing water.
The humidity from Johnston Creek creates a lush forest with dense green moss blanketing the forest floor. Old Man’s Beard Lichen hangs from the branches giving the forest a kinda spooky feel.
The forest around Johnston Canyon is alive with the sounds and sights of many little creatures, including Townsend’s Warblers, Dark-eyed Juncos and Red Squirrels. Be sure to take the time to stop and listen for them.
The elevated walkways are one of the big highlights of the Johnston Canyon hike. Without these elevated pathways along the canyon walls, much of Johnston Canyon would be impassible, robbing visitors the opportunity to enjoy the intimate beauty of this mountain river canyon.
There are many waterfalls along the Johnston Canyon hike, but two of the waterfalls stand out:
The Johnston Canyon Lower Falls are well-hidden in a narrow part of the canyon. Your first glimpse of these falls is crossing Johnston Creek on a solid metal bridge, but the best place to enjoy the Johnston Canyon Lower Falls is by walking into the small cave on the far side of the bridge.
There is a small viewing area within this cave which is extremely close to the water from the Johnston Canyon Lower Falls – chances are you will get wet, but it’s so worth it to feel the raw power of nature up close.
The Johnston Canyon Upper Falls are much higher than the Lower Falls. There are two viewing platforms for the Upper Falls, although the lower catwalk is currently closed due to safety concerns. The other viewing platform is much larger and allows you to see the Johnston Canyon Upper Falls from above.
Each Upper Falls viewing platform is a short distance from the junction (roughly 100-150m) and are both well-worth a look (when they are open).
Finally, the Johnston Canyon hiking trail is always wide enough for two people to walk side-by-side. This isn’t always the case while hiking in the mountains, so it makes the Johnston Canyon hike great for families or larger groups who wish to socialize along the way.
Johnston Canyon Hiking Trail Stats
How Long is the Johnston Canyon Hike?
The one-way hiking distance from the main parking lot to the Johnston Canyon Lower Falls is 1.2km. It’s an additional 1.3km to hike to the Johnston Canyon Upper Falls (for a total of 2.5km one-way).
How Steep is the Johnston Canyon Trail?
The Johnston Canyon hike is relatively easy. The elevation gain you’ll encounter to the Lower Falls is a mere 30m, while it’s 120m if you hike to the Upper Falls.
There are virtually no steep parts along the Johnston Canyon hike to the Lower Falls, but you will encounter a few very short steep parts on your way to the Upper Falls.
How Hard is the Johnston Canyon Hike?
Almost everyone can enjoy the Johnston Canyon hike. I occasionally see people struggling while hiking Johnston Canyon, but the vast majority of people will be able to reach the Upper Falls without issue. As such, we rate the Johnston Canyon hike as “easy”.
How Long will the Johnston Canyon Hike Take?
It should take a typical adult about 1 hour to hike Johnston Canyon to the Upper Falls and back.
I recently took my four year old on the Johnston Canyon hike and it took us about 2 hours to complete the full hike.
How to Get to Johnston Canyon
Disregard this section in 2021. Please refer to the options for how to get to Johnston Canyon in 2021 above
The fastest way to get to Johnston Canyon from Calgary or Banff is to drive west along the TransCanada Highway and then turn onto the Bow Valley Parkway (Highway 1A). It will take approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes to drive from Calgary to Johnston Canyon and only 30 minutes from Banff.
Bow Valley Parkway Wildlife
Drive with caution along the Bow Valley Parkway as this is a prime area to see Banff wildlife. Cars taking pictures can be parked on the side of the road at any point, so don’t drive faster than the posted speed limits and be prepared to stop.
We’ve seen more bears on the Bow Valley Parkway than anywhere else in Banff. There’s also a good likelihood of seeing a herd of Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep.
Johnston Canyon Parking
The Johnston Canyon hike is so popular that they had to build a second parking lot (P2). Try the main lot first which is the first right turn at the traffic circle. If this lot is full, turn back towards Banff and you’ll find P2 a short distance away on the right. Despite the popularity of Johnston Canyon, this is one spot you’ll enjoy free parking in Banff.
Bus from Banff to Johnston Canyon
If you don’t have a rental car, you can still get to the Johnston Canyon hike by bus. During the summer months, you can take local transit. Roam Route 9 goes from the Banff Townsite directly to Johnston Canyon. For $8 per person return, this is a steal!
Hop-On Hop-Off Bus to Johnston Canyon
Another option is a Banff Hop-On, Hop-Off Bus day-pass. The advantage of this option is that you can also stop at several Lake Louise locations, allowing you to see several top Banff attractions in a single day.
Johnston Canyon Trailhead
The Johnston Canyon trailhead leaves from the main Johnston Canyon parking lot in Banff National Park (P1). To find the Johnston Canyon trailhead, look for a large wooden sign with “Johnston Canyon” carved into the top beam. Cross the bridge and turn left onto the Johnston Canyon hiking trail.
Don’t have a car? Learn how to get around Banff National Park without a car.
Johnston Canyon Map
Due to a lifelong habit of taking wrong turns on hikes, I’ve turned to using hiking apps to ensure that I stay on the proper hiking trails.
In this instance though, it’s virtually impossible to get lost on the Johnston Canyon hike – simply enter the canyon and follow the crowds along the single trail.
If you’d still like a digital map of the hike and the ability to track your stats (distance, elevation gain, etc), I use and recommend AllTrails. Within the hiking app, search for “Johnston Canyon Trail to Upper Falls”.
If paper maps are more your style, I highly recommend Gem Trek hiking maps. They are the gold standard for Banff & Kananaskis hiking trails maps and we own the entire set. They are exceptional 3D topographic maps which I love looking at for hiking inspiration.
The Johnston Canyon Trail appears on the Gem Trek hiking map entitled, “Banff & Mount Assiniboine Map”.
Hiking Johnston Canyon with Kids
As mentioned in the intro, the Johnston Canyon hike made such a profound impact on me as a kid, I still have strong memories of the fun I had. With many exciting elevated catwalks and a spooky cave leading to a powerful waterfall, your kids will have an equally amazing experience. This is a must-do when visiting Banff with kids.
If you are considering the Johnston Canyon hike with a baby, we would not recommend using a large stroller. The Johnston Canyon trail is paved, but the catwalks are so busy and narrow that you would not be very popular. If possible, a bring one of these great baby carriers, as a better option for hiking with a baby.
We have some great resources for hiking with kids on our Family Can Travel site. Check out our best tips for hiking with kids, the best hiking gear for kids and the 9 Best Hiking Songs for Your Family.
Where to Stop for Lunch or a Break
There are benches at regular intervals on the Johnston Canyon hike all the way up to the Upper Falls. Keep an eye open for the benches which have good views of the waterfalls.
If you stop at any one of these benches and pull out some food, there’s a very good chance you’ll be greeted by ultra-cute Golden-Mantled Ground Squirrels and/or Red Squirrels. These little guys make a good living mooching human food off visitors.
I know it’s hard, as they are so cute, but avoid feeding them – low-nutrient human food is really bad for them and does not prepare them for the cold winter ahead.
Johnston Canyon Trail Safety
Banff National Park is bear country. We love bears and would hate for any harm to come to them or you, so please take the time to educate yourself by reading Safe Travel in Bear Country.
Don’t be fooled that the Johnston Canyon hike is too busy for bears – there are bears at Johnston Canyon. In fact, we recently had a black bear cross the path right in front of us not far from the parking lot!
The Johnston Canyon hike is one of the rare Banff hikes where you will see actually dogs on leash, likely as it’s so popular that people feel social pressure to comply with the law.
If you continue your Johnston Canyon hike past the Upper Falls to the Ink Pots, the crowds will thin out. You may be tempted to take your dog off-leash here, but keep in mind off-leash dogs can very easily draw a bear or cougar back to your group.
This happens far too often and puts your life and the life of the animal in danger. It’s just not worth it. Here’s a recent example of a person who was lucky to walk away from a grizzly attack.
We recommend checking the Banff National Park Trail Conditions report before you hike Johnston Canyon.
Johnston Canyon in Winter
Johnston Canyon Icewalk
If you visit Banff in winter, the Johnston Canyon hike is a wonderful winter hike in Banff. There are two ways to hike Johnston Canyon in winter:
The Johnston Canyon Ice Walk is a popular way to see this icy wonderland. Simply strap on your provided ice cleats and head on up the canyon with your guide. The massive pillars of ice at the Upper Falls are an incredible sight. If you’d like to try something a little more adventurous, nighttime Johnston Canyon ice walk tours are also available.
Moose Meadows to Johnston Canyon Snowshoe
An alternate way to enjoy Johnston Canyon in winter is to snowshoe from the Moose Meadows parking lot to the Upper Falls. This solitary walk through snow covered pine trees is magical Banff snowshoe trail in winter.
Johnston Canyon in Spring
Spring is a wonderful time to visit Banff’s Johnston Canyon! Here’s what to expect at Johnston Canyon by month:
Hiking Johnston Canyon in April
A visit to Johnston Canyon in April is especially beautiful. In a typical year, the canyon walls will still be covered in a beautiful blue waterfalls or icicles. The snow and ice over Johnston Creek will have partially melted, but will still be mostly covered over.
In April, the Johnston Canyon hiking trail will likely be very icy. I wouldn’t recommend attempting the Johnston Canyon hike in April without microspikes.
The combination of humidity from the water coupled with ample canyon shade and lots of snow and ice make it feel much colder than the ambient air temperature elsewhere in Banff. Dress warmer than the Banff weather forecast calls for.
Your reward for hiking Johnston Canyon in April will be the beauty of the frozen Lower and Upper Waterfalls. You won’t believe the incredible blue color of the ice in these majestic Banff waterfalls.
Johnston Canyon in June
By June, the snow and ice at Johnston Canyon will be largely melted. The exciting part about Johnston Canyon in June is the powerful flow of the canyon river due to the spring thaw. This is one of the best times of year to hike Johnston Canyon – the incredible power of the river is something to behold!
Johnston Canyon Logistics
- There are heated washroom facilities in the main parking lot near the Johnston Canyon trailhead. This will be your only chance to go, so take advantage. The Johnston Canyon trail is very busy and there are very few spots where you can duck into the trees for some privacy.
- There are no drinking water facilities at Johnston Canyon, so fill your hydration packs before you leave.
- On-leash dogs are allowed on the Johnston Canyon trail.
- There is a café and bistro in the Johnston Canyon Lodge and Bungalows, located right at the trailhead. There is also a little coffee shack at the trailhead, but it is often closed.
- Try to visit Johnston Canyon early in the day on a weekday if at all possible to avoid the crowds.
- Bikes are not allowed on the Johnston Canyon trail.
What to Bring Hiking in Banff
You don’t need a lot of hiking gear to enjoy hiking in Banff. Our list of Banff hiking gear essentials contains the hiking gear and clothing you’ll need for the variable Banff weather and trail conditions.
The Johnston Canyon trail is mostly paved the whole way to the Upper Falls. Unless you are doing this 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.
Stay at Johnston Canyon
Johnston Canyon is located halfway between the Town of Banff and Lake Louise, making it a fun and convenient place to base your trip to Banff National Park.
Johnston Canyon Lodge and Bungalows was named the 2019 Resort of the Year by the Travel & Hospitality Awards. You can choose from 42 heritage bungalow/cabins nestled in the woods near the trailhead.
We spent a weekend at these Johnston Canyon cabins a few years ago and we loved it. Getting up and enjoying the Johnston Canyon hike before the crowds arrived was a rare and special experience.
Another excellent option is the Castle Mountain Chalets, just 6km away. Sit at the outdoor firepit and enjoy panoramic views of Castle Mountain, one of the most beautiful mountains in Banff National Park.
If camping is more your style, Parks Canada operates the Johnston Canyon Campground right across the highway from the trailhead. You can make reservations for the the Johnston Canyon campground starting in January every year.
Help Protect the Endangered Black Swift Bird
Johnston Canyon is a breeding ground for the endangered Black Swift bird. To protect this special resident, it is prohibited to hike off the main Johnston Canyon trail between April 1 – November 15. Parks Canada is actively enforcing this regulation and fines can reach $25,000.
There are very few nesting pairs left here – please help protect the endangered Black Swift birds by staying on the hiking trail.
Kid-Friendly Banff Hikes
Kid-Friendly Kananaskis Hikes
- Heart Creek Hike
- Blackshale Suspension Bridge Hike
- Grassi Lakes Hike
- Karst Spring Trail
- Grotto Canyon Winter Ice Walk
- Jura Creek Winter Hike
- Best Kananaskis Hiking Trails for Social Distancing
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