Johnston Canyon Hike: Ultimate Guide with Expert Local Tips

Author: Dan Brewer

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Johnston Canyon is a breathtaking natural wonder in Banff National Park, featuring stunning waterfalls, deep pools, and lush forested trails.

There’s a good reason why the Johnston Canyon hike is on everyone’s must-do list for Banff. As one of the best easy hikes in Banff National Park, hiking Johnston Canyon takes you through a deep mountain canyon with many beautiful waterfalls along the way. Not only is the Johnston Canyon hike a wonderful easy hike for all ability levels, the elevated boardwalks through the canyon make it a unique experience.

Elevated boardwalks of Johnston Canyon hike in Banff National Park.

As locals, we’ve been enjoying the Johnston Canyon hike in Banff for years and throughout every season. We also have done this hike several times with dogs, with babies, toddlers and with kids. We think it’s fair to say that we have a fair amount of experience with the Johnston Canyon hike! And yet, we never tire of it.

There’s no question that Johnston Canyon will be busy, so should you give it a miss? Some people will say it’s not worth the time. We disagree! In this post we’ll share everything you need to know about hiking Johnston Canyon, including how to avoid the crowds, what you should know when visiting with kids and tips for every season.

Johnston Canyon Hike Stats

Distance: Lower Falls 2.4 km / 1.5 miles return. Upper Falls 5.0 km / 3.1 miles return.

Elevation Gain: Lower Falls 30 m / 98 ft. Upper Falls 120 m / 394 ft.

Estimated Time: 1-2 hours to Upper Falls.

Important Things to Know:

Parking is free & there is no cost to hike Johnston Canyon.

There are heated washroom facilities in the main parking lot.

There is a place to fill up a water bottle in the main parking lot.

On-leash dogs are allowed on the Johnston Canyon trail.

There is a café and the Blackswift Bistro for food at Johnston Canyon.

Bikes are not allowed on the Johnston Canyon trail.

Click to browse even more Banff Hiking Trails of this same difficulty!

This post contains compensated links.

How to Get to Johnston Canyon

The Johnston Canyon trailhead is in the main Johnston Canyon parking lot. 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 right onto the Johnston Canyon hiking trail.

Johnston Canyon Trailhead in Parking lot P1

1. Drive to Johnston Canyon

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.

Directions from Calgary to Johnston Canyon

Directions from Banff to Johnston Canyon

2024 is the final year of a Parks Canada 3 year pilot project where the eastern section of the Bow Valley Parkway from Johnston Canyon to the Fireside Day Use will be closed to public vehicle traffic in the spring and fall. The eastern Bow Valley Parkway section closed to vehicle traffic will be 7 days a week from May 1 to June 25 and again in September 1 to 30 each year of the 3 year pilot project.

From May 1 to June 25 and again in September, drive approximately 25 km further on the Trans-Canada Highway to exit at Castle Junction to access Johnston Canyon.

Map of Bow Valley Parkway Closure.
The section of the Bow Valley Parkway in yellow is closed as part of the pilot project. The arrow is Castle Junction, where you turn to access Johnston Canyon during this closure.
Quiet and empty Highway 1A - Bow Valley Parkway to Johnston Canyon.

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.

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.

Guide Along App

Recommended App

Before your drive on the Bow Valley Parkway to Johnston Canyon, we recommend getting the GuideAlong app. This entertaining and educational GPS activated audio tour will greatly enhance any drive in Banff National Park.

Get GuideAlong
Bear on Bow Valley Parkway in Banff National Park.
A black bear crosses the Bow Valley Parkway near Johnston Canyon.

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.

2. Cycle the Bow Valley Parkway to Johnston Canyon

The opportunity to cycle the Bow Valley Parkway to Johnston Canyon without traffic will begin again on May 1 to June 25 in 2024 (and again for anyone visiting Banff in September). Riding your bike is still a fun way to visit this top Banff attraction, while getting some bonus exercise.

Biking to Johnston Canyon along Bow Valley Parkway.
Our family cycles the Bow Valley Parkway near Castle Mountain.

To bike to Johnston Canyon from Banff, the best place to park is at the Fenlands Banff Recreation Centre or Banff Train Station.

From the Fenlands or the Train Station, it’s a short bike ride along the Banff Legacy Trail connector to the Bow Valley Parkway. All together it’s a 24k m bike ride from Banff to Johnston Canyon with a few hills to contend with.

Our recent bike ride from the Fenlands Day Use to Johnston Canyon on our mountain bikes took us around 1 hour 20 minutes (one-way). If you have a road bike, the ride to Johnston Canyon will be much faster.

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.

Cycling Bow Valley Parkway in Banff National Park

Recommended Tour

Enjoy this fun Banff cycling experience with a guide and on an e-bike which includes hiking Johnston Canyon.

Bow Valley Parkway Cycling with Mountain Views in background
Snow capped mountains while cycling the Bow Valley Parkway in early May.

3. Take the Roam 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. The Roam Route 9 bus goes from the Banff Townsite directly to Johnston Canyon. For $8 per person return, taking the bus to Johnston Canyon is a steal!

Local Tip

Service levels vary throughout the year, so check the Roam Route #9 Bus Schedule before you go. In the winter months, this route only runs on weekends.

4. Hop-On Hop-Off Bus to Johnston Canyon

Another option is a Banff Hop-On, Hop-Off Bus day-pass. The advantage of taking a Banff Hop-On Hop-Off bus is that you can also stop at several Lake Louise locations, allowing you to see several top Banff attractions in a single day. Other stops include Lake Louise, the Lake Louise Gondola and Moraine Lake.

Empty Raised walking platforms along Johnston Canyon Hike.

Hiking Johnston Canyon

Sure, people say Johnston Canyon is too touristy, but it’s one of the best Banff attractions for a reason…

We see big smiles on visitors of all ages each time we treat ourselves to hiking Johnston Canyon. It’s a scenic, fun and unique place that everyone should visit at least once during their trip to Banff National Park.

a waterfall in Banff's Johnston Canyon.
One of the many waterfalls in Johnston Canyon.

Walking directly above Johnston Creek on elevated catwalks bolted to the side of the canyon is such a thrill. Equally exciting is entering a dark cave to get so close to the Johnston Canyon Lower Falls that you get soaked.

Cave to view Johnston Canyon Lower Falls.
The cave to the lower falls.

Local Tip

Our best recommendations for enjoying Johnston Canyon without the crowds is to visit on a weekday, either early in the morning or even late afternoon.

Summer days in Banff are very long, so there will be plenty of daylight left even after dinner. With kids we often arrive before 9am when we hike Johnston Canyon.

Hiking Johnston Canyon in Spring.
A beautiful hike along Johnston Creek.

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.

Start of Johnston Canyon Trail through lush forest.

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.

Father and two kids hiking Johnston Canyon trail in Banff.
Dan and the kids hiking Johnston Canyon in early October.

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 the Lower 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.

Johnston Canyon Waterfalls - Lower Falls.
Johnston Canyon Lower Falls as seen from 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 hear and feel the raw power of nature up close.

Get wet from the Johnston Canyon lower falls inside a cave!
it's a 1km hike to the Johnston Canyon Lower Falls.
The view of the Lower Falls from inside the cave.

The Johnston Canyon Upper Falls are much higher than the Lower Falls. There are two viewing platforms for the Upper Falls. The lower platform leads to the bottom of the Upper Falls; it’s is quite small and can get congested. The upper viewing platform is much larger and allows you to see the Johnston Canyon Upper Falls from above.

Johnston Canyon Upper Falls from view point below the falls.
The Upper Falls as seen from the lower viewing platform.

Each of the Upper Falls viewing platform is a short distance from the junction (roughly 100-150m) and are both well-worth a look.

view from the Johnston Canyon Upper Falls viewing platform.
The Upper Falls as seen from the upper viewing platform.

Finally, the Johnston Canyon hiking trail is wide enough for two people to walk side-by-side. While this great if you can hike Johnston Canyon before it gets busy, it at least gives the opportunity to easily get by the people coming from the other direction.

Johnston Canyon hiking - Best things to do in Banff.

How Long is the Johnston Canyon Hike?

The one-way hiking distance from the main parking lot to the Johnston Canyon Lower Falls is 1.2 km. It’s an additional 1.3 km to hike to the Johnston Canyon Upper Falls (for a total of 2.5 km one-way).

Cave Johnston Canyon Lower Falls in April.

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. We 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 an easy Banff hike.

Hiking Johnston Canyon with Kids in Banff National Park.

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. If you are stopping to take a lot of pictures, expect it to take longer. If you visit at a busy time, you may be waiting a while to get in the cave at the Lower Falls, since there’s really only room for around 4 people in there.

When our kids were little, the Johnston Canyon hike took us about 2 hours to complete the full hike.

Hiking Johnston Canyon with Kids

Johnston Canyon hike in Banff with Kids.
Our kids love the elevated walkways on the Johnston Canyon trail.

With many exciting elevated catwalks and a cave leading to a powerful waterfall, your kids will have an equally amazing experience. This is a must-do when visiting Banff with kids.

Our kids have hiked Johnston Canyon several times and yet, they are always excited to do this hike over and over.

Kids at entrance to Lower Falls at Johnston Canyon.
Our kids crossing the bridge to the entrance to the cave to see the Lower Falls.

Can You Use a Stroller at Johnston Canyon?

If you are considering the Johnston Canyon hike with a baby, we would not recommend using a stroller. While you could make it to the Lower Falls at Johnston Canyon with a stroller, the trail to the Upper Falls gets steep.

In addition, while the Johnston Canyon trail is paved for a portion of it, the catwalks are so busy and narrow that you would not be very popular. Instead, bring a baby or toddler carrier, which is a much better option for visiting Banff with a baby or toddler.

Parents with baby and toddler at Johnston Canyon in Banff.
Using a carrier when we hiked Johnston Canyon when our son was a baby.

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.

hiking Johnston Canyon with kids.

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.

Canada Jay or Whisky Jack at Johnston Canyon Hike.
Watch for the Whisky Jacks who love to try to snatch your food.

Johnston Canyon Trail Safety

Don’t be fooled by claims that the Johnston Canyon hike is too busy for bears – there are bears at Johnston Canyon. In fact, we’ve had a black bear cross the hiking path right in front of us not far from the parking lot on a busy Saturday.

directional signs on the Johnston Canyon Hike.

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.

Wildlife Safety

When hiking in Banff National Park, you are responsible for your own safety. Before hitting the hiking trails we highly recommend you read our 10 Essential Banff Hiking Tips for information about bear safety, trail conditions, wildlife warnings and possible closures.

Johnston Canyon in Winter

If you visit Banff in winter, the Johnston Canyon hike is a wonderful winter hike in Banff. In fact it’s one of our favourite times to do this hike. It’s usually much quieter and the frozen waterfalls are so impressive!

You’ll definitely want to go all the way to the Upper Falls when you hike Johnston Canyon in winter. You’ll often see ice climbers on the Upper Falls, which is quite fun to watch.

ice climber at Johnston Canyon Upper Falls

It can get quite icy on the Johnston Canyon trail, so we always pack our Kahtoola microspikes. You can always rent microspikes or ice cleats in the town of Banff.

Banff Hike - Johnston Canyon in winter or spring and snow covered.

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.

Johnston Canyon in Spring

Spring is a wonderful time to visit Banff’s Johnston Canyon!

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.

Hike Johnston Canyon in Banff National Park in winter.

In April, the Johnston Canyon hiking trail will likely be very icy. We 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.

Frozen Waterfall hike in Banff National Park - Johnston Canyon.

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.

Frozen Waterfall - Lower Falls at Johnston Canyon in Banff National Park.
Frozen Waterfall - Upper Falls at Johnston Canyon Hike in Banff National Park.

By June, the snow and ice at Johnston Canyon will be largely melted. The exciting part about hiking 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!

Hiking Johnston Canyon in June.
Hiking Johnston Canyon in Spring.

Johnston Canyon in Fall

In fact, while the rest of the world goes crazy over larch trees, September is a great time to hike Johnston Canyon – it’s still going to be busy, but it will be less crazy that in the peak summer months.

Two kids on Johnston Canyon trail.
Johnston Canyon in the fall.

When visiting Banff in September, many people focus on the best larch hikes in Banff to see the golden needles before they fall. While Johnston Canyon doesn’t have any larch trees, it’s still a beautiful hike in the fall. The Bow Valley Parkway will have plenty of fall colours to make up for it!

Driving Bow Valley Parkway in late September.
The Bow Valley Parkway in early October.

What to Bring Hiking in Banff

Even though this is an easy Banff hike, you should bring along the basic hiking gear to ensure a safe and successful outing. Before hitting the Johnston Canyon Trail, be sure to check out our recommended Banff hiking gear.

As far as Banff hiking clothing goes, keep in mind you will be walking through a deep canyon with high humidity. This means the temperature within the canyon will feel lower than outside the canyon. Dress a little warmer than you think you should.

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.

Upper Falls at Johnston Canyon.

Where to Stay Near Johnston Canyon

Johnston Canyon is ideally 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.

Ideally located between Lake Louise and Banff, Johnston Canyon is a great place to stay.

We spent a weekend at these Johnston Canyon cabins a few years ago and we loved it. We’ve also recently stayed at Johnston Canyon Lodge & Bungalows with kids.

Getting up and enjoying the Johnston Canyon hike before the crowds arrived was a rare and special experience.

Read More

We’ve shared everything you need to know about staying at the Johnston Canyon Lodge and Bungalows here!

two kids sitting in adirondack chairs at Johnston Canyon Resort.

Another excellent option is the Castle Mountain Chalets, just 6 km away. Sit at the outdoor firepit and enjoy panoramic views of Castle Mountain, one of the most beautiful mountains in Banff National Park.

Read More

If staying in a cabin sounds perfect for your Banff holiday, check out our list of the Best Banff Cabin Rentals here.

where to rent a cabin in banff - Castle Mountain Chalets.

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.

Hiking Johnston Canyon in Banff National Park.

There are very few nesting pairs left here – please help protect the endangered Black Swift birds by staying on the hiking trail.

Great news! In October 2021, Parks Canada announced that the number of Black Swift nests recorded in 2021 is the highest since 2004! Let’s all do our part to keep the momentum going!

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Unlock the secrets of Johnston Canyon with this ultimate hiking guide! Packed with expert local tips, this guide covers everything from navigating the trail in all seasons to managing crowds and making the hike enjoyable for kids. Perfect for first-timers and seasoned hikers alike. Save this to plan your ideal Banff adventure!
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Dan Brewer, a life-long Alberta resident, calls Canmore home along with his wife and two kids. He is the co-owner of Travel Banff Canada, where he gets to share his passion for the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Dan, along with his family, love being outdoors doing one of the many activities they enjoy in the mountains: hiking, mountain biking, paddleboarding, skiing, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.

When he's not in Canmore enjoying one of his favourite local hikes, you can find him hoping on a plane to explore a new country with his family or working on one of their other two travel sites: Family Can Travel and Baby Can Travel.

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