Johnston Canyon is one of the most popular places to visit in Banff National Park. There’s a good reason why the Johnston Canyon hike is on everyone’s must-do list for Banff. One of the very best hikes in Banff National Park, it’s a short, easy walk through a deep mountain canyon with many beautiful waterfalls along the way. It’s a wonderful easy Banff hike for all ability levels.
As locals, we’ve been enjoying the Johnston Canyon hike in Banff for years. Since we aren’t visitors, we also get to enjoy it at different times of year. We’ve hiked Johnston Canyon in every season, with dogs, with kids, without kids. We’ve biked to Johnston Canyon. We’ve snowshoed Johnston Canyon.
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. Make sure to add it to your itinerary as it’s one of the best free things to do in Banff!
Visiting Johnston Canyon in 2024 – Table of Contents
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Is Johnston Canyon Open in 2024?
Visiting Johnston Canyon in 2021 looked a little different than most years, but things are pretty much back to normal now. Johnston Canyon is now fully open and the Bow Valley Parkway is fully open to vehicle traffic in both directions to Johnston Canyon, with the exception of the 3 year pilot project:
In 2022, Parks Canada started a 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.
A Guide to the Johnston Canyon Hike for 2024
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!
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
Each of the 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.
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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 1.2 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).
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 an easy Banff hike.
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
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.
In 2022, Parks Canada started a 3 year pilot project where the eastern section of the Bow Valley Parkway from Fireside Day Use to Johnston Canyon will be closed to public vehicle traffic in the spring and fall. The 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.
Insider’s Tip: Before you begin your scenic drive along the Bow Valley Parkway to Johnston Canyon, we recommend you buy the Banff audio guide by GuideAlong. This entertaining and educational GPS activated audio tour will greatly enhance your visit to this special part of Banff National Park.
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.
Don’t have a car? It’s easy to get to Banff without a car, and once you are there, it’s also easy to get around Banff National Park without a car. You’d be surprised at the number of Banff hikes you can do without a car!
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.
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 2022 (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.
There are 3 fun options for cyclists bike to Johnston Canyon:
- The shortest route to bike to Johnston Canyon is from Castle Junction. If you are confident your children are safe bike riders who will respect the vehicle traffic on the road, this can be a very fun kid-friendly bike ride in Banff. We do not recommend it for young bike riders who can’t be trusted to stay on the shoulder.
- The more challenging way to bike to Johnston Canyon is to start at the eastern end of the Bow Valley Parkway. There’s very limited parking at this end of Highway 1A, so you may need to park at the Fenlands Banff Recreation Centre or Banff Train Station.
From here 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 more hills to contend with.
Our recent bike ride from the Fenlands Loop 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.
- A super-fun way to experience this special Banff hike in the warmer months is to take an e-bike and hike tour to Johnston Canyon. This summer tour to Johnston canyon includes return transportation between Banff and Castle Junction, a guided 6 km e-bike ride along the Bow Valley Parkway to Johnston Canyon and a guided walk to the Lower Falls.
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.
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. Service levels vary throughout the year, so check the Roam Route #9 Bus to Johnston Canyon – Schedule and Route before you go. For $8 per person return, taking the bus to Johnston Canyon is a steal!
Roam Route #9 has two bus stops in the Town of Banff:
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.
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.
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”.
Enjoy map downloads and many more premium features with a 7-day free trial of AllTrails+!
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 website. 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 by claims 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 hiking path right in front of us not far from the P1 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 hiker with an off-leash dog 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 a 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 in Fall
Visiting Johnston Canyon in September
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 with many fall colors. 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.
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 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.
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. Read our full review of the Johnston Canyon Cabins here.
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. For more selection, check out our list of the best Banff cabin rentals.
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.
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!
Kid-Friendly Banff Hikes
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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.