Hiking Johnston Canyon in the Winter

Hiking-Johnston-Canyon

Johnston Canyon One of Banff National Park's Most Popular Destinations

Discover Frozen Waterfalls and Snow-Covered Trails in Banff National Park Canada

Hiking Johnston Canyon in the Winter is spectacular. However, the best way to experience Hiking Johnston Canyon in the Winter is through the eyes of someone who has never been there before. There is something even more magical when experiencing the snow-covered trails, a cantilevered catwalk trail and frozen waterfalls for the first time, again. On this excursion we are joined by good friends from Quebec who graciously share the experience from their point of view, but first there are some practical details to cover.

Johnston Canyon Trailhead. Photo credit: Janet Guthrie
The Start of a Great Adventure. Photo credit: Janet Guthrie

Hiking Johnston Canyon Trail in the Winter - Before you go

Johnston Canyon is located in Banff National Park therefore a Parks Canada pass is required. The 2024 rate for an adult day pass is $11 and can be purchased at the park Gates. There are no additional charges to hike the Johnston Canyon Trail.

Since Johnston Canyon is one of the most popular places to visit in Banff National Park it can get quite busy. To avoid the crowds plan to go before lunch or after 3:00pm. Please note that the sun sets very early during the winter. Starting after 3:00pm in the winter won't leave much time before it starts to get dark.

Hiking Johnston Canyon in the Winter can be slippery as the trail is frequently covered in snow and ice. Ice cleats are recommended. The weather in the Canadian Rocky Mountains can change quickly. It is a good idea to check the forecast before you head out and dress appropriately.

Admiring the View as we Enter Johnston Canyon. Photo credit: Janet Guthrie

Trail summary

Distance - 6 km (to the Upper Falls)
Route Type - Out & Back
Elevation Gain - 206m
Difficulty - Moderate
Time Needed - 1.5-2 hours.
Trail Surface - Be prepared for a snowy, ice-covered trail in the winter.
Trailhead - Johnston Canyon Parking Lot
Dogs - Allowed and must be on leash.
Permitted uses - Hiking, walking.
Note: Drones are not permitted in Banff National Park
Amenities - Washrooms

The Upper Falls. Photo creidt: Peter Guthrie

Johnston Canyon Trail Winter Trail Description

Hiking Johnston Canyon Trail in the Winter is a very different experience than hiking it during the summer. The canyon transforms itself into a winter wonderland. Frozen waterfalls, deep blue pools of water contrasting against the mountain side and snow-covered trails are breathtaking. The trail first winds through the alpine forest before reaching the entrance to the canyon. It is here that the cantilevered catwalks begin, first low to the ground before climbing its way up along the canyon wall to reach the Lower Falls. From here, the trail continues for a few more kilometers deeper into the canyon making its way towards the Upper Falls where a spectacular winter scene unfolds. The falls are truly remarkable.

The Lower Falls Cave. Photo credit: Janet Guthrie
Cascading Pools along the Johnston Canyon Trail. Photo credit: Janet Guthrie

Cantilevered Catwalks

Hiking Johnston Canyon in the Winter in Banff National Park is truly spectacular. Becoming very narrow there is no longer any room for the trail to fit in between the cliff face and the water. Therefore, the trail becomes a little bit more adventurous as it continues to wind its way through the canyon on cantilevered catwalks suspended from the rock.

The Catwalk in Johnston Canyon. Photo credit: Janet Guthrie
The Cantilevered Trail Clings to the Canyon Walls. Photo credit: Janet Guthrie

Waterfalls of Johnston Canyon in Banff

There are two sets of waterfalls along the Johnston Canyon Trail. As such Hiking Johnston Canyon in the Winter has a high reward to effort ratio. After only 1.1.km of hiking adventurers will reach the Lower Falls. Across a bridge is a small cave that opens up to a nice view of the lower falls. Continuing on, the trail through Johnston Canyon is an additional 2.7km further to reach the Upper Falls. The Upper Falls are even more impressive than the lower falls and are worth the little bit of extra effort it takes to reach them. 

The Lower Falls. Photo creidt: Janet Guthrie
The Upper Falls. Photo credit: Janet Guthrie

An Eastern Canadian's Experience Hiking Johnston Canyon in the Winter  

I asked our friends from Quebec to share what the experience was like for them. This is how they poetically described their experience. 

"A quiet walk and suddenly a sound, a murmur; the water flowing beneath the ice. The river of crystal-clear water flows between the rocks and the impeccable white snow. The landscape slowly changes to display the high rock walls carved by the water thousands of years ago. I can only imagine how powerful that was. The fall covered with blue ice and the pool of water almost turquoise we get to see through a small tunnel. You are perhaps too used to see the trees so high… we are not. They are majestic, standing proud of protecting the canyon and feeding from it. They are a spectacle on their own. And always the quiet whisper of water walking us through the discoveries.

For us, Eastern Canadians, the canyon was our first expedition of the week and surely one to remember. Its quite a poetic and serene place. Showing the force of nature. To see rock walls invaded with ice like that is a show we don't get to see much. The narrow serpentine canyon either, never mind the waterfalls…and the fantastic company too.

It's not just a walk, it's a moment where we are part of the existence of the canyon, and it gives us the chance to admire it. It is a peak at a perfect beauty of nature." 

by V. Lussier
An expedition to Remember. Photo credit: Janet Guthrie

This beautiful description of Hiking Johnston Canyon in the Winter truly shows what a magical and impressive experience this hike is. 

Hiking Johnston Canyon in the Winter Ink Pots Extension

Most people will turn around after reaching the Upper Falls. However, for those looking to continue their magical experience a little bit longer, the trail continues on past the Upper Falls to the Ink Pots. This trail leaves Johnston Canyon and opens up into a beautiful Rocky Mountain valley where there are five aquamarine pools called the Ink Pots.

The extension to Ink Pots is another 3km beyond the Upper Falls, making for an 11.4km round trip hike. Another 124 m of elevation is gained on the trail to the Ink Pots. This route is less traveled in the winter, therefore, snowshoes are recommended. 

Ink Pots in the Fall. Photo credit: Janet Guthrie
Spectacular Rocky Mountain View from the Ink Pots. Photo credit: Janet Guthrie

Johnston Canyon's Secret Cave

There are lots of images and blogs online about Hiking Johnston Canyon in the Winter and how to find the Secret Cave. The area is closed and considered out of bounds. In 2022, the pedestrian railing on the Johnston Canyon Trail was extended from the lower falls to the upper falls to block access to the secret cave. Violating this restriction could result in being charged a 25,000 fine. 

Reasoning behind the closure is that Secret Cave is the only nesting place in Alberta for a small population of endangered Black Swifts. The closure is intended to help the Black Swift population rebuild. Since it is an extremely sensitive habitat, please skip out on trying to find Johnston Canyon's Secret Cave. 

Getting to Johnston Canyon

Hiking Johnston Canyon in the Winter is a short 25km drive on the Bow Valley Parkway. During the winter the road is open for vehicles. Alternatively, Route 9 on Banff's Roam public transit system transports hikers to and from the canyon on weekends during the summer. In 2024, a round trip adult pass between Banff and Johnston Canyon costs $5. 

Banff to Johnston Canyon Map. My Google Maps.

Where to Stay

On this trip we stayed at The Dorothy Motel, a 3-star boutique motel in Banff. It is a charming Rocky Mountain retreat with spacious and comfortable rooms. 

The Dorothy Motel in Banff. Photo credit: Janet Guthrie
The Dorothy. Photo credit: Janet Guthrie

An Expedition That is One to Remember

Hiking Johnston Canyon in the Winter, "it's not just a walk, it's a moment where we are part of the existence of the canyon, and it gives us the chance to admire it. It is a peak at a perfect beauty of nature." V. Lussier

Hiking Johnston Canyon in the Winter

Discover Frozen Waterfalls and Snow-Covered Trails in Banff National Park Canada

Travel Guide

  • British Columbia

Canada Parks

  • British Columbia

Location (Map)

AB-1A, Banff, AB T1L 1A9, Canada
×
Stay Informed

When you subscribe to the blog, we will send you an e-mail when there are new updates on the site so you wouldn't miss them.

Snowshoeing Johnson Lake Trail in Banff National P...
 

Comments 4

Greg Girard on Monday, 25 March 2024 05:15

Great story Janet. You always make me smile.

Great story Janet. You always make me smile.
Janet Guthrie on Monday, 25 March 2024 13:46

Thank you Greg, it is always nice to be able to put a smile on someone's face.

Thank you Greg, it is always nice to be able to put a smile on someone's face.
Kim Kenyon on Wednesday, 27 March 2024 06:53

I really like that winter wonderland photo!

I really like that winter wonderland photo!
Janet Guthrie on Thursday, 28 March 2024 13:47

Thank you Kim. Nothing beats a beautiful winter wonderland day in the mountains.

Thank you Kim. Nothing beats a beautiful winter wonderland day in the mountains.
Already Registered? Login Here
Guest
Monday, 15 April 2024

Alberta Experiences