Thursday, August 15, 2013

Hiking Johnston Canyon - Banff National Park

The river along the trail.

Johnston Canyon is a popular hike in Banff National Park.  The trail leads to several waterfalls in the canyon.  The hike to the lower falls is mostly paved and has little elevation gain.  It is an easy hike, although being right along the river, it tends to be damp.  You may want a sweatshirt or light jacket.  I hiked this trail in early June, and the weather was cool, but comfortable.

Beginning of the Johnston Canyon trail

This scenic little hike starts from the parking lot of the Johnston Canyon Lodge.  It is a 30 minute drive from Banff on the Trans Canada Highway heading toward Lake Louise.  Water and toilets are available at the trail head.  The hike to the Lower Falls takes about 30-40 minutes, depending on your pace.  This hike is very accessible, and has stunning views along the way.

Trail sign.

Because I had been very ill the day before, I was not up to completing the hike to the Upper Falls.  However, the Lower Falls hike was truly a gem.  I am glad I was able to fit this in during my short stay in Banff.

Map near the beginning of the hike shows Upper and Lower Falls.

This trail has walkways right along the river, and sometimes you find yourself walking over the water.  It is beautiful, and a unique experience.  The treacherous parts of the trail have railings.  You will want to keep an eye on young children on this hike, however.  The water is cold and moving fast.

The paved trail continues most of the way to Lower Falls.

Along the way I had wonderful views of the rushing water.

Banff National Park is at a higher elevation.  Carrying water and staying hydrated is important to your comfort level on this hike, even though it is an easy walk.

Walkways pass through shady forest and follow the river.

There are benches along the way, and we were entertained by a fearless chipmunk at one point on the trail.  Please do not feed these animals. They are already too comfortable approaching people.

Chipmunk strikes a pose.

The walkways on this trail are engineering feats.  They hover over the rushing water and hug the slick rock walls.  The moist air encourages growth of green mosses and plants.  The trail is also known for bird watching.  Although we did not see many birds, we did see dippers on this hike.

Walkways extend out over the water.

Moss growing on rocks.

The trails to Lower and Upper Falls are clearly marked by a sign.  There are seven falls along this trail, so for those who have the time and energy to continue on up the trail, more beautiful views await.

Sign for Upper and Lower Falls

When you reach Lower Falls, there is a bridge over the river from which you have a nice view of the waterfall.  If you don't mind getting a little wet, at the top of the trail you can make your way through a short tunnel in the rock and view the waterfall up close.  I chose to do this, and did get sprayed!  Other hikers coming out recommended I put up the hood of my sweatshirt to keep off some of the water.  It was good advice.

Me by Lower Falls

The tunnel to a waterfall viewing spot...very wet!

This is a wonderful little hike in Banff.  An easy trail, and a short walk with a beautiful pay-off at the end of the trail.  I understand it can be quite crowded during peak season, so it is recommended that you hike either early in the morning or later in the day during late summer.  I hit the trail in early June, and although there were other hikers along the way, it never felt too crowded and there were times when we had the trail to ourselves.  We returned to the parking lot just as it began to rain, so we settled into our van for a picnic lunch out of the cooler, and then drove back into Banff.  I am so glad I found this hike!

Lower Falls - Johnston Canyon trail, Banff National Park


  1. I love hiking! And Banff is so beautiful. Thanks for sharing your photos!

  2. This was a highlight on our Banff trip. I loved the rushing water and getting sprayed when we went through the cave hole. Such a beautiful place!