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How to Get from Banff to Johnston Canyon: 4 Transport Options We Recommend

How to Get from Banff to Johnston Canyon: 4 Transport Options We Recommend

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If you want to visit Johnston Canyon from Banff, you’ve come to the right place!

Located around 30 minutes from downtown Banff, getting to Johnston Canyon can be a little tricky – especially if you don’t have your own wheels!

Driving to the canyon can be a great way to enjoy the local surroundings, but you also need to know a few things about parking before you go (and we’ll get to that later).

If you can’t drive yourself, you have options too! You can take the local bus, bicycle there, or even go on a fully guided tour with transport included. We break down all of these options in detail below!

In this guide, we’ll be looking at all the ways you can get from Banff to Johnston Canyon, as well as giving an insider look into what makes Johnston Canyon so special. So buckle up and put on those hiking shoes – it’s time to get started!

Don’t have time to read the full article? The last time I visited Johnston Canyon, I drove myself and loved it. However, for the most seamless experience, you really can’t beat this hop-on hop-off bus experience (with extra scenic stops along the way!) If you’re visiting in winter, this Johnston Canyon icewalk is absolutely magical!

Option 1: Drive Yourself

Daniel driving a rental car in Canada
Off we go in our rental car!

By far the most flexible way to get from Banff to Johnston Canyon is by car – there are so many epic viewpoints where you can stop off on the way! While it is possible to take the Trans Canada Highway from Banff to Johnston Canyon, we highly recommend opting for the Bow Valley Parkway route instead.

Not only is the Bow Valley Parkway route a 30-minute drive instead of a 40-minute one, but it’s hard to truly appreciate the scenery when you’re whizzing past on the highway.

A tip from us, though, is do be aware that road conditions on the parkway can be difficult during the wintertime. The road isn’t as regularly plowed as the highway during winter in Banff, making the drive a bit trickier to handle. If you do decide to opt to drive, then make sure to bring chains for your wheels and keep your speed low.

In our opinion, it’s best to opt for a bus tour in Banff or an alternative form of transport during the winter, as this will free you from the hassle of having to drive in these difficult conditions. You can then spend that extra time enjoying the beauty of the scenery around you!

Also, if you are visiting during peak season, summer in Banff, or on the weekends, then you might have trouble finding parking. Keep reading our tips for parking below.

Note: If you don’t have your own car, you can easily rent one from Calgary online here.

Related Read: If you’re planning a road trip, Johnston Canyon is a great stop on the drive between Jasper and Banff.

What is Parking Like at Johnston Canyon?

Parking at Johnston Canyon in Banff National Park
Pretty good, but it does change with the season!

If you’re thinking of driving to Johnston Canyon, the good news is that they offer free parking at the base of the hike! In total, there are two parking lots to choose from, and you can find the main lot (P1) just off the traffic circle.

Here you can also find the entrance to the trailhead, as well as washroom facilities. If you’ve biked it to the canyon, there are also dedicated areas where you can lock your bike.

Slightly further down the road towards Banff, you’ll also find a handy overflow parking lot (P2). 

For a parking space, the best time to arrive is before 9 am, as the parking lot often fills out after this (it’s a popular hike, after all!). However, as late afternoon rolls around, the lot does start to clear out a bit, so if getting up early isn’t your thing, you can still make it later on.

With that said, if you want to visit on weekends or during the peak of summer, there might not be any parking available in the middle of the day, which is why taking the bus or even this hop-on-hop-off tour is a better option.

Oh, and if you are planning to park your vehicle at Johnston Canyon, be sure that your Park Pass is clearly displayed on the dash of your vehicle to avoid any issues.

Option 2: Bicycle

Bailey rides a bike in Lake Louise, Canada
I love exploring by bike in summer!

Bikes are super popular along the Bow Valley Parkway, with many people making the trip from Banff to Johnston Canyon on two wheels every year! It takes about 1 hour and 30 minutes to cycle at a good pace, although it’s a good idea to take breaks along the way and admire the beautiful scenery all around you.

In total, biking to the canyon is around 26 km (16 miles) each way for a return trip of 52 km (32 miles). If you don’t fancy biking the entire way from Banff, there are also plenty of spots along the route to park your car and continue by bike.

There are also lots of bike racks at the main entrance to Johnston Canyon in the P1 parking lot too. Locks aren’t provided though, so be sure to bring your own along with you. We’ve never had any problems with our bikes or helmets going missing, but it’s worth securing them just to be on the safe side.

If you fancy exploring the parkway route to Johnston Canyon by bike but don’t happen to have one with you, then this guided e-bike and hike tour is a fantastic option – but more on this tour later!

Option 3: Public Bus (the Roam bus)

a view of the outside of a Roam Transit bus in Banff National Park with mountains in the background
A Roam bus in Banff National Park

Another great option for getting to Johnston Canyon from Banff is taking the bus. To get to the canyon, you’ll want to take the #9 Roam Bus, which costs $5 CAD one way for adults and $2.50 CAD for seniors and youths aged 13-18. Kids 12 and under can also ride all Roam buses for free!

The bus leaves from either the Banff Train Station or the Banff High School Transit Hub, so be sure to double-check the schedule beforehand.

Between May and mid-October, Route #9 to Johnston Lake runs hourly from 9 am to 6 pm. For the rest of the year, service runs on weekends and holidays only (except for Christmas Day).

Option 4: Guided Tour

Clear green water in Johnston Canyon
Clear green water in Johnston Creek!

Taking a tour from Banff to Johnston Canyon is a fantastic way of getting to know the surrounding area. As you explore, your knowledgeable guides can tell you everything you’d want to know about the area, as well as show you some of the most scenic spots you can visit.

Johnston Canyon is also one of those unique places where you can visit at different times of the year and have a completely different experience. Summertime is the perfect time to visit if you love gushing waterfalls and warm weather, while winter in Johnston Canyon really blew us away with just how gorgeous it was (think icicles, frozen waterfalls, you name it!).

The seasonal tours that visit Johnston Canyon really make the most of this Johnston Canyon icewalk tour that will have you navigating the trail in winter like a pro. Below, I’ve split up these tours into two categories, summer and winter, but keep an eye on bookable dates, as they might be more flexible than you think!

Summer Tours from Banff to Johnston Canyon

Daniel and Bailey take a selfie at the upper falls at Johnston Canyon in Banff National Park
Selfie with the upper falls!

You can take all the hassle out of getting to Johnston Canyon in the summer by taking a tour! All the tours we have mentioned below operate during the summer months, picking you up in Banff before taking you to Johnston Canyon.

eBike and Hike Banff to Johnston Canyon

There’s nothing quite like the feeling of getting on a bike and hitting the road. To me, the slower pace really makes me feel like I’m exploring rather than just getting from A to B! This half-day eBike and hike experience will take you from Banff along the gorgeous Bow Valley Parkway to Johnston Canyon, where you’ll enjoy a hike before taking a shuttle back to town.

If you’ve never ridden an eBike before, let me tell you that they definitely make life much easier! While this tour does still require a moderate level of fitness, the eBikes do a lot of the heavy lifting, so you can enjoy all the sights without huffing and puffing the entire time.

I had a blast getting to know our guide, Jen, who’s been doing these tours for a while now, and really knows her stuff. There’s nothing quite like talking to a local when you’re looking to discover places to visit and things to do.

Tickets for this tour cost $179 CAD per person, and you can book them online here with free 24-hour cancellation. That means if the weather isn’t looking so great, you can always reschedule!

Hop-on hop-off bus tour (year-round)

We love this hop-on hop-off bus tour in Banff because it gives you a chance to explore some of the best destinations in the Rockies at your own pace, without having to worry about arranging transportation.

Johnston Canyon is on the route and easily one of the top spots! The bus goes between Banff, Lake Louise and the Lake Louise Gondola, Moraine Lake, Samson Mall, and of course Johnston Canyon. You can easily customize the itinerary if you just want to visit Johnston Canyon or see some of the other top sights in the area.

A single-day ticket is $85 CAD for adults and there are 48 seats on each bus, so you can travel solo, with friends, or as a family – it’s suitable for pretty much everyone.

If you’re looking for a convenient and flexible way to get from Banff to Johnston Canyon, definitely book a hop-on hop-off bus ticket online before you go.

Winter Tours from Banff to Johnston Canyon

Snow covers the pathway to Johnston Canyon in Banff National Park in winter
Johnston Canyon is such a magical place to visit in the winter!

I have to admit, I was a little skeptical when I first heard about visiting Johnston Canyon in winter, but I’m so glad I gave it a go (it might even be my favorite time to visit!). That said, road conditions can be a bit trickier to navigate compared to summer, which is one reason why a guided tour is a great alternative.

There are lots of amazing tours that make the most of this time of year, so let’s strap on our snowshoes and take a look at some of the best ones now!

Johnston Canyon icewalk

This 4-hour tour takes you on an exciting icewalk along the edge of the famous Johnston Canyon to see its stunning frozen waterfalls, as you learn all about the natural history of the area. The hike is 5.4 km (3.4 miles) long with 135 meters (442 feet) of elevation gain, so you don’t need to be a pro athlete to take part, but you should have a decent level of fitness. 

We really like that this is a small group experience with a maximum of 12 participants, so you won’t need to worry about it being too crowded, or getting left behind. Your ice cleats and hiking poles are included in the price, and you’ll also get to warm up with a hot chocolate and a snack afterward.

Our tour guide, Erin, was super knowledgeable about the area – you can instantly see the passion that the tour guides have for the area.

Pickup is at the public bus parking located behind the Mount Royal Hotel in Banff. At $101 CAD per person, we definitely think it’s worth it. The smaller group size and plentiful photo opportunities make for a very fun tour! You can book your spot here through Viator.

Johnston Canyon evening icewalk

You can add an extra layer of adventure to your Johnston Canyon Icewalk by taking a magical nighttime tour. Your professional guide will make sure that you stay safe and don’t get lost along the way, leaving you free to admire the frozen waterfalls and ice features that shimmer under the moonlight.

Obviously, it gets pretty chilly at night, so we recommend that you wrap up, but you’ll warm up with hot chocolate and maple cookies along the way.

With a maximum of 12 people per tour, you’ll be provided with headlamps (which you get to keep at the end of the tour) that will light the way as you explore. Along the way, you’ll hear stories about the area from your guide, helping you to get fully immersed in the beauty and history of the area.

This tour costs $101 CAD per person, so it’s the same price as the daytime version, and you’ll drive along part of the Bow Valley Parkway to get there even though the experience focuses solely on the canyon itself. You can book this scenic tour online here.

Johnston Canyon winter hike and Bow Valley Parkway adventure tour

We love this small group tour which combines a beautiful hike along Johnston Canyon with a tailored tour of the Bow Valley Parkway. 

You can choose just how far you would like to go on the hike, you can simply explore the easier trail to the Lower Falls or extend your journey by continuing along the steeper path to the Upper Falls. Plus, the itinerary for your drive back along the Bow Valley Parkway will be carefully crafted on the day to take weather, big tour schedules, and wildlife sightings into account, ensuring you have the best possible experience.

We’re not fans of big group tours that make you spend more time peering through the windows of a crowded bus than exploring outside. This is why this customizable tour (with a maximum of 10 people) is perfect if you want to make the most of all the natural beauty that the Bow Valley Parkway has to offer.

You can also bring along a water bottle for free refills of filtered mountain water – how refreshing!

The tour costs $100 CAD per person including safety equipment and hot drinks, so we also think it offers great value for money. You can book your spot on this tailored tour here.

Related Read: While tours are a fun addition to your trip, there are also plenty of awesome things you can do in Banff for free!

General Info About Johnston Canyon

Bailey looks down at the Upper Falls at Johnston Canyon in Banff National Park
The Upper Falls is amazing!
Bailey and Daniel pose for a photo at Johnston Canyon in Banff National Park
The lower falls!

Once you’ve visited Johnston Canyon for the first time, you’ll see why I think it’s one of the best places to see in Alberta! The 5 km (3 mile) hike will take you through some amazing scenery, from the lush forest at the beginning all the way to the dramatic river-carved canyon, with some equally impressive waterfalls!

The two big waterfalls are definitely the main attractions of the canyon, so if you want to see these in action, make sure to visit during spring or summer in Banff. Although, frozen waterfalls are pretty epic in the winter!

First, there’s the Lower Falls, which is about 1.2 km (0.7 miles) to walk to. Then there’s the stunning Upper Falls, which is an impressive 98 feet (30 meters) in height, and you can either view it from the bottom or climb to the top! To get to the top, you’ll need to hike an additional 1.3 km (0.8 miles).

There aren’t too many amenities to be found at Johnston Canyon, although there are benches dotted along the trail, as well as a heated bathroom in the main parking lot. As there are no washrooms along the route, be sure to use them before you start the hike.

Right next to the main entrance, you’ll also find a café and a bistro where you can grab a drink and some tasty snacks.

Related Read: Looking for other things to do while you’re in the area? Here are our favorite ways to spend 1, 2, or 3 days in Banff.

Where is Johnston Canyon?

Bow Valley Parkway road in winter covered in snow
The road in winter!

Just west of Banff, you’ll find the Bow Valley Parkway, a gorgeous 48 km (30 miles) stretch of road that runs parallel to the Trans Canada Highway. This road leads from Banff to Lake Louise and was the original way to get between the two places before the main highway was built in the 1960s.

To get to Johnston Canyon, you’ll need to head about halfway up the parkway – trust me when I say that the views along the way are nothing short of jaw-dropping!

Johnston Canyon is located 25 km (15.5 miles) northwest of Banff, which is around a 30-minute drive up the Bow Valley Parkway. While you may also be tempted to follow the Trans Canada Highway, the quickest route from Banff is through the parkway.

Note: To access the Bow Valley Parkway, you’ll need a Park Pass, the same one needed for visiting Banff National Park.

Parks Canada Pass Quick Info

If you plan on spending time in Canada’s national parks (including Banff, Jasper, Yoho, Mount Revelstoke, Glacier, Kootenay, and more) then you’re going to have to pay for a Parks Pass.

Single Daily Admission:

This type of pass is valid for one person for one day. It is ONLY the best value if you are traveling alone and only plan to visit a national park for a couple of days.

  • Adult (ages 18-64) is $11 CAD
  • Senior (65+) is $9.50 CAD
  • Youth/Child (17 or younger) is FREE

Group Daily Admission:

If you’re traveling in a group or with family, you can buy a single-day admission for your entire vehicle (up to 7 people in one vehicle.)

  • $22.00 CAD gets your entire vehicle entry for one full day

Parks Canada Discovery Pass

The “Discovery Pass” is what Parks Canada calls their year-long (365 days from the purchase date), multi-park entry pass. This pass will give 365 days of access to all participating national parks in Canada. This includes the most popular parks like Banff, Jasper, Yoho, Kootenay, Glacier, Mount Revelstoke, and so much more.

  • Adult (age 18-64) – $75.25 CAD
  • Senior (65+) – $64.50 CAD
  • Group/Family (up to 7 people in one vehicle) – $151.25 CAD

Hot Tip: Although more expensive up front, if you plan on spending more than 7 days in different parks in Canada within a 12-month period, then the Discovery Pass is actually the better deal!

Parks Canada Passes can be bought online here or at one of the Visitor Centers or booths at the entrance to many national parks.

Bow Valley Parkway Seasonal Closure to Cars

a map showing the season road closure on the Bow Valley Parkway
This map shows the section of road that is closed to cars during certain times of the year.

Driving is one of the most scenic ways to experience the Bow Valley Parkway on your way to Johnston Canyon. However, parts of the Parkway do experience temporary road closures throughout certain times of the year to help protect the local wildlife. The most heavily affected area is the eastern part of the parkway, which is where you will be traveling through if heading here from Banff.

As part of a three-year program from 2022 through to the end of 2024, the eastern section of the road between Banff and Johnston Canyon will be closed to all traffic (including cyclists) from March 1 to April 30 for the evening and overnight hours of 8 pm to 8 am.

Then from May 1 to June 25, the road is completely closed to vehicles 24/7 but remains open for cyclists – except during those same overnight hours.

From Sept 1 – Sept 30, the same eastern section of Bow Valley Parkway is closed to vehicles. Again, this is to protect the wildlife corridor. However, no restrictions apply to cyclists.

If you are traveling within this timeframe, then you can still reach the canyon! Although it may take you an extra 10 minutes (so 40 minutes in total) this route will take you along the main highway before you turn off onto Bow Valley Parkway and backtrack slightly.

You can also take a look at the official website for the latest information on road closures.

Other Things to do While You’re in Banff

Banff gondola building and boardwalk on a early spring day with lots of snow
The top of the Banff Gondola
Bailey and her mum pose for a photo at Moraine Lake
Moraine Lake!

Once you’ve arrived in this part of Alberta, there are so many things to do in Banff! But with so much to choose from, it might feel overwhelming. So below, I’ve picked some of my favorite activities in the area.

  • Look for wildlife – Banff is home to some pretty incredible wildlife. You might just spot elk, bears, deer, foxes, coyotes, bighorn sheep, and more! The best chance you have of seeing the most critters is on a wildlife tour in Banff. We really liked this small group tour where the guides tailor the itinerary to recent wildlife spottings, and you get to see highlights of the national park along the way.
  • Visit Lake Louise and Moraine Lake – If you want to see more stunning lakes in the area, check out these two! Parking at Lake Louise can be tricky (and impossible at Moraine Lake!), so we’d recommend this Banff National Park Tour. You’ll get to visit Lake Louise as well as Moraine Lake in one go – with enough time to walk around, learn the local history, and snap postcard-worthy photos.
  • Explore Banff town – While many nature-based activities are nearby, you shouldn’t neglect Banff town itself! Start your morning by visiting one of the cute local cafes, or grab patio drinks along Banff Avenue in the afternoon. To avoid traffic, check out the pedestrian-only Bear Street, with even more restaurants, cafes, and shops. And if that’s not enough, there’s also a Farmers Market every Wednesday in the summertime.

Where to Stay in Banff

At the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel
Me, in front of the Fairmont.

Where you stay is one of the most important parts of your trip and in Banff, the selection can be overwhelming and expensive. There are lots of different areas to consider when it comes to deciding where to stay in Banff National Park. There are also plenty of great hotels in Banff town to consider. Below are some amazing hotels we recommend for a variety of budgets!

Samesun Banff Hostel – $

Samesun Banff Hostel is a great budget hostel with dorm rooms – perfect for those on a tight budget who want to stay in the heart of Banff town. Their common real is ideal for meeting like-minded travelers, and they also have an on-site restaurant where you can grab a meal before your wildlife tour!

As this is a backpacker place, you won’t find any private rooms available, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a great stay here. Dorms start from $53 CAD in the low season, but this does rise come summer! That’s why it’s a great idea to check your dates ahead of time, and to book your space on either Booking.com or Hostelworld.

Banff Inn -$$

The Banff Inn is a fantastic midrange hotel that combines comfort with an incredibly welcoming atmosphere. I love staying here as not only is the hotel located right on Banff Ave, but all rooms are air-conditioned, and the staff are so friendly! In the hotel, you’ll find a hot tub, steam room, and sauna, as well as a restaurant and bar.

Rooms here at the Banff Inn start at around $266 per night, and I highly recommend booking well in advance, as this is one of the most popular hotels in Banff.

Banff Rocky Mountain Resort – $$

Another fantastic midrange hotel is Banff Rocky Mountain Resort, which has a swimming pool, hot tub, gym, and all the rooms have kitchenettes or full kitchens. It’s the perfect place for families, since they also have two and three-bedroom units to pick from.

The Banff Rocky Mountain Resort is located in a peaceful spot on Tunnel Mountain that’s only a 5-minute drive from Banff town! With rooms starting at around $143 CAD, you can check availability and book Banff Rocky Mountain Resort online here.

Fairmont Banff Springs – $$$

The Fairmont Banff Springs is by far the most luxurious hotel in Banff. It’s definitely not cheap, but the place is simply incredible – it seriously looks like a castle! Inside this one-of-a-kind hotel, you’ll find 11 restaurants, 14 shops, bowling, bars, a top-rated spa, a couple of pools, and so much more.

If you’re celebrating something special, such as a honeymoon, then this should be the hotel you choose! A one-night stay starts at around $744 CAD, and you can check prices and room availability for Fairmont online here.

Important info: Accommodation in Banff can be tricky. For starters, you need to book well in advance if you want to have a large selection. I suggest booking a place ASAP! Using Booking.com is great too because lots of hotels offer free cancellation, so just lock in a place (or two) for now and make the final decision later!

Renting a Car in Alberta

A car drives along the Icefields Parkway
The drive is mesmerizing!

If you’re arriving in Alberta via plane then I can’t recommend getting a rental car enough. Canada is a large country and traveling between cities and even just getting out to some of the best places to visit in Alberta requires transport. Although you can use public transport, on some occasions, it means your trip will not only require more time but more planning.

Renting a car will definitely make exploring all of the fun things to see and do in Alberta easier.

Car rental in Canada isn’t super cheap, but it isn’t overly expensive either, especially if you get a budget car. The cheapest car with pickup and drop-off in different locations is around $100 CAD per day. The price does vary though depending on the time of year and the type of car that you rent. For car rentals, I use the website DiscoverCars.com. It’s a search engine with lots of deals with good customer service. In fact, I’ve used them all over the world including in Chile, New Zealand, and Australia.

Another popular option is to rent a campervan or motorhome (only for the brave in winter.) Using Motorhome Republic you can search hundreds of deals across multiple companies to pick a great vehicle and the cheapest price. Having a motorhome is a stunning way to see Canada, and using crown land and campsites, you can often camp for free or very cheap in the most beautiful places imaginable!

Thanks for reading!

Bailey at Lake Louise in Fall
Thanks for reading!

We hope this post has you pumped up about your visit to Johnston Canyon – it’s one of our favorite places in Banff to return to! There are plenty of ways to get from Banff to Johnston Canyon, so hopefully, this has helped you plan your route. If you love getting out and exploring nature as much as us, a trip here really is special.

If you have the time, we also highly recommend you make the trip to Lake Louise, a small mountain village with unmatched natural beauty. Be sure to check out our other Banff blogs as well.

15 BEST Stops on the Drive from Calgary to Banff

The Four Banff Gondolas – Our Comparison After Riding Them All!

20 Fun Things to do in Banff When it Rains