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23 Things to Know Before Visiting Johnston Canyon

23 Things to Know Before Visiting Johnston Canyon

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Looking to visit Johnston Canyon in Banff National Park? Well, you’ve come to the right place.

As a Canadian and former Canmore local, I’ve shown so many of my friends and family around Johnston Canyon that some of the rangers at Parks Canada know me by first name!

Over all those visits, I’ve learned a thing or two about visiting Johnston Canyon. And, I’m going to keep them secret! Just kidding!

To help you plan your trip, I’ve listed below everything you need to know before you go. I talk about how to get there, how to snag parking, what there is to do there, and the best locally guided tours.

So without further ado, let’s get to it!

Don’t have time to read the full article? Johnston Canyon is one of my favorite hikes in Banff, and it’s conveniently located off the scenic Bow Valley Parkway. You can explore on your own if you have a rental car, or join a guided tour to Johnston Canyon, which includes stops at other iconic Banff National Park locations!

1. About Johnston Canyon

Lower falls at Johnston Canyon in Banff National Park
The Lower falls
People walk along the boardwalk at Johnston Canyon in Banff National Park
Walking along the boardwalk!

Johnston Canyon is an absolutely stunning area, no matter what time of the year you visit. The 5 km (3 mile) out-and-back hike to get here sits halfway between Banff and Lake Louise, two of the Rocky Mountains’ most popular tourist towns.

Nestled into the woods along the Bow Valley Parkway, the convenient location, short distance, and breathtaking views combine to make it one of the best things to see in Banff National Park

One reason I adore hiking Johnston Canyon so much is that the scenery changes dramatically as you walk, making the journey as beautiful as the waterfalls at the end. Starting in a lush forest, you will walk amongst the tall moss-covered evergreens and ferns. You will then enter a stunning river-carved canyon and navigate a series of man-made catwalks that allow you to cross over Johnston Creek.

The main draw to hiking Johnston Canyon is the two big waterfalls. First, you have the Lower Falls, which can be viewed up close by crawling through a cave. Further along, the Upper Falls is an impressive 98-foot (30-meter) high waterfall and can be viewed from the bottom or climbing to the top. A series of man-made bridges takes you through the rocky landscape to showcase the falls from different angles. 

Amenities are limited to the front entrance, except for a few benches which can be found throughout your walk. Before you begin your hike, you will find a heated bathroom in the main parking lot.

Take note that you will not find washrooms along the route, so be sure to use them before you start the hike. Next to the main entrance is Johnston Canyon Lodge along with a café and bistro where you can fuel up for your hike. 

2. Where is Johnston Canyon?

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

If you are driving in the Banff/Lake Louise area, you will likely be sticking to the main roadway, the Trans Canada Highway (Highway 1). Between Lake Louise and Banff, there is a less busy parallel road that runs along the eastern side of the Bow River called the Bow Valley Parkway (Highway 1A). This road offers a lot of beauty and access to a lot of different areas to stop, including the parking lot for Johnston Canyon

If you’re trying to get to Johnston Canyon from Banff, it’s located 25 km (15 miles) northwest, about a 30-minute drive up the Bow Valley Parkway. From Lake Louise, the parking lot is about 33 km (20 miles) southeast.

The shortest drive is along Highway 1, taking the Castle Mountain exit towards Bow Valley Parkway. But for a more scenic route (and believe us, it is definitely worth it!), you can add around 10 minutes by taking the Bow Valley Parkway route all the way from Lake Louise to the Johnston Canyon parking lot.

3. Is it free to visit?

Daniel at the entrance to Johnston Canyon in Banff National Park
It’s completely free!
Sign at Johnston Canyon in Banff National Park
Be sure to read the signs!

The Johnston Canyon hike is one of the best free things to do in Banff. While the hike itself is free, you will need to purchase a Canada Park Pass when entering Banff National Park and display it on your vehicle’s dash. You can either buy this pass online, as you enter Banff National Park at the boom gates or purchase one at the visitor centers in either Banff or Lake Louise. 

There are day passes available that cost:

  • Adult day pass – $11 CAD
  • Senior day pass – $9.50 CAD
  • Youth/kids pass – Free for ages 17 and under

If you’re planning a longer vacation or want to visit more national parks, a yearly pass might be a better option. The yearly pass, called a Discovery Pass, is a one-time purchase that is good for 12 months and allows access to more than 80 destinations across Canada.

Here is a breakdown of the cost:

  • Adult pass (ages 18-64) – $75.25 CAD
  • Family pass (up to 7 people in a vehicle) – $151.25 CAD
  • Senior pass (ages 65+) – $64.50 CAD

All in all, the cost of your Canada Park Pass is reinvested in historic sites, marine conservation, and national parks throughout the country, so it all goes to a good cause.

4. Can you drive to Johnston Canyon?

A car drives along the Bow Valley Parkway in Banff National Park
The Bow Valley Parkway!

Absolutely! Driving is one of the fastest and easiest ways to get there. From both Banff and Lake Louise, you can expect the drive to take about 30 minutes. 

Seasonal road closure

In the spring of 2022, Parks Canada started a 3-year project to increase habitat security in the area. This project causes temporary road closures to a section of the Bow Valley Parkway between the Fireside Day Use Area and Johnston Canyon. This is the eastern section of the road between Banff and Johnston Canyon. The road will be closed to vehicle traffic from March 1 to April 30 in the evening and overnight hours from 8 pm to 8 am.

Then from May 1 to June 25 each year, that same section of road is completely closed to vehicles 24/7 and only open for cyclists or pedestrians.

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.

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.

If you find yourself traveling between Banff and Johnston Canyon during the closure, you still have options. You can travel further along Highway 1 to Castle Junction (exit 50) before turning onto Bow Valley Parkway and backtracking slightly to the Johnston Canyon parking lot. This route takes you about 40 minutes to travel 46 km (28.5 miles) from Banff.

Alternatively, you can drive all the way up to Johnston Lake and take Bow Valley Parkway south to the parking lot, but this does add a lot of extra time and distance. 

This closure does not affect your route at all if coming from Lake Louise.  

5. Is there parking? 

Parking at Johnston Canyon in Banff National Park
Parking at Johnston Canyon in Banff National Park

You’ll be pleased to know that Johnston Canyon offers free parking at the base of the hike! There are two parking lots to choose from with the main lot (P1) being found just off the traffic circle. This is where you will find the entrance to the trailhead, washroom facilities, and areas to lock your bike.

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

You will want to keep in mind that this hike is incredibly popular and therefore available spaces do fill up quickly. I highly recommend going as early as possible as both lots are often full by 9 am. The parking lot does tend to clear out a bit towards the late afternoon as well, so if you can’t make it early in the morning, it may be better to wait until later in the day. 

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. 

6. Is there public transport to Johnston Canyon? 

roam bus at a stop in Banff going to Lake Louise
The public bus system is called Roam Transit.

If you don’t have a car and are looking to take the bus to Johnston Canyon, you can make the most of the handy bus service that’s available!

The Roam bus offers transit between Banff and Johnston Canyon when taking route #9. The trip 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 Route #9 bus leaves from either the Banff Train Station or the Banff High School Transit Hub.

In the summer months, 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 only (except Christmas Day). 

If you are coming from either Lake Louise or Canmore, you will first have to take a bus to Banff and then transfer onto Route #9 in Banff to get to Johnston Canyon. From Lake Louise, you can take the route 8X bus between the two mountain towns. Fare for this bus costs $10 CAD each way for adults and $5 CAD for seniors and youths. 

If you are coming from Canmore, you will want to take Route #3 which costs $6 CAD each way for adults and $3 CAD for seniors and youths.

7. Can you take a hop-on hop-off bus?

Daniel and Bailey pose for a photo the the rockpile at Moraine Lake
Visit iconic places such as Moraine Lake too!

While we like the cost of the public bus system, sometimes it is not the most convenient option (okay, most of the time). That’s why we love this hop-on hop-off bus tour because it gives you a chance to explore some of the best destinations in the Rockies at your own pace! You won’t have to worry about missing the only bus or dealing with parking, it’s truly the simplest option.

If you’re unfamiliar with hop-on hop-off buses, they function as the name would suggest. There is a set list of stops, with buses running frequently. You can get off at whichever stop you want (such as Johnston Canyon), stay as long as you want, and simply catch the next bus that will arrive on schedule. From here you can hit another iconic Banff site!

Johnston Canyon is on the route and easily one of the top spots! The bus goes between Banff, Lake Lousie, the Lake Louise Gondola, Moraine Lake, Temple Mountain, 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.

Another thing we really enjoy about hop-on hop-off tours is that there’s always some pretty entertaining commentary along the way, so you can glean some cool facts about the area and understand more about what you’re seeing. While we were living in Canmore, we always recommended a hop-on hop-off tour like this one to friends and family who wanted to explore the area.

A single-day ticket is $85 CAD for per person. 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, making it among the best Banff bus tours.

If you’re looking for a convenient way to get to Johnston Canyon and other nearby must-see places, definitely book a hop-on hop-off bus ticket online.

8. Can you ride your bike there?

Bailey and Daniel pose for a photo at Johnston Canyon in Banff National Park
The lower falls!
Waterfall at Johnston Canyon in Banff National Park
This is the middle fall you hear nothing about!

Yes! Biking to Johnston Canyon can be a very enjoyable and scenic ride. You can bring your own bike, rent a bike in Banff, or take a combo bike and hike tour.

From downtown Banff, you can follow the Legacy Trail before reaching the Bow Valley Parkway which you will continue on until you reach the Johnston Canyon parking lot.

Biking to Johnston Canyon is around 26 km (16 miles) each way for a return trip of 52 km (32 miles). While the distance is long, the views are impeccable.

During the spring road closures, this is the best time to bike this route as you will have the road to yourself and not have to ride alongside vehicle traffic. Not only will this help make the ride much safer, but even more enjoyable! 

If the full distance is more than you are comfortable with, there are areas along the route where you can park your car to bike a shorter section of the road. In this case, we recommend parking at Castle Junction, which is perfect for a shorter bike ride along Bow Valley Parkway. While parking here is limited, you will be able to enjoy a 13 km (8 miles) roundtrip bike ride to the Johnston Canyon trailhead. 

At the main entrance to Johnston Canyon and the P1 parking lot, there are bike racks where you can lock up your bike. Be sure to bring your own lock. While there is some risk to it, we’ve never had any trouble leaving our helmets along with our bikes. Bicycles are not permitted on Johnston Canyon Trail. 

Those interested in biking can take a guided e-bike and hike tour. On this scenic tour, you’ll travel 26 km (16 miles) by bike to the stunning Johnston Canyon where you will then hike the 3 km (1.9 miles) roundtrip distance to the Lower Falls. If you are unsure of riding a bike on your own, going with a local guide is the best option!

Riding an e-bike helps take the strain off your knees and legs – those kilometers will fly by before you know it! All in all, the tour lasts about 4 hours and costs $178 CAD per person. You can view dates and secure your spot online here

9. When is the best time to visit?

Bailey looks down at the Upper Falls at Johnston Canyon in Banff National Park
The Upper Falls is amazing!
Johnston Canyon Lower waterfall in winter
Johnston Canyon Lower waterfall in winter

While there is never a bad time to visit Johnston Canyon, there is certainly a busy time. Being one of the busiest hikes in Banff, I highly recommend coming here as early as possible for your best chance to beat the crowds. If mornings aren’t your thing, you can test your luck in the late afternoon in hopes that the crowds have died down. 

Johnston Canyon is accessible year-round making this a great hike no matter when you want to visit. Summer in Banff and Lake Louise, specifically between June and August, are the busiest times of year to visit.

Coming in spring will give you the best views of the waterfall as the water will be at its highest. Winter is another great time to visit as you will enjoy smaller crowds and stunning frozen winter views.

10. Can you visit in winter?

ice climbing near Canmore, Alberta
Ice climbing is easily one of the coolest things to do in the winter months.

We absolutely love coming to Johnston Canyon in the winter – it really is one of the most beautiful times to visit!

While the hike is accessible year-round, you should expect it to take a bit longer in winter as the trail gets quite slippery and snowy. I highly recommend wearing crampons so you don’t have to worry about falling over. As you are aware, Alberta’s winter weather is rather icy and snow-filled, so if you are uncomfortable driving in these conditions, you can book a tour to Johnston Canyon. This will take all the stress out of your trip and you can simply enjoy this magnificent winter sight.

If you decide to brave a visit while visiting Lake Louise or Banff during the winter, you will be rewarded with an absolutely stunning winter wonderland complete with frozen waterfalls that are a lot less crowded. 

It’s also a popular spot for ice climbing, and you will often see ice climbers making their way up the falls. I have also seen people snowshoe this trail in the wintertime. 

Related Read: Another great winter activity around here is skiing! Check out the best places to stay in Banff for ski holidays and plan your epic winter trip.

11. What are the best SUMMER tours?

Bailey poses for a photo along the Johnston Canyon in Banff National Park
It’s all smiles on the boardwalk!

Classic Banff day tour – Banff, Bow Falls, Johnston Canyon

This truly is a “classic Banff” tour, because you’re hitting the ultimate Banff sites. This full-day tour makes your transport seamless as you explore Johnston Canyon and other scenic areas.

Your first stop is at Sulphur Mountain to ride the Banff Gondola, a true classic Banff experience. There’s a bit of hiking/walking throughout this tour, but nothing too strenuous! You’ll see the Hoodoos Trail, Bow Falls, and Surprise Corner. The Surprise Corner offers impressive views of the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel, but then you’ll get up close and see the intricate details for yourself!

Finally, you’ll reach Johnston Canyon for an hour of hiking and exploring. I actually like that Johnston Canyon is last, as it is truly the best stop on this tour. Plus, it often clears out by the afternoon, so hopefully there will be less of a crowd.

This is a full-day tour where you’ll have the chance to see a lot of incredible outdoor beauty. Included in this tour is the entrance to the national park and transportation from Banff or Calgary. Please note that the Banff Gondola ticket and meals are at your own expense. Otherwise, you can book this day of fun for $178 CAD! This tour is available from May through October, on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.

You can check the details and book this tour in advance, here!

Full-day private tour of Banff National Park

While I love group tours because they are a chance to make friends, there is something so nice about a private tour! This full-day private tour allows you to customize your itinerary, so you see the places that interest you the most. Best of all, you can spend as long as you want, so if you’re really enjoying Johnston Canyon, you can relax and stay a while.

This tour will pick you up from your Banff or Calgary hotel at 8 am to begin your day! You can work out the details of what places to stop at before you head out, but they offer a selection of locations or a general itinerary. First up, the beautiful Lake Louise where you can spend an hour enjoying the vibrant blue water.

Next, you’ll head to Johnston Canyon (my favorite!) and will have another full hour to take a hike, see the waterfalls, and be amazed at the stunning canyon features. This tour also provides stops at Bow Falls, Lake Minnewanka, Two Jack Lake, and downtown Banff, so there’s a lot of exploring to be done.

This private tour can accommodate 5 travelers in your group. It provides transportation and your guide, but any meals or extra expenses are on your own. The tour is a flat rate, but the more people you have, the cheaper it is. So a group of five would be $219 CAD per person and a group of two would be $547 CAD per person, for a full 12-hour private tour.

I recommend booking this tour in advance! You can check the details and book it here.

12. What are the best WINTER tours?

Snow covers the pathway to Johnston Canyon in Banff National Park in winter
Snow covers the pathway to Johnston Canyon in Banff National Park in winter

Johnston Canyon icewalk

If you want to visit Johnston Canyon during the winter, then taking a winter tour from Banff is a great way to experience its beauty and avoid having to navigate difficult conditions along the Bow Valley Parkway.

This 4-hour tour takes you on an exciting ice walk 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 (3.3 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 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 this place. 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 night tour online here.

Lake Louise and Banff full-day tour

With so many incredible areas to explore, taking a full-day tour is the best way to explore Johnston Canyon and the greater Banff area. What I really love about this tour, though, is that it provides transportation from either Banff, Canmore or even Calgary! So no matter where you’re staying in Alberta, you too can experience Johnston Canyon’s beauty.

Your departure time will depend on your pick-up location, but the first stop is Lake Louise. After exploring one of Banff’s most beautiful lakes, you will make your way to Johnston Canyon. Your guide will lead you on the hiking path to the falls, where you’ll learn all about the creation of this canyon over millions of years of water erosion.

The tour will take you to many other stops on this full-day tour, including Bow Falls and downtown Banff. This will be a jam-packed day of sightseeing, but if you’re pressed for time or simply want the luxury of a guided tour, this is a fantastic way to see it all. Plus, this tour is highly rated, so you know you’ll be getting a great experience!

Please note: This tour does run year-round, but Johnston Canyon is only included during the colder months from October to June. During the summer it visits Moraine Lake instead.

Only 14 travelers are allowed on this tour, making for an easy-to-move-around group. It includes pickup from Calgary, Canmore, or Banff, as well as transportation and your wonderful guide. Meals aren’t included but you’ll have time to explore Banff town and grab a bite to eat. You can book this tour in advance for $155 CAD.

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 customized tour (with a maximum of 13 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.

Why We Book Tours with Viator

Viator is a trusted online booking system for tours around the world! We almost always book our tours using Viator for a couple of reasons:

  • Free cancellation on most tours – Most of the tours on Viator allow you to cancel and get a full refund up to 24 hours in advance. This is handy in case plans change, or if booking an outdoor activity, the weather forecast is looking grim.
  • Reserve now and pay later – You can secure your spot on some of the most popular tours well in advance and not pay until closer to the day of the tour.
  • Pay in your chosen currency – Avoid costly international transaction fees by choosing to pay in your home currency.
  • Peace of mind – When booking with tour operators you find in person on the street or in small booking offices, you are often promised one thing and given another. This online platform holds tour operators accountable with a written description of inclusions as well as the opportunity for customers to leave reviews.

Check out the Viator website here! Or, for more info, read our detailed review about Viator here.

13. How long is the Johnston Canyon Hike? 

Sign for the upper and lower falls in Johnston Canyon in Banff National Park
Sign for the upper and lower falls in Johnston Canyon in Banff National Park

One of my favorite parts of hiking Johnston Canyon is that you can choose how long you’d like to hike. With plenty of stops on the way, including two waterfalls as well as a further meadow you can hike to, you can choose to hike the entire distance, or simply to the first waterfall if you’re looking for a shorter walk. 

The first waterfall, Lower Falls, is about 1.2 km (0.7 miles) into the walk. There are a couple of ways you can take in the beauty of these falls. While the most popular viewing point is from the bridge that sits over Johnston Canyon, my favorite way is to crawl through a small tunnel a little further where you will get closer to the falls. Be warned though, you will likely get wet if you choose this viewing option. 

From the Lower Falls, you will hike an additional 1.3 km (0.8 miles) through the canyon to reach the stunning Upper Falls. You have the option to either view this waterfall from the bottom, which is the most common, or with a steep trail up to a top viewing point. Viewing the waterfall from the top is my favorite way as you walk across a platform that hangs over the water. Hiking to the Upper Falls will be a 5 km (3 miles) roundtrip route taking between 2-3 hours to complete. 

While the waterfalls are the stars of the show, for those looking to extend their experience, you can carry on your hike even further. Another 3 km (2 miles) down the trail from Upper Falls will get you to an area of mineral springs called the Ink Pots. The hike opens up into a beautiful meadow that, if visiting in spring and summer, is full of colorful wildflowers.

14. Is the hike hard?

Bailey at Johnston Canyon in Banff National Park
So beautiful!

Johnston Canyon is one of the easier hikes in the Banff area which adds to its popularity. You can choose to just visit the Lower Falls which requires a relatively flat 2.3 km (1.4 miles) roundtrip hike.

If you are looking for a bit more, you can hike to the Upper Falls with a hike of 5 km (3 miles) roundtrip. The upper falls require a bit more elevation gain with the whole circuit only having an elevation gain of 492 feet (150 meters). 

15. Can you swim in Johnston Canyon? 

Crowds of people line up to see the lower falls on Johnston Canyon in Banff National Park
Crowds of people line up to see the lower falls on Johnston Canyon in Banff National Park.

If you’re anything like me, you see a body of water and are tempted to jump in. While technically there is no rule in the area against jumping in, I wouldn’t. The water is freezing cold, no matter what time of year you visit.

I have never seen anyone swimming in these waters so I would recommend avoiding it. If you come in the winter months, you will likely see ice climbers navigating up the falls. 

Note: Parks Canada has banned any off-trail exploration between May 1 and November 15. While it may be tempting to explore through the area, this is to ensure the integrity of the landscape, so be sure to not deviate from the marked trails during this time. 

16. What to wear when visiting

Johnston Canyon in Banff National Park at sunet
It can be cold even in summer!

While the hike to Johnston Canyon is short, you are still in the wilderness, so I would be sure to dress and pack accordingly. The area is absolutely gorgeous, so your camera will definitely be your best friend. Bringing water and snacks is another great idea, especially if you’re traveling with kids. 

If you are visiting in the summer, I would just stick to typical hiking gear. Layers are best as it can get a bit cooler in the shaded forest and by the waterfalls. The trail is fairly well groomed, so you can wear running shoes if you’d like, but I recommend sticking with a hiking shoe with more traction as it can get muddy. Bringing a rain jacket is always a good idea when hiking in Alberta as the weather can change quickly in the mountains. 

If you are doing the hike in the winter, you will need to pay more attention to what you wear. Winter in the mountains can get really cold, so be sure to dress warmly with gloves, scarves, toques, and thick winter jackets. I always recommend layers as it is better to be able to take extra off than get deep into the woods and be cold.

The path gets quite icy in winter, so it’s well worth wearing ice cleats to clip on your shoes for added traction and even hiking poles if you need extra stability. 

17. Can you see bears/wildlife at Johnston Canyon?

A young grizzly bear along the roadside grass on the Bow Valley Parkway in Banff
A young grizzly bear along the roadside grass on the Bow Valley Parkway in Banff

While there is always a chance to see wildlife in the forest, due to the popularity of the area, you will likely only see smaller wildlife here. Bears tend to stay away from this area due to the crowds but you may have some luck seeing elk here. More likely, you will see small forest animals such as squirrels and birds. 

While you aren’t likely to see bears, be sure to remember that this is still their home. Bears and cougars live in the forest and while sightings are rare, they do happen. If you continue past the falls to the Ink Pots, the crowd greatly diminishes, and therefore the chances of wildlife encounters increase. For any hike in Banff National Park, I always recommend bringing bear spray with you. 

While you may not see a lot of wildlife along the hike, you may have some luck on the drive in. The Bow Valley Parkway is often a great place to spot some of the wildlife around Banff. You will often see cars stopped along the road that have spotted bears, bighorn sheep, and other popular animals. 

Related Read: If you don’t happen to see any animals while you’re exploring, join a wildlife tour in Banff or Jasper and you’ll be sure to spot some!

18. Is Johnston Canyon suitable for children?

Wooden bridge at Johnston Canyon in Banff National Park
The start of the trail!

Johnston Canyon is one of the best hikes for families in the area. The hike is fairly short, only 5 km (3 miles), and the elevation gain is relatively minimal.

You will start in a shaded forest that will protect you from the elements on a hot day before crossing a few catwalks to get to the falls. You will want to put young kids in carriers as the path is not ideal for strollers. 

For those with young kids, you can also choose to only hike to the lower falls, which is a shorter route, around 1.2 km (0.7 miles). The walk to the upper falls has a bit more elevation gain in the 1.3 km (0.8 miles) trek. This hike is very popular, meaning the chances of wildlife encounters are pretty minimal.

Related Read: For more family-friendly trails with epic views, check out the top easy hikes near Canmore!

19. What facilities are at Johnston Canyon?

Bailey walks along the boardwalk at Johnston Canyon in Banff National Park
Take a look at these nice walking paths!

There are quite a few facilities at Johnston Canyon, making your visit as comfortable as possible. There is a bathroom in the main parking lot (P1), and it’s even heated and always very clean. For a public park restroom, they take care of this one! There are no other toilets along the route, so be sure to go before you take off on the trail.

Johnston Canyon is even wheelchair accessible, so anyone can enjoy it! The trail to the Lower Falls is paved and wide enough for a wheelchair. I will say that the catwalks are only wide enough for the wheelchair, so getting past a busy day might be challenging. If you can arrive before 9 am there will be fewer people and it shouldn’t be an issue!

You can also find a cafe and bistro at the Johnston Canyon Lodge, which is at the main entrance. After your hike, you can sit down and refuel with lunch and coffee!

20. Can you stay at Johnston Canyon?

Johnston Canyon Lodge and Bungalows
Photo credit: Johnston Canyon Lodge and Bungalows
Johnston Canyon Lodge and Bungalows outdoor deck
Photo credit: Johnston Canyon Lodge and Bungalows

In addition to the great hikes at Johnston Canyon, the location itself is one of the best in the area. Nestled in the woods halfway between Lake Louise and Banff, this is a great central location to base your Rocky Mountain vacation. 

Johnston Canyon Lodge and Bungalows

Johnston Canyon Lodge and Bungalows is a series of 42 cute rustic cabins. Immersed in nature, these cabins give a homey feel while adhering to the wilderness feeling of being lost in the woods. You will wake up to stunning views every day with beautiful gardens and greenery all around.

There are a few different cabin styles available depending on the number of people and amenities you are looking for. The cabins are pet-friendly and offer many amenities, including WiFi, kitchenettes, wood-burning fireplaces, flat-screen TVs, and a small porch area to enjoy.

You can choose to take advantage of the on-site BBQ or enjoy their dining room to fuel up. The best part of the cabins is their location, being tucked in the woods as the perfect alternative to camping. 

Rooms here range between $395 – $545 CAD for a studio and between $790 – $940 CAD for a family bungalow. They are only open during the summer, so rooms are available from mid-May through mid-October. You can check your dates and book in advance here.

21. Can you camp?

The Johnston Canyon Campground is located right across from the trailhead making the location amazing. Open from mid-May through mid-September, this campground costs $30.50 CAD per night and has plenty of space for tents and small RVs up to 27 feet (8.2 meters) complete with fire pits and picnic tables. In the communal area, you will find hot showers, flush toilets, potable water stations, and sheltered camp kitchens. 

There are 132 sites on this campground which, like most campgrounds in Alberta, get booked up really quickly. If you are hoping to stay here, I highly recommend you book well in advance online with the Parks Canada Reservation Service. If you book early enough, I recommend trying to score one of the three campsites located along Johnston Creek.

22. Are dogs allowed?

Views along the Johnston Canyon in Banff National Park
Hurry up, Bailey!

This is a great place to bring your four-legged friends to Banff National Park! You will need to keep your dog on a leash throughout the whole hike and, of course, be sure to pick up after your dog.

As it is quite a busy hike, you will want to make sure your dog is friendly and easy to control. While seeing bears is unlikely, I also always recommend your dog wear a bell when hiking in the outback to deter any animal encounters. 

23. Is visiting Johnston Canyon worth it?

Upper falls at Johnston Canyon in Banff National Park
Upper Falls from below!
River runs through Johnston Canyon in Banff National Park
It’s peaceful in the afternoon!

YES! There is a reason why this spot is so popular, you get beautiful views with minimal effort. There are also so many great tours of Johnston Canyon from Banff to choose from.

While the waterfalls are stunning, the entire walk at Johnston Canyon is super pretty. Beginning in the thick forest trail, you’ll weave over the creek and walk along the many catwalks – this walk really is full of adventure and changing scenery!

No matter what time of year you visit, this is one of the best hikes in the area. While this is a great beginner/intermediate hike, even advanced hikers will appreciate the beauty that comes with it. There are also many different turning points you can choose from depending on the length of hike you are willing to take on. 

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 tours are a must!

Seeing the amazing Johnston Canyon is just one of the 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 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, Canada

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

There are lots of different areas to consider when it comes to deciding where to stay in Banff National Park. Johnston Canyon is only 30 minutes from Banff town, so this is the best place to base your adventures! You’ll find plenty of great hotels in Banff town, here are some of our favorites:

Samesun Banff Hostel – Budget-backpacker 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. This is only a backpacker place though, as there are no private rooms available. Dorms can be booked on either or Hostelworld.

Banff Inn – Budget-friendly Hotel

The Banff Inn is the perfect mix of comfort and affordability. It has a budget-friendly price tag but also comes with lots of luxuries. The hotel is located right on Banff Ave and all rooms are air-conditioned. In the hotel, you’ll find a hot tub, steam room, and sauna, as well as a restaurant and bar.

You should book the Banff Inn well in advance as this is one of the most popular hotels in Banff.

Banff Rocky Mountain Resort – Mid-range Hotel

Pushing up into the mid-range budget, the Banff Rocky Mountain Resort has a swimming pool, hot tub, gym, and all the rooms have kitchenettes or full kitchens. It is the perfect place for families since two and three-bedroom units are also on offer. The location is peaceful on Tunnel Mountain but yet only a 5-minute drive from Banff town.

You can check availability and book Banff Rocky Mountain Resort online here.

Fairmont Banff Springs – Luxury Hotel

The Fairmont Banff Springs is easily the most luxurious hotel in Banff. It’s not cheap but the place is simply incredible – it seriously looks like a castle! Inside the hotel, you’ll find 11 restaurants, 14 shops, bowling, bars, a top-rated spa, a couple of pools, and so much more. It’s a luxury resort-like stay and the only one of its kind in Banff. If you’re visiting Banff on a honeymoon then this should be the hotel you choose!

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 still suggest booking a place ASAP! Using 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 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!

Daniel and Bailey take a selfie at Upper Falls at Johnston Canyon in Banff National Park
Thanks for reading!

If you are looking for one of the best hikes in Banff, I highly recommend adding Johnston Canyon to the list. While it is a shorter hike, the views are SO beautiful throughout the whole trek. We had such a great time visiting here, and I know you will too.

I hope this guide helps you plan your visit to one of my favorite spots in Banff. Feel free to let us know in the comments when you’ll be visiting Johnston Canyon! As you plan your Canada travel itinerary, let us help! Here are a few more helpful articles on the local area:

BANFF ITINERARY – How to Spend 1, 2, or 3 Days in Banff

How to Get from the Calgary Airport to Banff: Transfer, Bus, or Rental Car 

16 Absolute BEST Tours in Banff (that you don’t want to miss!)