Hiking Johnston Canyon and the Ink Pots

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Lots of hikes in Banff, Canada feature stunning mountain views and milky turquoise alpine lakes, but hiking Johnston Canyon gives you a completely different glimpse of the Rockies. The memorable experience of walking the catwalk over Johnston Creek is sure to set this hike apart in your mind. Here is why a hike in Johnston Canyon is definitely worth a stop on your visit to Banff.

the author and friend stand under a large wooden sign that says Johnston Canyon on it as they prepare to go hiking in Johnston Canyon
Classic pic at the trailhead before we begin

Parking

Many travel blogs tell you to get to the parking lot early, and I’m sure that is necessary in many cases. I am also here to tell you that we made it to the lot at 10:30am on a midweek morning in late June, and had no trouble parking, so it is not always the worst case scenario. Before you set off on the trailhead, feel free to use the extremely well-maintained restrooms in the lot. Follow the signs along the river towards the Lower Falls, and off you go!

johnston creek rushes by some large green trees and undergrowth with a patch of blue sky showing
The first glimpse of Johnston Creek as you cross the bridge from the parking lot to the trailhead. Photo by Jillian Quinn

Hiking Johnston Canyon Lower Falls

One of the things that makes this trail so popular is its relative ease due to the paved walkways and minimal elevation change. The hike to the Lower Falls is only a ½  mile but it is remarkable because the majority of the hike is on catwalks bolted into the rockfaces. These elevated walkways provide incredible views of the river from all different vantage points. Enjoy the beauty of the creek while looking down from the top of the falls, or by walking right at the level of the rushing water. 

a pathway suspended from the rocks looms over the flowing johnston creek
View of the catwalk along Johnston Creek

Each twist and turn surprises you with another stunning view. There’s even a spot where you can pop into a little hideout for an up close and personal view of the waterfall. Be prepared to get wet if you do this! And be prepared for mud on the trail; I was very happy to have my waterproof boots. 

gray and white water flows down between moss laden rocks at Johnston Canyon
View of the Lower Falls of Johnston Canyon. Photo by Jillian Quinn

Upper Falls

After pausing to enjoy the view at the Lower Falls, I recommend continuing on another mile to the Upper Falls. The crowd thins out a bit, and the Upper Falls are beautiful as well. 

Photo by Jillian Quinn
a large cascade of water tumbles down the Upper Falls of Johnston Canyon
The Upper Falls. Photo by Jillian Quinn
The river before it reaches the Upper Falls. Photo by Jillian Quinn

Into the Forest

Finally, for those hikers looking for a little more, you can take the trail about another 1.5 miles to the Ink Pots. This trail takes you away from the flowing water and up through a dense forest. Make sure to pack layers if you decide to attempt this hike. It was quite cool once we got deeper into the trees, and I was happy to have a hat and gloves.

After winding your way through the forest, and up some steep ascents, the trail finally spits you out into a peaceful alpine meadow. I was certain we would see a bear; it seemed like the perfect habitat for them, and we had heard one had been spotted here just the day before. Fortunately, we didn’t end up needing it, but here is your reminder to carry bear spray on your hikes in Banff!

a grassy meadow with trees, a talus slope, and a large mountain in the background
a beautiful, bear-free alpine meadow
a panoramic view of gray skies and clouds over bare mountains, a flowing river, and various evergreen trees
gray skies over a green meadow

The Ink Pots

Clustered in the meadow are the Ink Pots, five picturesque cold water mineral springs. Enjoy a quick stroll around the springs to check out the different hues of blue before grabbing a seat on a log for a quick snack. We were even lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the snow-capped mountains in the distance when there was a clearing in the clouds.

a small, clear, yet bluish pool of water sits surrounded by greenery and trees and a small wooden footbridge with benches
1 of the 5 Ink Pots. Photo by Jillian Quinn

Overall, this hike to the Ink Pots was beautiful. That being said, I don’t think hiking to The Ink Pots is a must, especially if you are tired from hiking the day before.  If you have limited time and energy, I would just do the Lower and Upper Falls; you will be more than satisfied. As always, make sure to check the latest information on road closures, weather or trail closures before heading out. You can find more information at the Banff website. 

two bright turquoise pools and one light green pool glimmer under cloudy skies. A path with a small bridge cuts over the pools.
more of the larger Ink Pots. Photo by Jillian Quinn
two of the greenish blue ink pots shine in the foreground, with a large tree-covered mountain towering over them.
More views of the Ink Pots.

Want more info?

I found the pictures of this hike on this blog to be stunning,

The extra information on this post was helpful when planning my trip. 

Like this post? Check out some of my other posts about Banff. 

Lake Louise

Lake Agnes Tea House Hike

Like National Parks? Read more about:

The Everglades National Park 

Capitol Reef National Park 

Bryce Canyon National Park

Zion National Park

Arches National Park

Canyonlands National Park 

Want something completely different?

A poem about holiday weight, just for fun

9 thoughts on “Hiking Johnston Canyon and the Ink Pots

  1. As someone with IBS…THANK YOU for including a mention of the restrooms!! I’m always hesitant on a hike until I know for sure there are facilities there haha. TMI aside, the hike looks very beautiful! Can you…touch the ink pots?? Hypothetically speaking of course…

    1. My friend and I couldn’t stop talking about how Canadians really nailed it in the restroom department; we were so impressed with how clean they were, and they had skylights! I think you can touch the ink pots? hypothetically speaking…There wasn’t anything posted warning you not to?

  2. While there are lots of places for hiking in Canada, I’ve heard a lot about the beauty of Banff. Can’t believe I’ve never heard of Johnston Canyon – it looks so impressive and definitely worth a visit!

    1. I think it gets overlooked because it isn’t the classic mountain lake view, but I really liked this hike!

  3. This is such a lovely hike isn’t it? I’ve been to the upper falls a couple of times, but we never made it up to the ink pots (we always seem to visit on days when we have other hikes planned too… I should really spend more time there!)

    If you can, go back when the falls are frozen, it is so flipping pretty!

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