Alberta, Canada

Johnston Canyon Banff National Park. Access Alert

Transit Bus alert and how to get to the Canyon during peak season/off-season. What to expect from the Upper and Lower Falls, what “catwalk” is. Johnston Canyon Banff NP

One of the most famous hikes in Canada is Johnston Canyon Banff National Park. Before Covid-19 it was so popular you would bump into the visitors even during the short winter days!

Johnston Canyon, Banff

Access alert or what you should check ahead

Since summer 2021 Banff National Park made an attempt to limit the crowds at Johnston Canyon when only bicyclists and transit buses were allowed at the Bow Parkway – the only access to the Johnston Canyon in Banff. (With the end of peak season (July-August) car access is permitted again).

While it doesn’t sound exciting, I really hope the park will implement it again. It was the single opportunity the explore and enjoy the Canyon with just a few visitors. Check out the access to the trail before you go!

Take a look at the picture below to get an idea of how it was with “regular access”:

Summer traffic at the end of the Lower Falls trail
Summer traffic at the end of the Lower Falls trail

1. Best time to visit

While the canyon is very worth visiting throughout all 4 seasons, summer remains the most popular time. Before Covid, it was important to come early (before 9 am) or late (after 5 pm) during the summer months.

Otherwise, you’d end up threading your way through the crowd on the narrow catwalk – the most precious part of the hike and your only wish would be to escape as soon as possible:

2. On the trail

Both Lower and Upper Falls Johnston Canyon trails allow seeing multiple waterfalls and narrow passages and have plenty of shade and some benches along the way. Catwalk is one of the most precious parts of the hike:

Artem at the Johnston Canyon catwalk
Artem at the Johnston Canyon catwalk

Lower Falls trail is only 1.4 miles round trip; easy to walk with some stairs.

Upper Falls: if you’ll take a look at the map below, you’ll see that the Upper Falls trail is the same trail that continues higher:

Johnston Canyon, Banff, trail map
Johnston Canyon, Banff, trail map

Upper Falls trail is 3.2 miles round trip and more strenuous, especially on a hot day and for young kids. There are much more stairs and some elevation gain. Pictures below: Upper Falls:

Upper Falls, end of the trail
Upper Falls, end of the trail

In the middle of the summer, the canyon is full of melted water from the mountains:


The waterfalls are numerous and aren’t limited to the Upper and Lower Falls.


4. Johnston Canyon: Winter

During the winter Johnston canyon trails remain accessible. The Canyon looks like an ice and snow wonderland, a quiet, serene place:

Johnston Canyon, Banff, wintertime.
Johnston Canyon, Banff, wintertime. photo credit: Jim Nix

Proper footwear is a must due to the slippery and icy conditions of the trails. It’s a popular location among ice climbers, they could be spotted at the Upper Falls trail:

5. Johnston Canyon vs Marble Canyon

We have never been to Marble Canyon (Kootenai National Park) but heard Johnston Canyon could be traded for it. Some visitors did it before Covid just to avoid huge crowds at Johnston. The hike is light, provides great scenery, and takes 20 minutes to get to the top of the falls. As for us, Maligne Canyon (Jasper National Park) will remain our most favorite canyon ever… :).

6. A bit of history

Johnston Canyon was named after a miner who was lucky to find gold in the creek. Being captivated by its beauty he decided to build a trail which soon became a famous attraction in Banff National Park.

Johnston Canyon on My Map

Johnston Canyon, Banff Essentials

  • Time to spend at the Johnston Canyon: 1.5-4 hours.
  • Take mosquito repellent, the insects are relentless at the canyon; try to wear long sleeves and long pants.
  • Make sure you have a water bottle, snacks, sunscreen, sunhat, and sturdy shoes.
  • The snack booth at the trailhead had ice cream during our trip 🙂
  • The stroller would be ok on the Lower Falls trail, but getting through the catwalk could be hard: you’ll block streams of people with it.
  • Parking: before Covid, it was very limited during peak season.
  • Only Roam Buses are allowed to access the Canyon in the summer of 2021 and the ones who stay at the Canyon Lodge and Bungalows.
  • Speaking about restricted access, Lake Moraine, and Lake Louise also required a shuttle bus, and Peyto Lake currently closed for rehabilitation.

Other places to explore:

Lake Moraine: Lake “that has it all”: short hike, amazing panoramic views, shallow water to splash in, restaurant and cafe on site, and shuttle to get to the lake.

Denali National Park, Alaska: how we explored it with kids. Why we stayed at the hostel and would do it again.

Hawaii on a budget in 2021: where to stay, which island to choose and why, the best time to go, local food, and car rentals.

By Mrs. Grazy Goat

I am Ira, the author behind Grazy Goat. My husband and I run this blog and share our experiences about thrilling places and cultures. Our son Artem recently joined us and helps with editing.

We are very happy to have YOU here 😻

2 replies on “Johnston Canyon Banff National Park. Access Alert”

I would be very interested to know the first name of the gold miner who named Johnston Canyon. Although we live in the U.S., my husbands people are native (Algonquin) and originally from Canada. His moms maiden name is Johnston. I would love to be able to provide him with any details I could about the man who named this beautiful place.
If you do not have this information, do have any idea on where I might start looking?

Hi, Dee! Unfortunately, I don’t have any more information about the miner. All the interesting facts about the area (like the mystery of Medicine Lake or the origin of Maligne Canyon) I have got locally from the National Parks information boards. While they were revealing some exceptional facts, I didn’t find any similar information on the internet 🤷. I’d suggest checking with local archives. Hope, it helps!

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