Johnston Canyon is one of the most famous hikes in the Banff National Park. Before Covid-19 it was so popular you would bump into the visitors even during the short winter days. To limit the crowds and increase public safety, through the end of summer 2021 only bicyclists and transit, “Roam Buses” are allowed at the Bow Parkway – the only access to the Johnston Canyon in Banff. (Or you can park a car at Castle Junction and go on foot 6 km to and 6 km from Johnston Canyon).
Johnston Canyon, Banff
2021 Access alert. Transit buses
If reserving a bus doesn’t sound exciting, think about it as the single opportunity the explore and enjoy the Canyon with just a few visitors, to compare to “normal, before Covid years”. (See the picture below). Current Roam Bus fees are $0 (kids 12 y.o. and under) to $5 one way.
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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.