Distance: 11.5 km
Elevation Gain: 210 meters
Time Required: 3 - 5 hours
This Banff National Park hike starts on a populated, paved, family friendly pathway which winds through the canyon past several sets of waterfalls. The lower falls are an easy walk, and the second set of falls are less than 3km from the parking lot but this is only a small part of the hike.
For those who continue past the strollers and families, the path continues another 3km up to the Ink Pots, a series of small green and blue ponds in the Johnston Valley. The Ink Pots themselves aren’t the highlight, but the beautiful, sunny valley is worth the hike.
To get to the trailhead, head west from Banff on the Bow Valley Parkway (highway 1A) and look for the clearly marked Johnston Canyon parking lot on the right-hand side. There are washrooms, an ice-cream shop, and cabins here, as well as a lot of people.
This is one of the most popular hikes in Banff (at all times of the year), so expect the lower portion of the hike to be busy, even on weekdays. Most visitors, however, are only here to see the waterfalls, so it won’t be long until the crowd thins out.
The path starts as a series of catwalks bolted to the canyon walls and following the river, past several small waterfalls, and two major ones. The Lower Falls are one 1.1km down the path and are 10m high. They can be viewed from above or through a natural tunnel, which is a great way to experience them up close and feel the spray.
Keep going another to 2.7km to the Upper Falls which are an impressive 30m in height, and the crowd will die out almost completely. The pavement will stop and the forest will become denser, this is where the real hike begins.
After about 3km the trail will open into the stunning Johnston Valley, with fantastic mountain views surrounding the tiny turquoise blue, spring water filled Ink Pots.
Although the Ink Pots aren’t mind blowing, they are quite pretty, and it’s nice to have lunch beside the pools on the provided benches. Then take a little time to explore the beautiful valley before heading back the same way.
This is also a neat area to check out in the winter when the waterfalls in the canyon are frozen. Make sure to bring cramp-on though, as the paved path gets treacherous when covered in ice.