Hiker stands in awe of waterfall and limestone bedrock at a hidden cave in Johnston Canyon at Banff National Park.

Johnston Canyon

Johnston Canyon is located in Banff, Alberta, Canada, not far from the famous Lake Lousie. It is part of the protected Banff National Park, and is popular with tourists and outdoor enthusiasts. 

Landscape Of The Johnston Canyon

Johnston canyon
A walkway by the scenic Johnston Canyon.

The canyon was formed by the Johnston Creek, and was carved naturally over thousands of years as the creek ate away at the limestone rock along the creek's natural path. The canyon walls are sheer and steep, and there are many waterfalls, pools, and even tunnels along the course of the creek and canyon. 

Johnston Creek is one of the tributaries of the much larger Bow River, which flows through the Rocky Mountains. The creek has its headwaters north of Cascade Mountain in a glacial valley that sits at 2,500 meters above sea level. From there the creek flows southwards through Helena Ridge, the Sawback range, and eventually through Johnston Canyon and beyond to the Bow River.

Johnston canyon in winter
Frozen waterfall in the Johnston Canyon in winter.

The creek also makes several drops along its pathway. Most notably, within the canyon, there are the waterfalls known as the Upper and Lower falls. The Upper falls drop a total of 40 meters in height into a pool below. The canyon then eventually leads to a meadow, within the larger Johnston Valley region. The meadow also contains what are known as ink pots, which are small pools of vibrant blue-green water. The pools are fed by natural springs in the area, and their bright distinct colours make them popular with hikers and visitors in the region.

Visiting The Johnston Canyon

Johnston canyon hiking
Spring hike along the Upper and Lower Falls trail of Johnston Canyon in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

Johnston Canyon is one of many popular natural attractions within Banff National Park.  It is an impressive phenomenon, and its many hiking trails and vantage points offer great views of Johnston Creek, the gorge, and the park at large.  In the summer months, when the weather is warmest, visitation is at its peak. Hiking is the most popular activity in the area, and a major trail runs along the canyon towards the open meadow. Two other prominent trails include the Upper Falls trail and the Lower Falls walk.

The lower falls trail has little change in elevation, and is relatively smooth and flat. It passes through the nearby forests before running along the creek and canyon. This trail is considered relatively easy for people in all levels of fitness, and runs roughly 1.1 kilometers. Vantage points and observation points along the way are impressive, and there is even a small tunnel through the canyon rock that is well worth visiting. 

Johnston Canyon
Visitors exploring the Johnston Canyon Falls in Banff National Park, Canadian Rockies, Alberta, Canada. Editorial credit: i viewfinder / Shutterstock.com

Similarly, there is also an Upper Falls trial, which runs uphill towards the top of the gorge and the waterfall's edge. The trail takes an estimated one hour to walk from the starting point to the top, making it a two hour round trip. This trail is much steeper than the Lower Falls option, as it includes an elevation gain of roughly 120 meters. 

In the winter, recreational activities in the area shift. Winter in Canada usually runs from December to April, and at this time ice walking and ice climbing are very popular in the Johnston Canyon. Usually the Upper Falls freeze over and offer a variety of ice climbing experiences for both seasoned climbers and those interested in trying the sport for the first time. Aside from ice climbing, snowshoes and ice cleats are a great way to get around, and can be a tourist novelty or popular type of exercise for those in the area. 

Wildlife In The Johnston Canyon

Johnston canyon bird
A bird in the Johnston Canyon.

The creek itself is located in a montane zone. This zone, which can be found in the valley, is extremely important and forms the habitat for a range of animals. Animals such as grey wolves, both grizzly and black bears, elk, mule deer and whitetail deer, and also moose can be found all over Banff Nstional park, including in the Johnston Creek area. Aside from grazers and large mammals, there are a varitey of smaller and medium sized mammals such as red foxes, coyotes, and pine martens. Bird species are also abundant in the meadow and forests and even along the edges of the gorge. Some of the larger predatory birds in the area include great horned owls, grey owls, and ospreys. Smaller bird species are grey jays - Canada's national bird - black, vaux and white-throated swifts; killdear; various finches; and a variety of sparrow species, to name a few. 

Johnston Canyon, and the Banff National Park in general, are extremely popular tourist attractions for visitors to Canada and lovers of the outdoors. From the stunning landscape to the abundant wildlife, and the impressive waterfalls, Johnston Canyon is a true place of beauty.  With various adventure-focused trips, tours, and excursions available, as well as acomodations from rustic to resort, visitors will have no trouble diving right into everything Johnston Canyon has to offer. 


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