Johnston Canyon is a great hike to do in the summer, the noise of the cascading water is incredible. Each set of falls within the canyon are extraordinary in summer. When they become frozen, the canyon changes. It’s much quieter and there are fewer visitors than in the height of summer.
The trail head starts from the parking lot and you cross over the bridge towards the Johnston Canyon Resort then turn right to head up into the canyon.
You’ll follow along the paved trail and concrete walkways on the side of the canyon. The walkways are attached onto the side of the canyon, so it gives you a unique perspective on a view compared to something like Marble Canyon in Kootenay National Park.
The trail is well marked and there are plenty of interpretive signs along the way, they’re interesting to read. If it has recently snowed they may still be covered with snow, so make sure you’re wearing gloves to wipe the snow off!
Once you’ve reached the lower falls you can cross a bridge to a tunnel carved into the rock where you’ll get an great view of the falls. It’s a bit cramped going through the tunnel so you’ll need to take turns if it’s busy. It can also be pretty icy from the water spray that has frozen on the rock floor of the tunnel.
Once you’ve experienced the lower falls and have taken some decent photos, it’s possible to carry on up to the upper falls.
The trail climbs a little more on the way to the upper falls, and then takes a board walk down to the viewpoint for the upper falls. Once you reach the end of the board walk you’ll be able to see the falls. It’s really something to admire, the water seeping out of the canyon walls creates many icicles which accumulate into a glistening wall of ice.
To return back to the trail head you follow the same route back. If it’s a cold day it can be a good idea to take in the views on the way up and then take photographs on the way back down. That way you won’t get cold hands early on by taking your gloves on and off when you are using your camera.
It can be significantly colder in the canyon than in back at the Banff town site. This is because the canyon doesn’t get too much sunlight, so if it is a cold day in town it will be even colder. Make sure you pack extra layers, when I visited in November last year (2013) I wore thick fleece gloves with a pair of ski mittens over the top, this was just warm enough. It’s also a good idea to wear ice cleats as the walk ways can be slippery, you should be able to purchase them in town.
The hike to the upper falls is approximately 5.4 kilometres (3.4 miles) return with an elevation gain of roughly 120 metres (400 feet).