Monday, March 16, 2015

The Most Popular Hike in Banff - Without the Crowds

I've said before that there must be photos of Banff's Johnston Canyon hiking trail on billboards across the world advertising the Canadian Rockies.  Come summer, you'd be hard pressed to get a photo on this popular trail without at least two dozen tourists in the shot, and you could be parking a mile down  the road in order to get near the place.

Hike Johnston Canyon in winter, spring or fall though and you'll find solitude in abundance, you'll get your quiet moments on the trail, and you might even have the whole place to yourself as we did last winter.  (of course it was -30C at the time, but we still had the trail to ourselves.)

I don't need to write much about Banff's number one hiking trail and a quick Google search will honestly tell you absolutely everything you need to know anyway.  I just want to share some photos, show you why this hike is awesome at this time of year, and maybe encourage you to hike the canyon NOW before the tourists and crowds arrive in another few months.

Catwalks, a Cave, and the Lower Waterfalls of Johnston Canyon


Hiking on the Johnston Canyon Catwalks
Hiking through the canyon en route to the Lower Falls
The Cave and the Lower Falls
Popular shot for photos on the bridge in front of the Lower Falls


Hiking to the Upper Falls


Ice appears everywhere as you reach the Upper Falls
The Upper Falls and ice climbers on them (photo taken from the canyon below the trail)

The BEST Part of the hike (going off trail into the canyon before the Upper Falls)

This one needs a disclaimer:  Do not walk on thin ice, do not go try to climb the falls without proper equipment, stick to official or at least unofficial trails that take you into the canyon, etc.  We found a lovely little side trail that took us down into the canyon right before the Upper Falls.  We played for a bit, enjoyed the view, and left again on the main trail.  We did not try to descend or hike down the canyon because that would be too dangerous (and dumb.)

Down in the canyon near the Upper Falls
The kids had a lot of fun playing down in the canyon
I love the Upper Falls as seen from down in the canyon
This was as far as we descended in the canyon - before returning on the main trail
This part of the trail was the highlight for us

The Hike Out

Another disclaimer:  Bring ice cleats or something for grip.  You'll notice them on our feet in the photo above.  I swear by micro spikes but my son wears yak trax which are much cheaper.  A small pair of yak trax is supposed to fit ladies with feet sized 6.5 - 10, but my son fits them and he isn't even a size 1 yet.   XS micro spikes are designed for kids with feet size 1 and bigger and that will be what my son gets for next winter.

This is what the trail looks like in spring when it's icy
This is how you'll descend the trail if you don't have ice cleats (be warned)
Looking down on the Lower Falls and the cave

And a fun video to end things off


For more information:

Visit the Town of Banff's website for detailed information on the trail.   It is 2.7 km one way to the Upper Falls but much shorter to the Lower Falls.  Most children aged 3+ should be able to make it to at least the Lower Falls and the cave with no difficulty.  


  1. I agree. : ) I avoided Johnston Canyon for years because the parking lot was always overflowing, but started going in the off season and love it too. So beautiful and the perfect length for kindergarteners!

  2. Beautiful photos. Warm greetings from a very cold Montreal. -23 today with the wind. :)