Saturday, December 26, 2015

Ice Caves and Frozen Waterfalls in Banff National Park

We got out for a pre-Christmas hike in Johnston Canyon and this beautiful hike did not disappoint. We crawled behind frozen waterfalls, explored hidden caves, and ventured off trail to find the secret gems of this popular tourist trail.

Follow me on a photo tour of Banff's best winter hiking trail!

Exploring Ice Caves in Banff National Park

Hiking the Catwalks to the Lower Falls in Johnston Canyon

It's a short 1.1 km walk to the Lower Falls from the Johnston Canyon Resort. The trail is relatively flat with a slight uphill grade and the going is easy. Most people can make it to the first set of waterfalls regardless of fitness or age and I've seen people do the short outing in everything from leather dress shoes to simple sneakers.

Kids love these catwalks
This fun section takes you under a big overhanging rock

The Lower Falls and the Cave

The Lower Falls are best seen by crawling through a small cave where you'll be met with the view below. And while the falls are beautiful all year long, I prefer them in winter when they are frozen with water flowing underneath and out into a pool at the bottom.

The Lower Falls of Johnston Canyon, Banff National Park
The viewing platform on the other side of the cave
Sliding down out of the cave
Popular Photo Opp in front of the frozen Lower Falls

Hiking to the Upper Falls

The hike to the Upper Falls is 2.7 km total from the parking lot and the trail starts to climb more steeply past the Lower Falls. Many people turn around at the Lower Falls, but the best is yet to come! (especially in winter)

We hiked about three quarters of the way to the Upper Falls and then started looking for footprints leading off of the main trail to the right, down into the creek. In summer it's harder to find the secret trail I was looking for but in winter it's pretty easy to see the wide packed trail heading down into the canyon. (for locals, it's not exactly a secret so the trail you are looking for is pretty well traveled)

We followed our side trail down into the canyon and the photos below show us playing on and behind a beautiful frozen waterfall.

Note that as of 2020 you can not hike down into the canyon. All photos in the canyon are from 2019 or earlier.

If you want to hike behind a frozen waterfall, visit Troll Falls in Kananaskis where you can hike to the Upper Falls and walk behind a frozen ice curtain.

Down in the canyon a short distance before the Upper Falls

These beautiful frozen waterfalls can't be seen from the main trail

We crawled behind the waterfall and discovered this super cool cave

My son and his friend playing in the cave behind the waterfall

The kids thought this ice cave was pretty cool!

Next year's family Christmas Card

The Upper Falls and More Exploring in the Canyon

Back on the main trail, we hiked for half a kilometre at most to reach the Upper Falls. The best photos though are again taken off of the main trail, down in the canyon.

Right before you reach the Upper Falls, you'll see another very well packed trail leading down to the creek. From here, you can follow the creek (if it's frozen) right up to the Upper Falls where hopefully you'll get to watch ice climbers in action.

Obviously if the creek is not frozen, exploring in the canyon would not be a smart idea and you should stick to the main trail. And as another note of caution, don't stand beside the Upper Falls for too long! Get your photos and get out of there. You'll see large blocks of ice around you on the ground and they definitely fell from above!

Standing in front of the Upper Falls of Johnston Canyon
The official viewing platform for the Upper Falls

Johnston Canyon is a great winter hike and at 5.4 km round trip, the hike is doable by most children ages four and up. For younger children, bring a child carrier because the hike is not stroller or sled friendly.

It's advised as well that you wear ice cleats or some kind of traction device for your boots as the path can get slippery. My family wears Kahtoola Micro Spikes

Kahtoola Micro Spikes let you walk straight up ice

Additional Reading

The Most Popular Hike in Banff - Without the Crowds

Johnston Canyon Hike (Banff Town website)

Guided Ice Walks in Johnston Canyon with Discover Banff Tours

Winter Wonderland in Johnston Canyon at the Upper Falls

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