Hiking Johnston Canyon in Alberta, Canada

Note to my fellow wanderers: This guide was written from my first-hand experiences. I try my best not to over-glamorize any location I travel to because I want HappyWander’s content to be as authentic as possible. My goal is to provide you real information so that you can have the best possible adventures wandering the world. Enjoy!

If you’re staying in Banff and want to do a short hike that’s not too difficult, hiking Johnston Canyon is a great option. Another great benefit (besides being beautiful) is that this hiking spot is only about 25 minutes from downtown Banff. In this guide, I will review my route and experience hiking Johnston Canyon in October to help you have the best hiking experience possible!

Overview of Johnston Canyon

Located in the Canadian Rockies in Alberta, Johnston Canyon is a unique and beautiful short hike you your family can enjoy together. In late October, Johnston Canyon is a snow covered mystery, with waterfalls about 80% frozen.

Hiking Johnston Canyon Trail Map

This is a map (via alltrails.com) of the route I did. There aren’t any other options once you get on Johnston Canyon Trail unless you take one of the side trails, which I would not recommend.

Where to Park

I went to Johnston Canyon on a Sunday at around 9:30 AM, and there weren’t many people there yet! However, on my way back, I passed A LOT of people just starting out. I’d recommend showing up around the same time I did to avoid large crowds, and that way you’ll be able to park in the main Johnston Canyon lot (see below Google Map):

Distance Traveled

According to Alltrails.com, I traveled about 3.25 miles. It’s a pretty short hike, so Johnston Canyon is a good one to do in between larger hiking days, like Lake Louise.

How Long Does it Take to Hike?

I arrived at 9:30 AM and finished this hike at around 11:30 AM. I hiked pretty slow because I took a lot of photos and videos, so you could do this one easily in 1 to 1.5 hours. This is a good hike to take the family on because it’s not too hard.

Elevation Change

This hike is not too elevated, about 880 feet according to Alltrails.com.

Johnston Canyon Elevation Gains Chart

Johnston Canyon elevation profile (out and back – via alltrails.com)

Difficulty

Johnston Canyon is the type of hike you can take your children on, it’s pretty easy. In October, however, it was quite slippery from the compacted snow and ice that formed along the trail. If you don’t have the right shoes on (I’d also recommend Crampons / microspikes), you’ll be holding on to the railing on the way down little hills that are throughout this hike. I saw quite a few people doing this, it looked pretty fun! I had crampons on so I was easily able to walk along the snowy and icy path. However, be careful, I did slip on a big flat rock with little ice on it, and got put on my back (kind of a cartoon banana peel moment!).

I’d give this hike a 2 / 10 in difficulty.

Permits

As mentioned above, you will need to purchase a day or yearly pass for Banff National Park. At the time of purchasing this in October 2023, I spent about $10.00 USD per day. Other than that, you’re good to go!

Cost

The only definite cost is the above mentioned daily or yearly pass for Banff National Park access.

When to Go

The Canadian Rockies are popular year round due to the many seasonal activities available. If you’re at Johnston Canyon in the summer, you’d be able to enjoy the rushing waterfalls and river. In late October when I chose to go, it was quite cold. In fact, my hands were aching (even with gloves) almost the entire hike from the cold. The waterfalls were about 80% frozen, but that was pretty awesome to see in my opinion! In October, there was still a nice flow to the river, and the sounds of waterfalls could still be heard (as you’ll hear if you keep reading and view our videos below!)

Recommended Gear

Hiking Johnston Canyon in October is a wonderful experience. I’ll highlight the gear that I brought, as well as additional gear that might benefit you:

  • Layers: I’d recommend wearing at least 3 layers if you hike in October, especially if a cold front swings through. I found this canyon to be even colder than the surrounding areas, such as where I stayed in downtown Banff. In the summer dress appropropriately.
  • Thermals: Speaking of layers, if you hike Johnston Canyon in October and it’s cold, wear thermal pants and a thermal shirt underneath your other layers.
  • Waterproof coat: You never know what the weather will be like out hiking. A waterproof coat will come in handy, better safe than sorry!
  • Hiking backpack with straps: If you don’t have a backpack with straps, I recommend you get one. They aren’t too expensive on Amazon. Your shoulders and back will thank you later. This hike, while not difficult, still has some ups and downs that can pay your body a toll without the proper gear.
  • Portable charger: If you take a lot of photos / videos like me, you’ll want to bring a portable charger for your phone. I also use the alltrails.com app to navigate so having enough battery is important. This hike is pretty short, so you may not need this item if this is the only activity you plan on doing. I, however, went to 4 different places after Johnston Canyon so having a fully battery throughout this hike was important.
  • Water bladder: If you want to save on weight and also help your backpack be more balanced than carrying a big bottle of water in your bag, a water bladder is important. I personally use a 3L water bladder that lasts an entire 10 hour day hike. It’s also super convenient to be able to sip on water whenever you need it without taking your bag off. IF you find yourself hiking Johnston Canyon in October, your tubing will most likely start to freeze like mine did! It’s important to sip from your water every few minutes to ensure the tubing exposed to the cold elements doesn’t freeze.
  • Hiking shoes: Hiking shoes that are waterproof will benefit you if you go in October, as the trails are pretty icy and snowy.
  • Crampons / Microspikes: If you go hiking at Johnston Canyon in October, crampons / microspikes will be your best friend. I saw several other hikers holding on to the railings on the small downhills as they slide down. While it looked fun, it’s certainly not ideal, especially if there are alot more people doing the same thing.
  • Multiple pairs of socks or thick socks: My hands and feet were pretty cold on this hike (I only wore 1 pair of socks), so I’d recommend wearing a multiple pairs or thick socks.
  • Snacks: Who doesn’t like snacks? While hiking, even on a short hike like this, you burn lots of calories. My personal go-to’s on this hike were: Peanut M&Ms, protein bars, protein shakes, and gummy worms.
  • Bug spray: We didn’t experience any bugs on our hike in October, but if you go during summer I’d recommend it.
  • Bear Mace: Uh, just in case!
  • First Aid kit: It’s a good idea to bring Band-Aids, a bandage, and some cut cleaning items. I used a few bandaids for my heel blisters, which definitely helped.

Nice to Have Gear:

Here are a few items that would make your Johnston Canyon hiking experience even better:

  • Shoe impact insoles: These probably wouldn’t have been needed in late October as I was hiking on snow. But even so, shoe insoles can save your knees some pain on the terrain you’ll experience here.
  • Phone Tripod: There wasn’t a ton of room to use a phone tripod but there may be a few spots to use one to get good pictures of you and your loved one(s).
  • Sunscreen: There wasn’t a ton of sun exposure on this hike, but if your skin is sensitive to the sun, you might want to use some anyway.

The Play By Play: My Route Hiking Johnston Canyon

So what’s it like hiking Johnston Canyon? It’s a great short hike to do and it’s only about 20-25 minutes away from Banff. I would not want to do this one if it was my only hike on the day, but it’s good on a day where your legs are recovering from the big hike the day before.

Johnston Canyon Starting Point

As soon as you park (there are ample places to park in October if you arrive before 10 AM, even on a Sunday like when I hiked), you’ll find a nice little station to use the restroom before you start your mini adventure.

Johnston Canyon in Banff National Park Starting Point

As you can see, it was quite snowy/icy on the trails in October. Pretty early on this hike, you’ll run into a cafe area with more restrooms, with a welcoming sign that makes you feel pretty good!

Johnston Canyon Cafe Near Entrance

Johnston Canyon Trail

Johnston Canyon Trail runs pretty much the entire length of his mini hike. It’s a pleasant hike that takes you through the canyon on walkways above the river, some of which were quite icy / snowy.

This trail is very well maintained and easy to navigate. In some cases, the crampons were a bit excessive as parts of the raised walkways were not ice or snow.

Lower Falls

When you’re headed down Johnston Canyon Trail, the first waterfall you’ll run into is the Lower Falls, which if I remember correctly are less than 1 mile from the starting point.

These falls are smaller than the Upper Falls, but do have a pretty cool cave you can walk through:

Upper Falls

The Upper Falls at Johnston Canyon are pretty beautiful, especially when mostly frozen in October. If you take the route to the right, you’ll enter the lower viewpoint for Upper Falls from the bottom, and it looks like this:

As you can see, it’s quite stunning when you’re surrounded by frozen waterfalls!

Upper Falls Lookout

As you leave the Lower Falls bottom view, you can go to the opposite route on the trail that takes you to the Upper Falls Lookout, which is a good spot for a photo or video!

After Hike Dinner

If you’re like me, Johnston Canyon was just one of my many adventures jam packed in one day. Big adventures call for big meals. Three Bears Brewery and Restaurant was my go-to on this day.

Three Bears Brewery and Restaurant in Banff

If you happen to be in Banff in late October or early November, you’ll get to experience Banff’s Taste for Adventure happenings, which many restaurants participate in. Basically they give you 3 course meals at relatively good prices. I chose to go with a selection on the Taste for Adventure menu at Three Bears, which included a big Caesar salad with bacon, a steak, tons of vegetables, and a piece of chocolate cheesecake. I also added a flight of beers to experience everything Three Bears had to offer.

Three Bears Brewery and Restaurant Taste for Adventure Steak Special

About My Experience Hiking Johnston Canyon

Overall, hiking Johnston Canyon was great. Johnston Canyon is a popular spot in Banff for many of the reasons I outlined in this guide. The scenery here is just different from many of the staggeringly beautiful surrounding mountains in the Canadian Rockies. I enjoyed this change of pace hike, and I think you will too!

Favorite Parts

Here are a few of my favorite parts of hiking Johnston Canyon:

The Falls: The Lower and Upper Falls were both pretty cool to see. After a tough day hiking the day before, I enjoyed that it was relatively easy to get to these falls. I think no matter the time you visit Johnston Canyon, you’ll enjoy seeing these beautiful waterfalls.

The Walkways: The walkways were in great shape, and zig-zagged around canyons and offered different vantage points as they rose in height and hovered above the water in some areas. I would just caution you if these are icy to be careful as you navigate these walkways.

Least Favorite Parts

Returning back to the starting point after the Upper Falls, there was one point on the trail that had a big flat rock with a very thin layer of ice. My crampons didn’t get enough grip and I landed pretty hard on my back and left arm. I’m glad I didn’t get more seriously hurt, just a few bruises. I’d recommend being extra careful doing this trail if there is snow and ice, even if you are wearing crampons (some areas don’t have lots of snow / ice, just slippery rock).

Overall Score

Johnston Canyon is a nice hike to do in between larger hikes, like my Lake Louise hike, which took a toll on my legs. I give it a 7/10.

Final Thoughts on Hiking Johnston Canyon in Alberta, Canada

You can’t go wrong with this short hike at Johnston Canyon. I highly recommend this spot if you’re traveling with little ones, elderly, or just need a shorter hike the day after a big one. In Banff National Park, I really haven’t found any bad spots yet. Johnston Canyon is certainly a fun outing I think you’ll enjoy!

Anthony Bart
Author: Anthony Bart

Hello! Welcome to HappyWanders! My name is Anthony, I'm on a mission to live a life full of adventure and to help you to do the same. As an ex-corporate worker and current entrepreneur, I've been working to design a life with more time for adventure and less time for the 9-5 grind. If you're ready for an adventure, you're my type of person!

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