Johnston Creek is a tributary of the Bow River in Canada’s Rocky Mountains. Johnston Canyon is one of the most popular day hikes in Banff National Park. It’s fairly easy, making it perfect for families and people of almost any fitness level and age. It’s accessible year round, including the winter when you can enjoy hiking to Johnston Canyon’s frozen waterfalls.
Follow the Bow Valley Parkway west from its eastern interchange with the Trans-Canada Highway 17.5 km (11 mi) to Johnston Canyon. The parking area is on the east side of Johnston Creek. From the rear of the parking area, follow the trail leading across a footbridge to the lodge and trailhead on the west side of the creek.
The trail to the waterfalls of Johnston Canyon has to be the busiest in the Canadian Rockies. Nearly every day throughout the summer, hundreds of hikers follow its canyon-clinging catwalks and cliff-mounting staircases to the gorge’s Lower and Upper Falls. While the canyon and its unique trail are certainly worthy of a visit, you’ll have to do the hike in the evening or very early in the morning to avoid the hordes.
The trail begins immediately behind Johnston Canyon Lodge. After a short climb through the forest, it descends and stays close to Johnston Creek all the way to Lower Falls. Along the way you pass over sturdy iron catwalks attached beneath overhanging canyon walls, where the turbulent waters of the creek flow beneath your feet.Lower Falls is reached at km 1.1. A bridge across the creek serves as a viewpoint for the thundering cataract, and a short tunnel through the canyon bedrock allows passage to an even more intimate vantage point (albeit a wet one). Back on the main trail, you continue up the canyon via more catwalks and broad, well graded trail. There are many viewpoints overlooking the canyon and a small waterfall.
Throughout the journey, scan the creek and its banks for dippers. Also known as water ouzels, these solitary, slate-grey birds are often seen bouncing up and down on streamside rocks.
At the 30 m Upper Falls, there are two viewpoints: the bottom of the falls is reached by a side-trail and catwalk leading to a viewing platform; a short steep climb on the main trail takes you to the top of the falls and another viewing platform, which hangs out over the gorge above the waterfall.
While the rock slabs near the brink of the falls are fenced, people still clamber through to be near the creek. Be fore-warned: if you slip into the stream, you will be swept over the falls and you will not survive! (Accidents have claimed a number of people all along the Johnston Canyon trail over the years, so always stay on the trail and keep young children under control.)