Visiting Johnston Canyon in winter is a must for travelers to Banff National Park in Alberta. The canyon and surrounding areas are blanketed in snow, making it the perfect place to enjoy some outdoor activities. Imagine…..the stunning views of Johnston Canyon from a different perspective as you wander through the snow-covered trails. Read our Johnston Canyon winter hiking guide to prepare for this trip!
Johnston Canyon Winter Hiking Guide
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Johnston Canyon is a popular destination in the heart of the Canadian Rockies. It is known for its towering limestone cliffs, abundant wildlife, and falls.
A popular hiking trail winds through Johnston Canyon, taking you past two incredible waterfalls, providing breathtaking views of the surrounding mountain ranges and lush forests.
At the end of the trail is a spectacular view of Johnston Canyon that will make for an unforgettable experience. Whether you’re looking for a peaceful nature walk or some challenging terrain, Johnston Canyon has it all!
Did you know? Johnston Canyon is named after a gold prospector who was captivated by the enchanting waterfalls and breathtaking vistas (in the 1880s).
Where is the Johnston Canyon located? How to get there?
Visiting Johnston Canyon is easy and accessible all year round.
The nearest airport is the Calgary International Airport, which is located about 165 kilometers (102.5 miles) from Johnston Canyon, and approximately 142 kilometers (88 miles) away from Banff Town.
Johnston Canyon from Banff:
From Banff town, it’s just a short drive or shuttle ride to your destination. If you’d rather not drive, there are several tours and services that offer transportation to Johnston Canyon from Calgary and Banff Town.
If you are not staying in Banff, Johnston Canyon is a great place for a day trip from Calgary as well.
How far is Johnston Canyon from Banff?
Banff to Johnston Canyon is about a 25 minute drive, covering an area of 25 km (15.5 miles)
How to get to Johnston Canyon from Banff?
You can drive to Johnston Canyon – there are a lot of car rental options from Calgary to Banff National Park. There are guided tours, and shuttle services also available to take you there.
Driving directions from Banff to Johnston Canyon
Driving to Johnston Canyon from Banff is easy and only takes around 25 minutes.
Start by heading west on the Trans-Canada Highway 1 towards Lake Louise, then take exit 118 for Bow Valley Parkway/Hwy 1A.
Keep right at the fork and merge onto Bow Valley Pkwy/AB-1A W. At the roundabout, take the 1st exit, and turn left follow the signs to Johnston Canyon!
You will find the Johnston Canyon parking lot on the right-hand side. Parking space is limited so ensure you get there early morning. There is also spillover parking on the left side.
How to travel from Lake Louise to Johnston Canyon
When visiting Johnston Canyon on a guided tour, we reached there from Lake Louise. The driving distance is 33 km (20.5 miles), and it will take about 30 minutes to get there.
Johnston Canyon Winter Tours
New to the Canadian Rockies? You can enjoy captivating views of Johnston Canyon in the winter on a guided tour.
Professional guides can provide you with information about the local wildlife, plant life, and cultural knowledge of the area while offering round trip transportation and sightseeing in the nearby spots.
Here are some of our top picks:
- Banff Area 1-Day Tour from Calgary or Banff: Travel from Calgary on day-long sightseeing to Johnston Canyon, Bow Falls, Sulphur Mountain Sightseeing Gondola, Banff town, and beyond. Click to find more details about the day tour here
- Lake Louise & Banff & Moraine Lake Tour from Calgary or Banff: This is a one-day tour of Lake Louise, Johnston Canyon, and Moraine Lake (summer), or a stop at Minnewanka in winter. Click to book this day tour here
You can also book multiple-day tours that include a stop at Johnston Canyon site, such as this 3 Day Rockies Tour, travel Banff & Columbia Icefield from Calgary
Whether you’re looking for an outdoor adventure or a tranquil escape from everyday life, these Johnston Canyon tours in winter will surely exceed your expectations!
They provide transportation which is perfect if you are not used to driving in the winter in Canada.
Banff Johnston Canyon Ice Walk Tour
The Johnston Canyon Ice Walk is one of the most popular activities in Banff National Park during the winter months.
The walk will take approximately two hours to complete, depending on how many stops you make along the way. This trail offers stunning views of frozen waterfalls and snow-covered mountainsides – a truly mesmerizing experience!
Here are the top picks for Johnston Canyon Ice walk
- Morning or Afternoon Johnston Canyon Icewalk: This is one of the highly rated icewalk tours in Banff, with round trip transportation, guided hike, use of crampons, and more. Click to book this excursion by Discover Banff Tours
- Johnston Canyon Guided Hike: If you are planning to drive there yourself, you can choose this 2.5-hour guided hike. Find more details here
- Johnston Canyon Private Guided Icewalk: Get undivided attention for you and your travel party with this private Icewalk tour. Pick up and drop off can be requested. Maximum number of passengers is 8. Click to book the tour here
Can you hike Johnston Canyon at night?
Hiking Johnston Canyon at night is possible, but it is not recommended due to the lack of visibility and the potential for wildlife encounters.
If you are looking for a unique experience in the canyon after hours, consider signing up for one of the evening tours.
This guided tour takes you through Johnston Canyon in the dark, illuminating your surroundings with beautiful lanterns (aka headlamps which you can keep as a souvenir after the trip) and providing you with a truly magical experience!
Watch the frozen waterfalls shimmer as you take a Johnston Canyon night walk in quiet darkness beneath the stars.
The Johnston Canyon Evening Icewalk is all about heightening your senses, appreciating the darkness, and the scents of the fresh pine forest, and enjoying the silence of a night spent beneath the stars.
For those looking to explore on their own, try venturing out during the twilight hours just before nightfall/darkness. This way you can enjoy the canyon in its full glory while still having enough light to find your way back.
Lower and Upper Falls Hiking Trails: Visiting Johnston Canyon in Winter
The main attractions at the Johnston Canyon are the Upper Falls and Lower Falls. Hiking trails along the canyon lead to both falls, offering stunning views of this spectacular canyon carved out by Johnston Creek over centuries.
Johnston Canyon Lower Falls Winter
The trail leading to the Lower Falls is a relatively easy hike of 1.2 km (.75 miles) from the trailhead parking lot.
Along this loop trail, there are several bridges and viewing platforms, as well as a stunning waterfall that cascades into an emerald-green pool at the base of the canyon walls.
The Lower Falls are easy to access and can be enjoyed by hikers of all levels.
Johnston Canyon Upper Falls Winter
The Upper Falls trail is further along, leading to a powerful cascade dropping 32 meters (105 feet It is 2.5 km (1.5 miles) to the top from the trailhead. Although the hike is easy, you have to be very careful in the winter when hiking. The elevation gain is about 120 m.
It will take about 2 to 3 hours to complete both hikes (and back). Trailhead is the Johnston Canyon day-use area and there is a parking lot there.
|Lower Falls Trail
|Upper Falls Trail
|1.2 km (.75 miles) one way
|2-hour round trip
|1 hour round trip
|1-hour round trip
Johnston Canyon Banff Winter Hike (with and without a tour): Our Experience
We have visited Johnston Canyon at different times of the year. Winters are cold and harsh but the views of the canyon make it worth it.
You can embark on the Johnston Canyon hike on your own, with a guide or join one of the ice walk tours.
Whether you are reaching Johnston Canyon from Banff or Calgary, you will find a parking lot at the trailhead. Park your car, wear your ice cleats or crampons, and get ready to enjoy the hike!
Be sure to dress warmly and wear proper winter gear when embarking on this journey. The conditions can be unpredictable, so keep an eye on the forecast and plan accordingly!
Note: There is no fee to enter the Canyon site, and it is open 24/7.
The hike through Johnston Canyon all the way to Upper Canyon Falls takes approximately 2-3 hours (return trip). It’s an easy, manageable trail, with a gentle elevation gain through the canyon.
You will find marked signposts all along the trail.
You will also find viewing platforms as you make your way to the Lower Falls.
Follow the signs and hike along the steel walkways called ‘catwalks’. These are built into the canyon walls and it will lead you to the Lower Canyon first.
Then follow directions to get to the Upper Falls. In the winter this part is filled with snow and caution should be exercised as you hike up higher.
The views are simply breathtaking and if you’re visiting Banff National Park in the winter (or the summer for that matter), this is a must-do activity.
In our experience, we found hiking the Johnston Canyon trail to be quite easy in the winter – we were bundled up and had ice cleats on throughout the journey.
Other noteworthy stops
Johnston Canyon Secret Cave:
One of the popular spots to check out at Johnston Canyon is the Secret Cave.
As you make your way toward the Upper Falls, you will find a trail that leads to the enchanting secret cave. About 150m before reaching the falls, you’ll notice a pathway on the right-hand side to get there.
During the winter season, access to the cave is open. At other times of the year (May 1 to November 15) there are restrictions on visiting the Secret Cave in order to conserve the black swifts habitat.
Johnston Canyon to Ink Pots:
After visiting the Upper Falls, hike or snowshoe further to get to the Ink Pots. This natural spring is surrounded by six picturesque ponds that are frozen solid during the winter months.
The calm stillness of this area combined with the snow-covered landscape makes for a beautiful sight!
Access to the Ink Pots is also open all year round, but you have to snowshoe to get there in the winter.
To head to the Ink Pots, Lower and Upper Falls, and back to the parking lot will take about 3-4 hours.
Travel Tips for Visiting: Johnston Canyon Winter Hike
Weather: Johnston Canyon in Winter
The winter months in Johnston Canyon are from December to February. There are some overlaps in the preceding and succeeding months, we recommend checking the weather app prior to your day hike there.
|– 2.7°C (27.14 °F)
|– 12.8°C (8.96 °F)
|– 2.6°C (27.32 °F)
|– 13.9°C (6.98 °F)
|– 0.7°C (30.74 °F)
|– 13.8°C (31.76 °F)
Note that Johnston Canyon is open and accessible all year round. In the winter months, the weather in Johnston Canyon is too cold to be enjoyable for travelers seeking warm climates.
You will need to dress warmly and will have to snowshoe or hike with crampons on, along the trails.
If interested in a unique experience, there are guided ice walks offered in the winter months (as listed above), where you can explore the canyon and its frozen waterfalls.
Note: Check Johnston Canyon trail conditions here
What to wear and pack for a winter hiking trip to Johnston Canyon: Hike winter
Be sure to bundle up and wear proper winter gear when visiting Johnston Canyon in the winter months.
Here are some packing essentials for your trip to Johnston Canyon Canada in winter,
1. A Heavy coat or parka:
Temperatures in Canada and the Johnston Canyon drop well below freezing during the winter months, so make sure you pack a coat that will keep you warm and dry.
A waterproof warm coat or a down-filled parka are both great choices.
2. Waterproof boots:
Wear waterproof snow boots to embark on the hiking trails inside the Johnston Canyon.
Ensure you have supportive boots that will also keep your feet dry in case you step in any puddles or snow banks along the way.
3. Cleats or crampons:
The use of ice cleats or crampons is a MUST. You can pack your own or rent them in Banff.
Because we live in Alberta, we keep a pair of ice cleats in our car at all times (and use them when hiking in the winter, depending on the terrain). Ice cleats are inexpensive and very light to pack and bring with your luggage. Buy a pair of ice cleats here
If you’re joining a tour, you will be provided with crampons or cleats to wear prior to your guided hike.
4. Beanies, scarves, and gloves/mittens:
Don’t forget the accessories! A warm hat, beanie, or toque is a must. Ensure they cover your ears as well.
Bring a scarf and wrap it around your neck or cover your face if needed.
Mittens or warm gloves are essential for keeping warm when temperatures start to plummet. Choose items that are easy to pack and that can be layered for added warmth if necessary.
5. Thermal underwear or long johns:
Thermal underwear is always a good idea when traveling in cold weather—it provides an extra layer of warmth without adding bulk or taking up too much space in your suitcase.
Use this as a base layer prior to adding your fleece jacket or sweater.
6. Fleece jacket or sweater:
Wear a sweater or a fleece mid layer. You can take it off if needed depending on the temperatures on your day of visit.
6. An emergency kit:
It’s always good to have a few key items on hand—especially when driving in the winter in the mountains. Your emergency kit should include items like bandages, pain relief medication, antacid tablets, and any other medications you or anyone in your party might need while on your trip.
You should also pack a small first-aid kit containing items like band-aids and gauze pads—just in case anyone gets hurt while exploring all that Canada has to offer during the winter months!
Frequently Asked Questions: Johnston Canyon Banff Hike
Can you visit Johnston Canyon in the winter?
Yes! Johnston Canyon is open year-round and there are plenty of winter activities to enjoy. You can experience the beauty of the canyon while hiking, snowshoeing, or on ice walks.
The trails in Johnston Canyon are even more scenic when blanketed in snow, making it a great destination for winter travelers.
How much is a taxi from Banff to Johnston Canyon?
If you are not renting a car or using a guided tour, then a taxi can get you to Johnston Canyon from Banff. It will cost about $65 – $80 CAD (travel duration is about 20 to 25 minutes).
Do you need a Banff pass for Johnston Canyon?
Yes, you will need a National Parks Pass (day or annual pass) to access Johnston Canyon Falls. It is important to know that the falls are located within Banff National Park, and there are no additional fees to visit the Canyon.
How long does the Johnston Canyon ice walk take?
The Johnston Canyon Icewalk is a 3-hour tour that includes both the Upper and Lower Falls.
Is Johnston Canyon a hard hike?
The Johnston Canyon trail is a moderate hike that can be completed in 2-3 hours. The paths are paved and well-maintained, with a few steeper sections (as you head to the Upper Falls).
Despite its fairly easy terrain, the hike can still be challenging for some people due to its length and elevation gain in the winter, so make sure you’re prepared before heading out on your journey!
What is the Johnston Canyon hike length?
The hike through Johnston Canyon and back is about 6 km (3.7 miles).
How busy is Johnston Canyon in the winter?
Johnston Canyon is a popular destination, especially in the winter months. The canyon and surrounding areas are blanketed in snow, making it the perfect place for outdoor activities like hiking, snowshoeing, or ice walks.
Although the trails can get busy during peak times like weekends and holidays, there are still plenty of opportunities to find some peace and quiet amongst the majestic mountains and rushing waterfalls. Winters are relatively less busy than summer months.
To avoid crowds, try visiting during the weekdays when possible. This way you can experience the beauty of Johnston Canyon without fighting for space on the trails or taking too long to get a picture!
What time of day is best for Johnston Canyon?
The best time to visit Johnston Canyon is early in the morning before the sun is too high in the sky. This will give you plenty of time to explore the trails and take in all the stunning views without having to deal with crowds or direct sunlight.
Plus, early morning light casts a beautiful glow on this majestic canyon – especially when combined with snow-covered mountains and frozen waterfalls!
You can also take advantage of the canyon’s cooler temperatures by visiting in the late afternoon or evening. This is a great way to escape the summer heat and enjoy some peaceful moments surrounded by nature.
Note that from June and September, the trails are generally busy.
How long is the hike to Johnston Canyon Upper Falls?
The hike to Johnston Canyon Upper Falls is approximately 2.5 km (1.50 miles) and takes about 2-3 hours round trip. This trail is fairly easy, with some steep sections along the way.
How long is Johnston Canyon Lower Falls?
The Lower Falls of Johnston Canyon is a popular destination for hikers and sightseers all year round, offering breathtaking views of the canyon. The trip from the parking lot to the bottom of the falls takes approximately one hour.
Along the way, you will come across several stunning viewpoints and boardwalks.
Do you need bear spray for Johnston Canyon?
Yes, it is recommended to carry bear spray on all hikes in the Canadian Rockies.
Is Johnston Canyon stroller friendly?
The path to the Lower Falls is stroller friendly (however it is not recommended in winter). This trail has boardwalks with handrails and is perfect for hikers of all ages and fitness levels.
Is Johnston Canyon an easy hike?
Hiking through Johnston Canyon is fairly easy. This scenic hike to both the falls takes approximately 2-3 hours round trip.
The trail, with its gentle elevation gain, offers an easily manageable experience as you traverse the enchanting canyon. It is accessible in winter as well, just ensure you are wearing cleats or crampons.
What to do after Johnston Canyon?
For those looking to extend their stay in Banff National Park, there are plenty of activities and attractions nearby. From winter sports like skiing, snowshoeing, or ice fishing to summertime activities like hiking, camping, or biking, there’s something for everyone!
Embark on the scenic Bow Valley Parkway, connecting Banff town to Lake Louise. Most tours will include a stop in Lake Louise and Johnston Canyon (4-4 hours each).
Other than that, you can hit the Mount Norquay Ski Resort, or the Sunshine Village for an adventure on the slopes! The resorts offer all levels of skiing and snowboarding, plus incredible panoramic views of Banff.
Prefer to take it slow? Head back to Banff town from Johnston Canyon, visit museums, Vermillion Lakes, and hot springs, and enjoy the Sightseeing Gondola!
Not to mention exploring the quaint shops and cafes in nearby towns like Banff and Canmore. You can also drive via the Icefields Parkway route to Jasper National Park (Icefields Columbia Adventure is closed in the winter).
Is the Johnston Canyon worth visiting in the winter?
Yes, absolutely! Although the trails will be snow-covered and the waterfalls are frozen, Johnston Canyon is a sight to behold during the winter months.
With its spectacular views of icy waterfalls, untouched snow-covered forests, and serene mountain ranges – it’s no wonder it’s a must do Canada bucket list item! And we highly recommend visiting in the winter.
Plus, ice walks at the canyon are extremely popular and make for an unforgettable experience.
Read more about Canada posts:
- Best places to visit in Canada in winter
- Things to do in Vancouver in winter
- Things to do in Calgary in winter
- Things to do in Sylvan Lake in winter