Hike: Johnson Canyon
Location: Located about 25 minutes from Banff. Follow the Trans Canada Highway/ Alberta 1 West to Bow Valley Parkway. Drive on Bow Valley Parkway (~18 km) until you reach Johnston Canyon. The trail head is easy to find and starts at the end of the parking lot beside the washrooms.
Distance and Elevation Gain: Lower Falls: 800 metres or 1/2 mile hike/walk one way, ~30 metres of elevation. Upper Falls: 2.4 km or 1.5 mile hike/walk one way, ~120 metres of elevation.
Difficulty: Easy. Note that there is more of an incline to the Upper Falls.
Child Carrier Accessible: Single stroller accessible to lower falls. During the wintertime might be a challenge to bring the stroller.
Facilities: Restrooms, Camping, Cabins, Restaurant, Ice Cream, Gift Shop (Washrooms are the only facilities open year round)
Trail Description: The trail is open year round. It is very popular in the summer months. If you want to avoid the crowds try hiking the trail in the fall or spring although long weekends also tend to bring crowds as well. The trail is gorgeous and has lots of features for younger hikers to enjoy. The hike to the lower falls takes you along the side of the canyon on catwalks with safety railings and there are a few different viewpoints of the mountains. The end of the lower falls takes you through a cave to see the falls. If you have a wandering toddler you will want to have them in a carrier because of all the cliffs. The second falls hike is mostly through the trees along the canyon. Both falls are beautiful and a small cave allows you to get a closer glimpse of the lower falls.
Tips: In the winter bring ice and snow traction cleats. Yaktrax are popular in Canada. We saw a young boy slip on the ice and fall about 10 feet under the railing on a switch back on the trail.
It was so nice to go back to Johnston Canyon. It has been a few years since I have done the hike and I was glad to be back. I have really fond memories as we used to do this hike when I was very young with my parents. We would drive the 8 hours from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan to camp in the Rocky Mountains. As a kid I loved this hike and for good reason. It is an easy, short hike with lots of rewarding sights along the way. Now that I am a mother, I had the opportunity to see my toddler and baby enjoy the trail that I hiked when I was their age with my parents. What was even more special was that my parents, brother, sister and nephew also came along.
When we arrived at the parking lot we knew that before we left we had to fuel up the kids. I fed our youngest daughter in the car and my husband got out some lunch food for our toddler. Let me tell you that diaper changes and bathroom were a breeze in the full service washroom. This was a nice change from the open air diaper changes we usually have to do when hiking with the kids.
Our toddler and baby were excited to go in their carriers. Honestly our 2 and half year old did not used to like the carrier that much but now wants to be carried like her little sister. Huge Bonus for us these days!!!
Off we went and started the hike over the bridge and past the gift shop. The hike was as beautiful as I remembered although the crowds were a bit much.Occasionally we had to wait our turn as 10 people would be hiking the opposite way we were headed.
The hike was very icy and even though we have done lots of winter hikes we have yet to get ice and snow traction cleats. This is silly because we do a lot of hiking but I think we often try to ‘make do’ on our small outdoors budget. Anyways my mom was clearly worried about her granddaughter on my back and gave me one of her traction cleats. I insisted I did not need one but I have to confess that it made the hike significantly easier. I would suggest either buying your own or renting before hiking this trail in the winter as the trail was very icy in some spots.
Both our daughters were in awe the whole hike. Our toddler was talking about the bridges (catwalks) we were walking on and the rock tunnels we were walking underneath. She loved going into the cave and seeing the lower falls on the other side of the cave. If all you can do in a day is the lower falls you won’t be disappointed as they are beautiful. I do however highly recommend continuing onto the upper falls.
After the lower falls we hiked up the rest of the way to the upper falls as the kids were having a great time. Our youngest daughter fell asleep and had her second nap of the day.
The hike to the upper falls is through the forest along the edge of the canyon. For the last 300 metres our toddler wanted to get out of the carrier and did a bit of hiking on her own. The last bit of the hike she walked on the catwalk holding one of our hands to the upper falls.
The upper falls were spectacular. We took a few pictures, turned around and found a nice spot on a bench to drink hot chocolate and have a snack. While they enjoyed the snacks and hot chocolate, I took our sleeping baby and walked to the top of the falls with my parents as there are two views. One of the views is at the bottom which is the better view of the falls and the other is looking down at them. I snapped a few photos and then we met up with the rest of the family to head down the trail. Our toddler hiked a bit more until it was too slippery and we popped her back in the carrier. She has her afternoon nap in the carrier as we hiked the rest of the way down.
All in all is was such a beautiful day with the family out on the trails.