Johnston Canyon and Ink Pots trail – 12km (return), 3-4 hours, easy, elevation 300 meters (984 feet)
Access: On 1A, 30min (25 km) drive from Banff, and 33km from Lake Louise on the Bow Valley Parkway
The trail starts at the Johnston Canyon parking lot’s northern end.
There is a small souvenir store by the parking lot. The trail leads through a narrow catwalk alongside the fast-flowing river through the canyon. Mostly flat walkway with rails and bridges makes it very accessible to see the canyon from up close. The catwalk winds alongside the cliff – which shields from rain or snow- with barely noticeable climb. Sometimes you have a gorge right beside you, and sometimes you are way above it.
The Johnston Canyon has been shaped by erosion over thousands of years. Fast flowing Johnston Creek is fed by glacial valley of Badger Pass and Pulsatilla Pass.
There are 2 main waterfalls at the canyon: Lower Falls and Upper Falls, and a few mini waterfalls and cascades in between.
Return trip to lower and upper falls takes about 2 to 2.5 hours. From the trailhead it’s 0.8km (0.5 mile) one way to Lower Falls with 30m elevation gain, and 2.4km (1.5 mile) one way to Upper Falls with 30m elevation gain.
The first 2km are busy from Johnston Canyon to the gushing Upper Falls, but the number of people does thin significantly after you pass it. This is where the trail to Ink Pots starts.
From Upper Falls continue to a wide dirt road for another 3km (approx. 1 hour). There is going to be continual ascent and descent all the way through, but overall it’s fairly easy walk. Overall elevation gain is 215m. The road is well maintained, rock and roots free.
The whole section until Ink Pots runs through the shaded forest, and offers no views whatsoever, so drop your expectations until the final opening.
Ink Pots offer a view of 6 mineral water ponds/ vistas with bubbles coming out of the ground. Each pond has a different shade of jade-green colour. The source of water that feeds the pools is spring water.
You can see the difference in water colour better if you come on a sunny day. And to be honest, I would only come here on a sunny day to appreciate the colours.
Ink Pots are interesting from the geological point of view, but they are small in size. Fortunately the surroundings make up for that, as the mountain ranges are looming above the valley which resembles a peaceful Alpine sceneries with colourful meadow flowers, birds and butterflies all around.
I could imagine this place look much better on a less hazy day. If you pick a clear day for your hike, your photos will look crispier and clearer than mine, so keep that in mind.
Nearby creek gives a refreshing breeze, and relaxing atmosphere. You can sit at one of the benches, enjoy your lunch, and gaze out at this nature wonder.
Check the Trail Condition Report on Parks Canada website:Parks Canada
It is a very popular and busy trail, so leave start very early in the morning (even at 7a.m.) to avoid crowds (I mean hundreds of people, no kidding) and parking far away from the trailhead. You can enjoy the canyon even on a cloudy day, or rainy day as it’s mostly shaded and protected by the cliffs
Open year round, but the facilities are closed in the winter time
Try to visit it on a midweek day to avoid the crowds and be able to stop without getting in others way
Hiking poles not needed
Dogs are permitted