Johnston Canyon – The Ink Pots – Banff National Park
Certainly an area that shows the power of nature and time – rushing water carves a path through the limestone canyon and potholes form over the years from plunging waterfalls. This is one of the most popular hikes in Banff National Park.
Time: To Ink Pots – 4-5 hours return trip
Distance: 5.8 km (3.6 miles)
Level of Difficulty: Easy
Elevation Gain: 215 metres (700 feet)
Maps: Banff , 82 0/4 West
Mount Eisenhower ( Castle Mtn. ), 82 0/5 West
Starting Point: Drive west from Banff on the Trans-Canada Hwy. Take the 1A Hwy ( Bow Valley Parkway ) turnoff and continue west 18 km (11 miles) to Johnston Canyon Lodge. Past the lodge, a trail sign at the northern end of the parking lot marks the start of the hike.
Summary: The trail begins as a paved walkway for the first 1.1 km (0.7 miles) to the Lower Falls . Here, the water plunges 10 m (33 feet) into a deeply carved pothole below. The trail becomes slightly more rugged as the hike continues to the Upper Falls (2.7 km/1.7 miles) and Ink Pots. The Upper Falls are dramatic with water cascading down more than 30 m (almost 100 feet). At this point, the trail leaves the creek and widens on route to the Ink Pots. It narrows again for a final descent to the Johnston Valley bottom and the Ink Pots (six clear greenish pools filled with spring water that remains at a constant 1-degree Celsius year-round).
Lower Falls – 1.1 km (0.7 miles) from the parking area on a paved path (street shoes will do). This trail is set up as a self-guided walk with pamphlets available to offer information about the geology of the area. For a slightly shorter return-trip from the Ink Pots, follow the fire access road directly to Johnston Canyon Lodge.
Keep in Mind:
Johnston Canyon is shaded and moist – bring an extra layer of clothing. Bring a bird book – this canyon is a unique for bird watching. Bring a water bottle and snack. Quick water stops are important every 20-30 minutes (more often if it is hot), especially if you are not used to higher elevations. Wear appropriate day-hiking shoes for the trail beyond Lower Falls . Slow your pace; slow your breathing. Smell the scent from the surrounding spruce, pine and fir forest.
Attention: Bird Watchers
Black Swift – Johnston Canyon is one of this bird’s three known breeding sites in Alberta . Scan for nests high on the canyon walls. Mornings and dusk are the best time to see the adults as they go to and fro from the canyon.
Other birds to look and listen for: the Dipper, Winter Wren, Cordilleran Flycatcher, and the Townsend’s and Yellow-rumped Warbler.
Plan your trip
Stay on marked trails
Pack garbage out
Be cautious of wildlife
Be safe, be smart – hike within your limits
Walking and hiking in the Canadian Rocky Mountains is inherent with risk due to a number of constantly changing conditions. These conditions include (but are not limited to) unpredictable weather, rain, flash floods, falling rocks, mudslides, falling trees and more.
Other dangers include (but are not limited to) wild animals such as black and grizzly bears, elk, sheep, goats and insects, all of which can be aggressive.
These hiking descriptions are designed to provide you with a good idea of what the hike will have to offer and some general guidelines about the hike. You are responsible for your own safety and well being while hiking! While these details have been put together through research by local professionals, you may encounter conditions not mentioned in the hike descriptions. Trail heads, signage, parking, etc. are also subject to change as well.
In order to get the most recent conditions and details for any hike you undertake we strongly recommend that you contact Parks Canada at the Banff Information Centre prior to your hike and they will provide you with the most current conditions and hike details for your enjoyment and safety of your hike.
Parks Canada can be found at The Banff Information Centre at 224 Banff Avenue and is open from 9AM to 7PM in the Summer. They can be reached by calling 403.762.1550.