Johnston Canyon is a very popular hike in Banff National Park, Alberta, Calgary.
The well-established trail-head for Johnston Canyon is about 6.5 KM (4.0 miles) south of Castle Junction on the Bow Valley Parkway (Hwy 1A) in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. This spectacular hike is very popular for many reasons and, on this weekend day, the large parking area is predictably crowded.
The 5.9 KM (3¾ mile one-way) hike to the Ink Pots passes the spectacular Lower Falls and Upper Falls. The trail-head begins shortly after crossing the wooden bridge over Johnston Creek near the Johnston Canyon Resort. Elevation gain is 335 m (1,100 ft) to a maximum elevation of 1,760 m (5,775 ft) followed by an elevation loss of 115 m (375 ft) to the Ink Pots. For those doing the math, gross elevation is 450 m (1,476 ft) and total trip distance is 11.8 KM (7⅜ miles).
Gravel trail and sturdy, anchored, metal decking allow hikers to navigate the narrow canyon past cascading waterfalls and lush, spectacular scenery. The distance to Lower Falls is about 1.2 KM (¾ miles). During winter, hiking Johnston Canyon requires the use of hiking crampons to navigate icy trail. The distance to the top viewpoint for Upper Falls is about 1.5 KM (1.0 miles) past Lower Falls.
There is a plethora of interpretive signing along the way to the Lower Falls which assists in understanding the history of the area, the names of water and forest features and the ability to identify little critters and birds which frequent the area.
The metal bridge over Johnston Creek leads to a damp, person-made tunnel through rock to a spectacular, wet lookout directly onto the face of the roaring waterfall. Negative ionization is in abundance. Lumber debris is excessive from recent flooding and has accumulated everywhere there is opportunity for log jams. The overall view of Lower Falls is best enjoyed from above on the trail continuing past the brink to the Upper Falls.
Good trail between Lower Falls and Upper Falls reveals many features of incredible beauty as the cascading white water of Johnston Creek has eroded rock over many millenniums.
The weeping walls near Upper Falls in Johnston Canyon are uniquely stunning in multiple colors of stone and microbial growth and make the area a popular haunt for ice climbers in the winter months. The Upper Falls is higher than the Lower Falls and equally spectacular. Bypassing the crowded viewing ramp at the bottom of the waterfall provides quicker opportunity to climb the trail which continues above and beyond Upper Falls to the Ink Pots.
Cloud cover is accumulating as the hike proceeds on constant uphill grade through pretty and aromatic but unassuming forest. After a lengthy uphill jaunt, with scenic twists and turns, the short descent from the crest of the shallow ridge opens into spectacular views across the valley to 2,908 m (9,541 ft) Mount Ishbel on the far side of Johnston Creek for imminent arrival at the level valley floor and the Ink Pots.
The Ink Pots are a beautiful array of crystal-clear, aquamarine, still ponds fed by an unknown source of underground spring water which bubbles through mud at the bottom of the ponds. Rustic, wooden bridges and barricades help to link and protect these natural treasures. Multiple benches provide the opportunity to relax and enjoy the view.
The Ink Pots are a truly beautiful and serene place. Most people who visit Johnston Canyon limit the experience to Upper and Lower Falls. There is quite a crowd at the Ink Pots on this day but the broad expanse of terrain surrounding the Ink Pots has swallowed up the legions who have sought out their private piece of landscape to enjoy lunch and views of surrounding mountains. Many backpacking routes originate from this location. They include the extension of the Johnston Creek Trail and the Mystic Lake Trail. Recent floods have washed away all the substantial bridges over Johnston Creek so fording the river at shallow, less turbulent locations is the current alternative until the bridges are restored in the future. Lunch is enjoyed at a bench central to the Ink Pots.
Water cascades through colorful moss and bacterial mats from the higher ponds to the lower ponds prior to forming a small stream feeding Johnston Creek. As the temperature dips a bit and darkening clouds deliver a short-lived sprinkle, the motivation is to pack up, layer up and employ umbrellas for the beginning of the return hike.
Fickle weather restores clear skies and the hike back to Upper Falls proceeds at a leisurely pace. Photos are captured of Upper Falls from the debris-clogged viewpoint near the bottom of the impressive waterfall.
The Johnston Canyon hike to the Ink Pots is always a special day and this hike is no exception.
Photographs are taken on July 22, 2013.