Ink Pots - Banff National Park - Hiking Alberta

 

The Ink Pots are pristine ponds beyond Johnston Canyon waterfalls in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.

 

 

Ink Pots are a group of seven crystal-clear, jade-green and very beautiful spring-fed pools of water located in a meadow above Johnston Creek past the Upper and Lower Falls in Johnston Canyon.

The source of the warm water feeding the pristine jade pools is unknown.

 

 

The trail-head is located in Banff National Park west of Calgary, Alberta, Canada and accessed from an early morning drive west on the TransCanada Highway past exits for the Town of Banff.

A clearly-signed exit onto Bow Valley Parkway (Hwy 1A) continues west on an alternate, more scenic route to arrive at the Johnston Canyon parking area just as morning sun illuminates the distinctive profile of Castle Mountain further west.

Highway 1A continues west past Castle Junction to end near Lake Louise and the Lake Louise Ski Resort.  An early start in spring, summer and fall is sensible for cooler temperatures and reduced crowding.

 

Ink Pots, Johnston Canyon, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

Castle Mountain from Johnston Canyon parking in Banff National Park

 

 

Johnston Canyon's winter morning is crisp and a short intuitive walk from the parking area begins the hike on trail hugging the steep-walled canyon above the predominantly frozen Johnston Creek.

In winter the Johnston Canyon hike is very special but hiking crampons are important to navigate icy sections of the trail more safely.  Mist from the eleven waterfalls along the trail freezes everything within proximity to the creek.  

The trail can be covered with a thick coat of slick ice.  Gaiters are also a good idea.

A good portion of the hike to Lower Falls is on sturdy metal ramp securely bolted to the canyon wall.

Further along, above the Lower Johnston Canyon waterfall, a couple of poorly equipped hikers are desperately clinging to trees where slick ice on the slightest inclination along the trail renders forward navigation difficult and risky.

Off-trail is discouraged by the nature of surrounding steep terrain above and below the trail.  Hiking crampons and carbide tip hiking poles solve the problem.

 

Ink Pots - Johnston Canyon, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

Ink Pots - Johnston Canyon, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Lower Falls in Johnston Canyon, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

Ink Pots - Johnston Canyon, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Ink Pots - Johnston Canyon, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Ink Pots - Johnston Canyon, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

There is slight elevation gain over the 1.2 KM (¾ mile) hike from the trail-head to the Lower Falls where ice climbers are at play near the frozen, blue-ice columns against dark, jagged rock canyon walls.

The sun is creeping through the forest and casting long shadows across curtains of ice as it cuts a low path along and across the southern sky. 

Elevation gain becomes more aggressive on the additional 1.7 KM (mile+) to the taller and more spectacular Upper Falls.

The hike from the Upper Falls to the Ink Pots adds another 3 KM (1⅞ miles) through forest up and over a ridge away from the creek until the gentle descent gradually makes the transition from forest into an expansive, sun-saturated valley surrounded by tall mountains.

The unfolding vision is a breathtaking winter scene, and a quick hike down the ridge leads to the Ink Pots surrounded by fresh snow and backed by magnificent mountains.

 

Ink Pots - Johnston Canyon, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

Ink Pots - Johnston Canyon, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

Ink Pots - Johnston Canyon, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

Ink Pots - Johnston Canyon, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

Ink Pots - Johnston Canyon, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

Ink Pots - Johnston Canyon, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

Lunch is relaxing and peaceful within the ambiance of this incredibly beautiful and tranquil place.  The reluctant return hike is difficult to justify.

 

Ink Pots - Johnston Canyon, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Ink Pots - Johnston Canyon, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Ink Pots - Johnston Canyon, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

Gross elevation gain on the day is 335 M (1,100 ft) to a maximum elevation of 1,760 M (5,775 ft).  One-way distance from the trail-head at Bow Valley Parkway to the Ink Pots is 6 KM (3⅞ miles).

Most hikers will benefit from and realize the importance for allowing extra time to explore the cave entrance to the Lower Falls and for wandering about near the Ink Pots. 

This hike can be very busy in the summer months.  As the sun begins to travel the down side of the sky, a new display of shadows dance on ice formations inside Johnston Canyon. 

 

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