Hiking Johnston Canyon to the Ink Pots in Banff National Park | brittanymthiessen.com
Alberta, Canada, Hiking, Nature, Off the Beaten Path, Outdoor Adventures, Road Trips

Hiking Johnston Canyon to the Ink Pots in Banff National Park

Hiking Johnston Canyon to the Ink Pots in Banff National Park | brittanymthiessen.com

Johnston Canyon is a popular place to hike in Canada’s Banff National Park but few people venture further than the Upper Falls and continue an additional 3 kilometres to the beautiful Ink Pots

This summer, I hiked all the way to the Ink Pots on my solo road trip through the Canadian Rockies. This was my first major hike that I completed on my second day after arriving in Banff and it definitely helped prepare me for the future hikes that I did! Hiking to the Ink Pots was an incredible trail. The round-trip hike from the trailhead to the Ink Pots and back was ____ km which made for a fantastic and convenient half-day hike from Banff. 

I arrived to the parking lot along the Bow Valley Parkway early in the morning at around 7:30 am and was one of the first cars there. The drive from the town of Banff to the trailhead took around 30 minutes and followed along the scenic Bow Valley Parkway through the dense forest.

Hiking to the Lower Falls

The trail began along a paved pathway on a slight incline through the forest alongside the deep Johnston Canyon. The scenery was absolutely gorgeous and there were plenty of amazing photo opportunities. The trail then continued along sturdy but narrow metal catwalks attached to the rock cliffs in some areas. It was fun to walk on these and the views were breathtaking everywhere I looked. 

Hiking Johnston Canyon to the Ink Pots in Banff National Park | brittanymthiessen.com

The beginning of the trail in the morning

Hiking Johnston Canyon to the Ink Pots in Banff National Park | brittanymthiessen.com

Large rock in the canyon

Hiking Johnston Canyon to the Ink Pots in Banff National Park | brittanymthiessen.com

One of the catwalks extending into the canyon

Hiking Johnston Canyon to the Ink Pots in Banff National Park | brittanymthiessen.com

Views of the canyon along the hike

Hiking Johnston Canyon to the Ink Pots in Banff National Park | brittanymthiessen.com

The scenery along Johnston Canyon was absolutely stunning

At the 1.2 km mark, I arrived at the Lower Falls. There was a wooden bridge which crossed the canyon and river underneath from the main trail leading to a small cave through the rocks. The short tunnel through the cave was narrow and dark but opened up directly in front of the powerful waterfall and provided a unique vantage point. Be prepared to get wet! It was very misty! The Lower Falls were so beautiful and there were fantastic views from along the bridge and from the main trail as well. 

Hiking Johnston Canyon to the Ink Pots in Banff National Park | brittanymthiessen.com

The Lower Falls at Johnston Canyon

Hiking Johnston Canyon to the Ink Pots in Banff National Park | brittanymthiessen.com

Views of the beautiful Lower Falls from the bridge crossing the canyon

Hiking to the Upper Falls

The trail became slightly more difficult between the Lower and Upper Falls, as it climbed more steadily along a moderate incline and continued through the forest and along catwalks, but was still completely manageable and was a good workout. There were lots of small waterfalls to see in the canyon on this portion of the hike and many great viewpoints overlooking the canyon. 

Hiking Johnston Canyon to the Ink Pots in Banff National Park | brittanymthiessen.com

More catwalks to walk along!

Hiking Johnston Canyon to the Ink Pots in Banff National Park | brittanymthiessen.com

A waterfall along the trail

Hiking Johnston Canyon to the Ink Pots in Banff National Park | brittanymthiessen.com

There were some beautiful waterfalls along the hike

Hiking Johnston Canyon to the Ink Pots in Banff National Park | brittanymthiessen.com

Walking through the peaceful forest

A Quick Detour… Discovering a Hidden Gem!

Shortly before reaching the Upper Falls, there was a well beaten but unmarked narrow pathway stemming off from the main trail which I decided to follow as it led down a steep hill and into the bottom of the rocky canyon. There was a massive cave where I found stunning views of a very strange and uniquely shaped large rock in the canyon with a waterfall flowing on one side of it and a variety of lush mosses and trees growing on top of it. There were a few other people (mostly photographers) but once they cleared out, I had this whole place to myself. It was such an amazing place to photograph and a fantastic discovery! If you have time, I recommend stopping here. 

Hiking Johnston Canyon to the Ink Pots in Banff National Park | brittanymthiessen.com

Finding this strangely shaped rock was such an amazing discovery!

Hiking Johnston Canyon to the Ink Pots in Banff National Park | brittanymthiessen.com

Views of the canyon from the bottom

Hiking Johnston Canyon to the Ink Pots in Banff National Park | brittanymthiessen.com

The cave where I stood to get my photos

Hiking Johnston Canyon to the Ink Pots in Banff National Park | brittanymthiessen.com

Views of the rock while following the trail into the canyon

At 2.4 km from the trailhead, I came to the Upper Falls. The falls weren’t visible from the main trail but a metal catwalk led over the canyon and ended at a small platform near the base of these gorgeous tall waterfalls as they fell over the edge of a tall cliff. The rocks along the side of the canyon beside the waterfall were also very interesting as they had such a smooth appearance and a swirl of brown and beige colours. 

Hiking Johnston Canyon to the Ink Pots in Banff National Park | brittanymthiessen.com

Walking on the catwalk to the Upper Falls

Hiking Johnston Canyon to the Ink Pots in Banff National Park | brittanymthiessen.com

The gorgeous Upper Falls

Hiking Johnston Canyon to the Ink Pots in Banff National Park | brittanymthiessen.com

Canyon views from the Upper Falls

Hiking Johnston Canyon to the Ink Pots in Banff National Park | brittanymthiessen.com

Interesting smooth rock near the falls

Hiking Johnston Canyon to the Ink Pots in Banff National Park | brittanymthiessen.com

Looking down into the canyon

I continued past on the main trail past the Upper Falls to a short and steep climb to another viewpoint at the top of the waterfalls, which provided a unique perspective overlooking the gorge and the falls. The landscape was so beautiful from this area! From this point, I continued the trek for another 3 km to the Ink Pots. 

Hiking Johnston Canyon to the Ink Pots in Banff National Park | brittanymthiessen.com

Views of the Upper Falls from the top

Hiking Johnston Canyon to the Ink Pots in Banff National Park | brittanymthiessen.com

Gorgeous scenery surrounding the waterfalls

Hiking to the Ink Pots

After the Upper Falls, the trail began to climb out of the canyon. It was a pretty steep incline for most of the way to the Ink Pots and since this was my first major day hike upon arriving in Banff from the Canadian Prairies, I found it to be quite challenging and exhausting. I stopped so many times to catch my breath but was determined to make it to the end. The landscape was so beautiful and the atmosphere incredibly tranquil. 

Hiking Johnston Canyon to the Ink Pots in Banff National Park | brittanymthiessen.com

The trail became quite a bit steeper after the Upper Falls

Hiking Johnston Canyon to the Ink Pots in Banff National Park | brittanymthiessen.com

The landscape was gorgeous to hike through!

The trail continued to gain elevation as it passed through the dense and lush forest and I was alone on the trail for most of the hike which was amazing. There was an opening in the trees at about the halfway point to the Ink Pots which provided incredible views of the surrounding mountains and valleys. 

Hiking Johnston Canyon to the Ink Pots in Banff National Park | brittanymthiessen.com

Beautiful views at the halfway point to the Ink Pots

From this point to the Ink Pots (about 1.4 km), the trail leveled out and then descended to the final destination which my legs were very thankful for!

Hiking Johnston Canyon to the Ink Pots in Banff National Park | brittanymthiessen.com

The forest was so gorgeous

Hiking Johnston Canyon to the Ink Pots in Banff National Park | brittanymthiessen.com

Almost at the Ink Pots!

The Ink Pots

The trail then opened up to a beautiful meadow surrounded by mountains with a river flowing through it and a collection of natural pools of turquoise coloured water, which bubbled up from deep inside the Earth’s core called the Ink Pots (you will see circles in the sand at the bottom of the pools which look like blots of ink and this is where the water bubbles up from).

Hiking Johnston Canyon to the Ink Pots in Banff National Park | brittanymthiessen.com

Landscape surrounding the Ink Pots

Hiking Johnston Canyon to the Ink Pots in Banff National Park | brittanymthiessen.com

Beautiful naturally formed turquoise pools of water

Hiking Johnston Canyon to the Ink Pots in Banff National Park | brittanymthiessen.com

One of the pools with gorgeous landscape around it

Hiking Johnston Canyon to the Ink Pots in Banff National Park | brittanymthiessen.com

The scenery at the Ink Pots was breathtaking

Hiking Johnston Canyon to the Ink Pots in Banff National Park | brittanymthiessen.com

The colour of the water was incredible

Hiking Johnston Canyon to the Ink Pots in Banff National Park | brittanymthiessen.com

Mountain backdrop

Hiking Johnston Canyon to the Ink Pots in Banff National Park | brittanymthiessen.com

Meadows and mountains around the Ink Pots

There were some wooden boardwalks and trails through the area leading to each pool, where you could get a variety of amazing views and great photo opportunities. The scenery was breathtaking with mountains and meadows surrounding the area. I enjoyed eating my snack on one of the benches around the Ink Pots while admiring the mountains and natural beauty all around me. 

Hiking Johnston Canyon to the Ink Pots in Banff National Park | brittanymthiessen.com

I enjoyed exploring and photographing this area and eating a snack while admiring these views!

Hiking Johnston Canyon to the Ink Pots in Banff National Park | brittanymthiessen.com

Ink Pots

Hiking Johnston Canyon to the Ink Pots in Banff National Park | brittanymthiessen.com

Exploring the Ink Pots

Hiking Johnston Canyon to the Ink Pots in Banff National Park | brittanymthiessen.com

Beautiful reflections on the water

Hiking Johnston Canyon to the Ink Pots in Banff National Park | brittanymthiessen.com

This circle at the bottom of the pool was where the water bubbled up from

Hiking Johnston Canyon to the Ink Pots in Banff National Park | brittanymthiessen.com

The river flowing through the area

After taking my time to explore the area, I began the hike back to the trailhead and welcomed all of the downhill. What a treat after climbing the entire way there! The trail was considerably more crowded on the way back and was especially congested with people between the Lower Falls and the trailhead. It definitely made me glad that I had arrived early and was finishing the hike when most people were starting at around noon. 

Hiking Johnston Canyon to the Ink Pots in Banff National Park | brittanymthiessen.com

I loved the portion of the trail from the Ink Pots to the Upper Falls… So beautiful!

Hiking Johnston Canyon to the Ink Pots in Banff National Park | brittanymthiessen.com

Hiking back to the trailhead

Hiking Johnston Canyon to the Ink Pots in Banff National Park | brittanymthiessen.com

The clearing in the trees where the downhill began all the way back to the beginning. What a treat!

Hiking Johnston Canyon to the Ink Pots in Banff National Park | brittanymthiessen.com

I loved the hike to the Ink Pots!

Overall

Although it was definitely challenging and strenuous from the Upper Falls to the Ink Pots on the steep and grueling uphill climb, I thoroughly enjoyed this trail and it was a fantastic work-out. The beautiful landscapes and scenery were worth the effort. 

It took me around 4.5 hours to complete the round trip hike to the Ink Pots and back to the trailhead including my many stops along the way to take photos, rest and catch my breath. 

The trail along Johnston Canyon to the Upper Falls gets quite crowded and busy around late morning during the summer season but very few people continue on to the Ink Pots, so hiking this trail will likely be a peaceful experience if you start early. I would recommend arriving to the trailhead at around 7:30 am in order to get a parking spot and enjoy some solitude and serenity along the way. 

Even though it is extremely popular, this hike is definitely a must-visit and both the Lower and Upper Falls are worth seeing but the real gem is the Ink Pots at the end of the hike. Remember to bring a camera to capture the amazing scenery and take advantage of the many wonderful photo opportunities. There are modern washrooms in the parking lot at the beginning of the trail and wooden benches along the pathway to stop. Make sure to alos bring plenty of water and snacks. 

Hiking Johnston Canyon and the Ink Pots was an amazing way to spend a morning in Banff! Plan to spend at least 4 hours if you are hiking to the Ink Pots. Enjoy this trail! 

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Hiking Johnston Canyon to the Ink Pots in Banff National Park | brittanymthiessen.com

Have you been to Johnston Canyon?

Thanks for reading!  

I’m Brittany, a small town girl living simply in the Canadian prairies. I love exploring off the beaten path and discovering hidden gems both locally in Manitoba and beyond; traveling independently; photography; eating plant-based and gluten-free foods; browsing local markets; and learning about cultures and ethnic cuisines. My other loves include cuddling with my cats, playing board games, drinking kombucha and matcha tea, spending time in nature, studying maps, eating Mexican food, and making fresh fruit smoothies.

On this website, I share my photography, in-depth travel guides, reflections on a variety of travel-related topics, reviews, and favourite simple and healthy recipes, while also documenting stories from my experiences, travel adventures, local wanderings and explorations.

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  • RosieBaillie

    You’re taking me right back. That hike to the Ink Pots was so steep, I think it was the steepest hike of our trip. I couldn’t get over how amazing the meadow was. We felt like we could have stayed there forever.