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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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!
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).
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.
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.
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!
Have you been to Johnston Canyon?
Thanks for reading!