Upper Johnston Canyon Falls, Alberta

Upper Johnston Canyon Falls in late August 2014

One of the more popular hikes in Banff National Park is the hike in Johnston Canyon. In some ways, it’s easy to understand why…The scenery inside of the canyon is stunning. The “trail”, as it were, is really more of a boardwalk that has been installed. Otherwise, you would have to walk up the creek/river for much of the journey, and that wouldn’t be particularly easy. Along the way, you will be treated with views of at least six moderately impressive waterfalls.

But with the beauty and relative ease of access comes the crowds. You shouldn’t let this deter you, because it’s definitely worth it…But you should be ready to be as patient as possible. The trail to the Upper Falls is 3.4 miles round-trip, while to just the lower falls, it’s about 0.5 miles one-way. And it’s likely that first 0.5 miles that will be the most crowded. I have to admit, that portion of the trail seems to attract a number of people that shouldn’t necessarily be on the trail. I saw a good 10 or so children in rather large strollers…Except the trail/boardwalk in places was barely wide enough. It created these hiking traffic jams. My advice: leave the stroller behind.

If you can get past that initial extreme crowded-ness, it calms down a bit, though it’s still very busy. But if you are willing to deal with it, you’ll be rewarded with a view of Upper Johnston Canyon Falls. It’s a particularly beautiful waterfall. You’ll also be rewarded with a colorful rock wall near the falls.

(If you want something a bit (maybe a lot) calmer than Johnston Canyon, check out Silverton Falls.)

Directions:

  1. This isn’t a particularly difficult set of waterfalls to find, with one minor hitch. The trail head is along of the Bow Valley Parkway (Highway 1A). If you’re driving along the Transcanadian Highway 1, there are limited entrances/connections onto 1A. In order to find the falls, you can either enter onto 1A a few miles after leaving Banff. You will be heading west if you take this exit, and the trail head will be on your right after driving for a while. (You can also exit at the junction of Transcanadian Highway 1 and Alberta 93. Instead of heading south, though, head north for a short distance. Then turn right and drive for 6.4 km. The parking area will be on your left.)
  2. I mention a parking area, but if I remember correctly, that parking area was completely full. There were at least a hundred or so cars (possibly more) parked on the sides of 1A, so that’s where I parked. It added a little bit longer to the walk, but it wasn’t much.

Accessibility: 8/10 (easy/moderate, though strollers are honestly too big for the trail)
Height: 100′
Distance of Hike: 3.4 miles round trip

Where in the World is Upper Johnston Canyon Falls?

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