Exploring Johnston Canyon’s Secret Cave

johnston canyon the secret cave

If you’ve heard of Banff, Alberta’s Johnston Canyon, you’ve probably heard of the Secret Cave.

While doing research for our trip, we found that Johnston Canyon is widely recognized for its well-maintained trails, unique walkways bolted to the canyon walls, and beautiful upper and lower falls. But we quickly discovered that it’s also become Insta-famous for one of its slightly more hidden attractions.

The Secret Cave is an off-trail feature that consists of a beautiful, shale- and rock-filled cave whose mouth faces out on a small, turquoise waterfall and a gigantic, upside-down Dorito-shaped rock. It’s cooler than it sounds!

Boyfriend Perspective: You’re supposed to stay on the trail in Johnston Canyon, so for you (and us) straight-edge, follow the rules types, finding the Secret Cave can be a tad exciting when you’re down there trying not to be spotted by anyone.


Pro tips for navigating Johnston Canyon

  • Arrive EARLY. So early. We arrived around 9am on a Friday, and were still competing for trail and falls space with a couple large buses of tourists. They really started pouring in by the time we left around 11:30am – some of the single-file portions of the trail were mildly bottlenecking.
  • The washrooms at the trailhead are actually really nice. They’re solar powered and even have space heaters in the winter – as our butts discovered, that’s a bit of a luxury at this latitude!
  • Wear shoes with decent traction, because you might be able to walk the “trail” in flip flops, but stopping off is a little different. I wore Chucks and Luke had Pumas. Did they work? Sure. But wet, hard-packed dirt gets slippery.
  • See more!
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Finding the Secret Cave

Despite speed walking to outpace the tourist groups, we still gawked at the walkways and stopped like typical visitors at lower falls and other scenic points along the way.

We’ve found plenty of guides that will help you, either via writeup or video.

Even with that, we still managed to follow a couple wrong paths – all worn, all muddy, all “obvious.” But, then again, maybe that’s the reason almost no one has posted a shot of the path – finding it is part of the adventure 😉

Eventually, we passed a pointed overlook, and heard the sound of running water below. We went down a large set of stairs, and shortly thereafter found the path.

Now, the ground has already been disturbed, as the path is well-worn, but please ensure that you don’t touch or step on any of the intact flora – national parks are whole, and sometimes fragile, ecosystems and shouldn’t be messed with. Be as responsible as possible.

Once we got about halfway down the path, boom – there it was. The rock of our dreams. I still get a giddy grin just thinking about it!


The fruits of our labor


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Also published on Medium.

16 Replies to “Exploring Johnston Canyon’s Secret Cave”

  1. I really liked that you had to go off the “standard” path for this. But you remained very conscious of the fragility of the eco system. This is what adventure is all about. Experiencing new and exciting places, but leaving them untouched when you leave. bravo!

    I didn’t know this places existed. We have been to Banff and completely missed it. I wished we had made the trek, your photos are amazing! Thank you for telling me about it, we will have to go back and see it in person.

    Keep exploring, its a big world and even “nerdy introverts” can open up through adventure!

    1. Thank you for your kind words – what a wonderful comment!! I’m just sitting here nodding emphatically like you can see me hahahah

  2. Ah man, now I have to return to Banff and Johnston Canyon to find the “secret” cave! That’s such an awesome view and I love the final photo of the two of you! Happy 2018 Luke & Meagan!

  3. Not only do I appreciate that you write captions for your pictures at – coming from a journalist background it drives me crazy how few people write captions. In addition your captions – just like the other texts, too, are hilarious – I appreciate it big time, especially since it doesn’t take away the informative quality and good recommendations (e.g. regarding shoes) from your texts.

  4. I love the thought of that early start when it’s quieter and you can enjoy the space with fewer people around. I’m not the best with heights,so some of those walkways look mighty scary to me; it’s great to explore through the safety of your lens. Beautiful pics too!

    1. The good news about the walkways is they feel extremely sturdy, and they’re really not terrifyingly high off the ground. That said, I’m so happy you enjoyed our photos, and I 100% agree with you about arriving somewhere before the crowds. It can make all the difference to your experience!

  5. I’ve actually not heard of the secret cave, despite reading a lot about the Banff area. I’d definitely have gotten frustrated going down all those wrong paths, but it sounds like it was worth it in the end! What a great way to avoid all those tourists!

  6. I love these kinds of places! Hidden gems are always a good find.

    1. Heck yeah! And sometimes the journey to get to it is just as much fun as the place, itself 🙂

  7. Oh yes, it’s super Instagrammable 😉 I love hidden gems like these. Beautiful photos, adding this to my list! Thanks for sharing and happy travels.

  8. Finding hidden wonders of nature is always exciting,especially chasing waterfalls. It’s just so thrilling to finally hear the gushing water from a distance, giving you a sign that you’re almost there. I love that you put emphasis on leaving nature as it is, untouched, as much as possible. All travelers should be thinking and doing the same. 🙂

    1. Waterfalls really are the best 🙂 the whole hike was an absolute pleasure, and it would’ve been a shame to leave it in worse shape than when we found it!

  9. Ahhh this is stunning!!!!! I went two years ago but didn’t know about the cave until recently. Totally living vicariously through you right now! It’s great to see you paid attention to preserving the land there. I remember when I visited, I saw a Starbucks cup on the ground and it made me so angry seeing how people could be so irresponsible!

    1. That would’ve infuriated me, too. We were lucky not to encounter too much trash along the way in Banff, at least. I think we’re both dreaming of going back again 🙂

  10. Wow what a stunning secret! I’ve never seen this part of Banff before. If I ever make it there I’m absolutely adding this adventure.

    1. It really is amazing to visit – hope you make it there soon! 😀

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