Exploring Johnston Canyon, land of waterfalls and secrets 

johnston canyon with yellow foliage and turquoise water

Banff = land of turquoise lakes, amiright?

Yes. But it’s also the land of turquoise water running through breathtaking canyons. Where can you get in on his action, you ask? Johnston Canyon.

You won’t be sorry.

Our hike through the canyon

We rolled up to the Johnston Canyon parking lot at about 8:30 or 9am in 32F weather, each wearing an insulation layer and tennis shoes. Smart hikers, we are 😉

But the good news is that the trails are well maintained and paved, so shoe choice won’t make or break you. And it’s hilly enough that, especially if you’re not meandering, you’ll build body heat. We’ve also heard this is a great hike for summer, and the canyon is always cooler than the surrounding area.

Boyfriend Perspective: We were NOT meandering. We got there just in time to see a bus full of tourists pull up. Ever seen that meme of an ostrich being chased by a cheetah? …we were the ostrich.

Even with our ambitious pace, we both stopped to gawk at the walkways and the various falls areas. The water looks like a pale blue topaz – crystal clear and tinted an exquisite turquoise. You’re pretty much obligated to gawk.

It’s also neat to know that swifts make their homes in the canyon walls. Fall isn’t quite the right time to see them, but it’s still cool to know about the various species that call the canyon home.

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Additionally, we visited during elk rutting season, and there were signs everywhere about the dangers of bull elk. ACK. Considering how much other wildlife we saw on our trip, and how few humans were around us when we started out, we kept our eyes PEELED for awhile.


The falls!

We stopped for awhile at the lower falls. They’re relatively short compared to some of the others we’ve seen (lookin’ at you, Iceland!), but they still put up a powerful roar that you can hear far before you see the falls area.

Perhaps the coolest part is that, while you CAN just experience the falls from the walkway, you also have the option to walk through a short, narrow hole that comes out right across from the flume. On a breezy day, you’ll get soaked. Happily, we just enjoyed a little mist and then skipped out. Note, this is a tiny area and tour groups will literally blockade you in, so be cognizant of who’s around you before you head in.

We didn’t make it to the upper falls, as we got distracted along the way and we’re on a road trip timeline, but our research showed a gorgeous enough experience that we’ll plan to head back for another look on our next visit.

Boyfriend Perspective: The Johnston Canyon trails are so well developed you can have a decent morning run or walk through the park without worrying about tree roots or sneaky divots to roll your ankles on. Get there before tourists and enjoy the quiet nature of birds, trees, and waterfalls.


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Pro tips

  • Visit the Secret Cave – if you can find it!
  • Wear shoes with decent traction. Our rubber-soled tennis shoes were just fine, but I would’ve preferred some additional grip in places. That said, we also saw people in freezing temps “hiking” in flip flops (not Tevas – flip flops), so take that as you will.
  • Get there early, early, early. Everybody says this, but guys. Seriously. How much do you want to jockey with multiple cushy touring coaches full to bursting with tourists?!
  • Be respectful of the park. Even if you do visit the Secret Cave, don’t be a douche – pick up after yourself and be gentle and careful with your surroundings.


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[media-credit id=1 align=”alignleft” width=”200″]johnston canyon alberta explore waterfalls[/media-credit]

14 Replies to “Exploring Johnston Canyon, land of waterfalls and secrets ”

  1. Man, we have to visit Canada already!!! While we are definitely not morning people, in these sorts of places it is ALWAYS good advice to arrive early (and yet we still turn up with every other tourist around the place…). These waterfalls do look amazing though and we might make an exception for this place! Also chuckled at elk rutting season – something you don’t hear very often (like never) in Australia haha!

    1. Elk rutting season isn’t something you hear often in the Mid-Atlantic East Coast states, either, let me tell you. But after reading all the cautionary material on testosterone-fueled dude elk, my head was on a swivel!! Aside from that, this place is worth the early wakeup. It’s an absolute stunning, but it’s not so challenging that you’ll be regretting your choices 🙂

  2. Such beautiful falls in Johnston Canyon! Yes, when I think of Banff, I always picture the turquoise lakes. Thanks for featuring another lesser known yet equally beautiful attraction in this area.

    1. Turquoise lakes are definitely EVERYWHERE up there, but some of the prettiest sights are definitely a little less famous (happily for us, because there were fewer crowds 😉 ).

  3. Banff is so beautiful. The Johnston Canyon looks remote too, unbelievable that busloads of tourists go there. And 32F? My tropical self would die from the cold! You say to go early. Won’t it be so much colder then?

    1. Hahahah I’m originally from Florida, so I hear ya. It’s definitely nippy, but if you have a good insulation layer and move along at a decent pace, you’ll stay plenty toasty. We were warm enough by the time we got to the Secret Cave that we ended up walking around in short sleeves in 40F weather!

  4. Absolutely stunning! I had not heard of Johnston Canyon when I was in Bannf 4 years ago else would’ve tried to make it there. Thanks for sharing.

  5. The Johnston Canyon trails are actually so well paved that morning walk there will be really fun. The Blue clean water looks amazing and the lower fall is grand. I can well imagine its roaring.

  6. We missed Johnston Canyon on our last visit to Banff, which is too bad! As you note, it’s a great spot to explore and hike that’s a bit off the beaten path, at least compared to Moraine Lake anyway. 😉 Agree to get there early, always advisable!

  7. Really wanted to go there this year. Next year I make it happen! Glad this is now on the radar so I can explore this too.

  8. I have written about lakes in Canada and covered Banff but I didn’t know that there more hidden spots in this paradise. Thanks for this tip. Next time. And these pics are incredible!

    1. Thank you so much! We researched a couple places that we wanted to hit, but a lot of what we found was just off-the-cuff, “hey, look at that sign!” The benefits of road tripping 🙂 Hope you get back soon!

  9. Right! Wherever we go, we must be responsible! No throwing our trash! I love waterfalls, I have a lovely memory in waterfalls! When I saw this, it instantly reminded me of the waterfall we went to and had photoshoot! If I come and visit here, I’ll find the cave! Wish me luck, eh!

  10. Johnston Canyon looks like such a cool spot! I would have been really scared of the elk though. Yikes! Your analogy about the ostrich being chased by a cheetah made me laugh lol

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