How To Visit Johnston Canyon Banff In Winter

Johnston Canyon Banff In Winter

When traveling to Banff National Park in the off-season you can expect to see some of the most gorgeous winter landscapes in the world (minus the crowds). One place that we recommend adding to the top of your Canada travel bucket list is Johnston Canyon Banff in winter!

We have visited and hiked the Johnston Canyon several times over the years. Most recently we got to experience it in a whole new setting covered in snow and ice.

If you’re planning to visit Johnston Canyon in winter, we cover all you need to know including opening hours, what to bring, and how to best experience the Johnston Canyon ice walk!

Visitor Tip: When hiking Johnston Canyon in the snowier months, having hiking microspikes is a must! If you don’t have a set of microspikes, you can also sign up for a guided Johnston Canyon Icewalk tour that will provide the necessary hiking gear so you can have a safe winter adventure!

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Johnston Canyon Lower Falls.

How To Visit Johnston Canyon Banff In Winter:

Johnston Canyon Tickets

Johnston Canyon is situated within Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada. As you enter Banff National Park, you will need to pull over at a ticket booth and pay an entrance admission of $10.50 CAD per person. 

Johnston Canyon is included in the Banff National Park entrance admission so there isn’t a second fee that you need to pay upon arriving at Johnston Canyon. You can just park your car in the visitor’s lot and enter the canyon through the main gate.

Johnston Ice Walk Banff National Park.

Johnston Canyon Opening Hours

Johnston Canyon is open 24 hours a day all year long so you can visit it at any point! In the winter season, we recommend coming during the daytime when the snow is much softer from the sun making it easier to walk around.

Johnston Canyon is one of the most popular attractions within Banff National Park. 12 pm – 3 pm is the busiest time at this location when you can experience large crowds, especially on the weekends. Early mornings and late evenings will be the least busy times, but the weather will be much colder during these times.

If you plan to come early in the morning or late at night to avoid crowds, be sure to go prepared with proper hiking gear, warm clothes, and waterproof hiking boots. We saw many people arrive, attempt to hike the Johnston Canyon Banff ice walk in winter wearing just regular shoes, and turn around after a bit from slipping and falling on ice.

Note: Johnston Canyon is one of the highest-rescue trails in Banff in winter! To avoid injuries, be sure to stay on designated trails and bring along a winter traction device like microspikes!

Johnston Canyon Location

Johnston Canyon is located a 30-minute drive from Banff town in Alberta, Canada. To get there you can follow Trans Canada Highway, then turn right onto Bow Valley Pkwy. The visitor parking lot will be located to the right shortly after.

You can park your car in the Johnston Canyon parking lot when you arrive. From there, head towards the large entrance gate next to the restrooms. These are the only restrooms available before you head into the Johnston Canyon Banff Trail so be sure to use them beforehand.

Johnston Canyon trailhead.

At the entrance, you can also find trail maps and more information on this landmark. Overall, the trails and pathways are well marked, but we do recommend downloading an offline map from the AllTrails hiking app in case you get lost.

On the AllTrails app, you can find the hike listed as Johnston Canyon to Upper Falls. This route is 3.3 miles long round trip with 860 feet of elevation gain.

Johnston Canyon Upper Falls.

For traveling around Banff National Park, having a rental car is a must because of how spread out everything is. We recommend booking with Discover Cars which offers the best car rental deals and 24-7 support!

About Johnston Canyon Ice Walk Banff

Johnston Canyon has been open to visitors since the early 1900s offering an accessible place where you can marvel at a turquoise river surrounded by towering canyon walls. Johnston Canyon is very similar to the stunning Aare Gorge (Aareschlucht) In Meiringen and Gorner Gorge (Gornerschlucht) In Zermatt that we visited in Switzerland.

In the summer you can experience walking through the Johnston Canyon with the blue glacier river soaring next to you at a high speed! But exploring Johnston Canyon in the winter is an adventure of its own.

In the off-season, Johnston Canyon feels like a magical winter wonderland covered in sparking snow and ice. Plus, you get the chance to see frozen waterfalls which is such a cool bucket list experience!

Ice walk in Banff National Park.

Some of the most popular attractions within Johnston Canyon are:

  • Johnston Canyon Lower Falls – 1.2 km (0.75 miles) each way
  • Johnston Canyon Upper Falls – 2.5 km (1.5 miles) each way
  • Ink Pots – 5.7 km (3.5 miles) each way

On our most recent visit, we spent several hours exploring Johnston Canyon in winter and made it as far as Upper Falls. If you plan to hike to the Ink Pots, be sure to have an early start as hiking in snow and ice takes much longer in winter than it would in the summer.

Johnston Creek Banff National Park.

Johnston Canyon Tours

If you don’t have your own hiking gear and would rather go with an experienced guide, there are several Johnston Canyon Tour options that you can book:

  • Johnston Canyon Ice Walk Tour. This is the most popular guided tour of the canyon. Although we visited Johnston Canyon on our own, we met the tour guide at the entrance, chatted with him for a bit, and picked up a few great tips for our visit. This ice walk Banff tour includes round-trip transportation, ice cleats, hiking poles, experienced guides, and snacks – so you don’t have to worry about a thing!
  • Johnston Canyon Evening Icewalk. For something a bit different and more adventurous, be sure to check out the Johnston Canyon Evening Icewalk. During this excursion, you’ll explore the canyon with experienced guides in a peaceful setting after the crowds have left for the day.
  • Banff, Lake Louise & Johnston Canyon Full Day Adventure. This is a jam-packed winter adventure that will take you to several major attractions such as Lake Louise, Johnston Canyon, and hidden snowshoeing trails. If you’re looking for a fun tour that covers many different locations, this is what you’ll want to book!

Our Experience Hiking Johnston Canyon

If you plan to go on your own, here is a detailed breakdown of the Johnston Canyon Banff winter ice walk and what you can expect to see!

After arriving at the Johnston Canyon Trail starting point, we walked through the main gate. To reach the canyon you will need to cross a bridge and turn to the right by Johnston Canyon Lodge & Bungalows.

There will be a large map of Johnston Canyon highlighting some of the main stops that you can check out before entering the canyon.

Johnston Canyon starting point.

Continue walking on the paved path and the hike will start climbing up in elevation. As soon as we entered the trail, we were surrounded by beautiful winter scenery with a snow-covered forest and a partially frozen river to the right of us.

Soon after we started the Johnston Canyon hike, the ground was completely covered in snow and ice. We stopped to put on our hiking microspikes and didn’t take them off until the end. Having microspikes allowed us to walk around freely without worrying about slipping on slick ice.

Putting on trekking microspikes at the trail entrance.

Many people didn’t bring crampons and were slipping and sliding all over the place. This can be very dangerous, especially in the areas with steep drop-offs below.

The further you head into Johnston Canyon, the more stunning the scenery will be! Some sections will follow narrow steel walkways with added railings for safety.

Johnston Trail Banff National Park.

The canyon consists of towering cliff walls and a blue glacier river that flows next to it. Johnston Creek is fed by melting glacier water full of powdered rock flour particles that give it a stunning blue color.

It takes about 2-3 hours to walk the Johnston Canyon. This is an easy walk, but the winter conditions do slow everyone down (plus we kept stopping to take photos and marvel at the scenery!).

Lower Falls cave entrance.

After about an hour we reached the Lower Falls. Here you can stand in a line that goes across a bridge into a small cave overlooking the waterfall. This cave can only fit a couple of people at a time so there is usually a 30-minute to an hour-long line to enter the cave and view Lower Falls up close.

After Lower Falls, we continued along the trail to Upper Falls. This section wasn’t as exciting as it climbs higher up, away from the scenic canyon walk.

Johnston Canyon hike Banff National Park.

In 2.5 km (1.5 miles) we reached the Upper Falls viewpoint. This viewing platform overlooks the river gorge and a frozen waterfall in the distance.

At Upper Falls, most people turn around and start heading back. Some hikers continued to Ink Pots, but this adds another 3.2 km (2 miles) each way. If you plan to hike to Ink Pots, be sure to bring plenty of snacks and water for a longer snow adventure.

Other Visitor Tips

Here are a few visitor tips to keep in mind for your visit to Johnston Canyon in Banff:

  • There are restrooms at the visitor arrival area with flush toilets but none once you enter the canyon.
  • Be sure to dispose of any garbage at the designated trashcans in the arrival area.
  • Between November to May come prepared with microspikes to prevent injuries from falling on snow and ice.
  • Johnston Canyon does allow dogs, but they must stay on leash and be cleaned up after.
  • Please stay on designated trails to avoid damaging growing vegetation.
  • Drones are not allowed within Banff National Park so it’s best to leave them at your hotel or home.
  • The glacier water that flows within Johnston Creek is not made for swimming. The rapids here are very fast so be sure to stay on designated walking paths for safety reasons.

The Johnston Cayon is a very picturesque location, especially in the winter! To photograph the canyon we used our Sony a7c camera and the Sony 16-35 mm F4 wide lens. The wide lens is great for capturing wide panoramas and nature landscapes!

Ice Canyon walk Banff National Park.

What To Bring

Here are a few things that we recommend bringing for outdoor adventures in Banff in winter:

  • Microspikes. Having microspikes for hiking in Johnston Canyon in winter is a must! If you’re new to snow hiking, you can get a pair of cheap microspikes on Amazon for $20, but these start falling apart after a few uses. If you can, invest a bit more money and get a better pair that will last you a while.
  • Trekking poles. Trekking or ski poles can come in handy with tackling the steeper uphill and downhill sections.
  • Waterproof hiking boots. A good pair of hiking boots can make all the difference in winter adventures! I recommend getting a pair that is water resistant and has lots of traction so you don’t slip and fall.
  • Warm jacket. Due to the tall towering canyon walls, the temperatures are much cooler within the Johnston Canyon. Be sure to bring a warm jacket to keep you cozy as the temperatures start dropping!
  • Outdoor hiking pants. During the colder months, I like to use insulated, waterproof pants that will keep me warm on outdoor adventures.
  • I was pretty chilly within the canyon so I also brought a beanie and gloves that helped with gripping the metal railings during the steep, slippery sections.
  • REI Co-op Nalgene Water Bottle. Bring plenty of water and snacks since there are no amenities past the entrance gate. I love my reusable REI Co-op Nalgene bottle which is leakproof and so easy to clean!
  • Anker Portable phone charger. I always bring a fully charged battery pack when going on outdoor trips. A portable phone charger can come in handy in case your phone runs out of battery and you need to use it to look up hiking directions or call for assistance in case of an emergency.
  • Bear spray. This is a very popular and crowded hike so the chances of having a run-in with a bear are pretty slim. But whenever you plan to head out hiking in Canada, having bear spray is highly recommended! Tip: Most airports don’t allow bringing bear spray in travel suitcases. If you plan to fly to Canada, your best option is to get one after landing.

Where To Stay In Banff

Looking for a place to stay on your trip to Banff, Canada? Here are some of the best hotels in the town of Banff!

Royal Canadian Lodge

Photo by Royal Canadian Lodge

On our most recent visit to Canada, we stayed at the Royal Canadian Lodge. This hotel sits on the main Banff Avenue and features excellent amenities!

The Royal Canadian Lodge has an indoor swimming pool, spa services, an onsite restaurant, and a lounge to make your stay as enjoyable as possible. Booking options include Queen and King rooms with a fireplace or a Deluxe Junior Suite. The rooms come equipped with a fridge, coffee maker, and complimentary coffee.

The best part about staying at the Royal Canadian Lodge is the location! Within a 5-10 minute walk, we were able to reach local restaurants and breakfast spots such as Whitebark Café and Farm & Fire restaurant.

Moose Hotel and Suites

Photo by Moose Hotel and Suites

Moose Hotel and Suites is one of the most beloved hotels at the center of downtown Banff! This inviting hotel is located at the heart of Banff City within feet of popular restaurants. Standard rooms and larger suites are available for families, and pets are also welcome for an additional fee.

After an exciting day of sightseeing in Banff, you can return to the hotel for a soak in the outdoor pool and hot tub overlooking the Canadian Rockies. There are also spa services available and an indoor pool for the ultimate relaxation!

When hunger strikes, head down to the Pacini Italian Restaurant for a delicious Italian meal. If you’d rather dine out, local eateries can be reached within a short walk of the hotel.

Elk + Avenue Hotel

Photo by Elk + Avenue Hotel

Elk + Avenue Hotel is an ultra-modern hotel geared towards a young, hip crowd. We dined at the hotel’s chic onsite Farm & Fire restaurant before heading out on outdoor adventures!

This contemporary hotel offers simple, elegant rooms with a mini fridge, coffee maker, and a private bathroom. As an option, you can book a pet-friendly room so you can bring your furry friend along!

In the evenings you can enjoy happy hour or sit back and relax at one of the fireplaces within the hotel property. The hotel also features a sauna, hot tub, and stunning mountain views all around!

FAQs About Visiting Johnston Canyon Banff In Winter

Is Johnston Canyon open in winter?

Yes, Johnston Canyon stays open year-round, even in winter. Winter is one of the most magical times for visiting Johnston Canyon when you can experience seeing beautiful winter landscapes and frozen waterfalls!

Do you need crampons for Johnston Canyon?

Although it is not required, for safety reasons we do recommend bringing a pair of crampons for Johnston Canyon in the winter.

Without crampons, you take a risk of slipping and falling on ice and getting injured. This is one of the most rescued trails in Banff National Park in winter so safety precautions should be taken when attempting the Johnston Canyon Banff winter hike.

Can you hike to Johnston Canyon Lower Falls in the winter?

Yes, you can hike to Johnston Canyon Lower Falls in the winter months. Lower Falls is located 1.2 km (0.75 miles) from the entrance so it can take 30-45 minutes to reach Lower Falls in the winter going at a slow speed across snow and ice.

If you wish to enter the Lower Falls cave and see it up close, keep in mind that there is usually an hour’s wait, especially on the weekends.

Frozen Lower Falls at Johnston Canyon, Banff National Park.

Is it safe to hike in Banff in winter?

It is safe to hike in Banff in winter as long as you go prepared. In the winter months, it’s essential to wear warm clothing including a winter jacket, hiking pants, waterproof hiking boots, beanie, and gloves.

Be sure to bring plenty of water and snacks if the hike takes longer than expected and tell someone where you are heading. Before going on a wilderness hike, I recommend downloading an offline map on the AllTrails app in case you get lost or lose reception.

Is Johnston Canyon Banff worth it?

Visiting Johnston Canyon is one of the best adventures that you can have in Banff National Park and is so worth it! Within this river canyon, you can walk along walkways built into the sides of sheer, towering cliffs with the glacier river floating next to you.

Is Johnston Canyon Banff free?

Johnston Canyon is situated within Banff National Park so the entrance to the canyon is included with the National Park pass. It costs 10.50 CAD to visit Banff National Park for the day which you can pay at the entrance booth or visitor center.

Johnston Canyon winter hike.

How far is Johnston Canyon from Banff?

Johnston Canyon is located a 30-minute drive from downtown Banff. Getting there is very easy along paved highways and roads! From Banff Town, you can take Trans-Canada Highway and turn right onto Bow Valley Pkwy. The entrance to Johnston Canyon will be to the right, across from the Johnston Canyon Campground. 

How long is the Johnston Canyon walk?

The Johnston Canyon walk to the Upper Fall is 2.5 km (1.5 miles) long each way. If you plan to hike all the way to Upper Falls be ready to set aside 2-3 hours, especially in the winter.

We hope this post has helped you prepare for a wonderful visit to the Johnston Canyon in Banff National Park! Here are a few other popular travel posts that you may enjoy:

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