Hike to the Ink Pots via Johnston Canyon

Canada Johnston Canyon Trailhead

Added by James Hueser

  • Distance: 12 km (7.5 miles) round trip
  • Duration: about 4 hours
  • Elevation gain: 320 m (1050 feet)
  • Interpretive canyon walk containing 7 waterfalls
  • Series of cold water springs surrounded by the Sawback range
  • All skill levels

The hike through Johnston Canyon to its Upper and Lower falls is one of the most popular hikes to do in Banff - mostly due the little effort required for the great reward.

To start, take the Bow Valley Parkway (Highway 1A) - the parking lot and trailhead are clearly marked by a Johnston Canyon sign. After crossing the footbridge, turn right and follow the trail – make sure to read the interpretive signs! There are tons of little tidbits of information ranging from species in the area to how the canyon was formed. After about 2 km, the roar of the Upper Falls should be apparent. Here, the trail branches in two – one to the base of the falls and one to the top. Both are excellent places to watch ice climbers and admire the sky blue ice.

The top of the Upper Falls is where the interpretive trail ends and the hike to the Ink Pots begins. The last sign mentions that the trail to the Ink Pots is for hikers prepared for backcountry conditions – it’s not as intimidating as it sounds! Snowshoes would be useful at this point, but definitely not necessary. The trail is well defined the entire way (3 km and a max elevation gain of 190 m). It’s a beautiful forest trail with glimpses of Storm Mountain peeking through the trees as well as the awe-inspiring Sawback range.

The Ink Pots - the hidden gem of this hike - are cold water springs that are fed at different rates which make them different shades of green and blue. In winter, most of the ponds are frozen over with half-inch long ice crystals. This area was relatively untouched compared to Johnston Canyon (I only saw 3 people here vs. 40 in the canyon), and the powder was about half a foot thick - a really fun place to explore, kick up some powder, and relax while being surrounded by the Sawbacks.

Pack List

  • Hiking boots
  • Trekking poles
  • Crampons/ micro-spikes
  • Winter layers
  • Bear spray
  • Water
  • Snacks
  • Camera
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Hiking, Photography, Snowshoeing

Skill Level:



Year Round

Trail Type:



7.5 Miles

Elev. Gain:

1050 Feet



Easy Parking
Family Friendly

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How to Get There

5 months ago


The views at the top are amazing

5 months ago

9 months ago

More than a minor winter hike...

We just did this hike today, the third week of January with above average weather - and although easy...there are some hills (both up and down) that without proper footwear you will be sliding and slipping. A nice hike with spectacular views!

9 months ago

over 1 year ago

Turn it into an awesome day trip: pack a lunch, bring a book, and chill out by the river or beside the beautifully coloured "ink pots" when the snow has melted.

over 1 year ago

Added by James Hueser

On weekdays I'm a hydrogeologist for a contaminated sites group which involves a ton of fieldwork throughout the spring, summer, and fall, but leaves most of my weekends to get out to (and hopefully on top of) the Rockies. I'm originally from Saskatchewan, so I've become rather obsessed with bagging peaks ever since I moved to Calgary in 2014.

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