Last Friday, my friend Wafaa and I hiked the Johnston Canyon trail to the Ink Pots.
Johnston Canyon is located 25 minutes west of the Banff townsite, and the trip along the winding Highway 1A, known as the Bow Valley Parkway, is picturesque all by itself.
We park on the east side of Johnston Creek. From here, a little trail leads across a foot bridge and we arrive at the Johnston Canyon Lodge and the trailhead. Although Johnston Canyon is a major tourist attraction, with tour buses downloading oodles of visitors, the locals still love this place. I’ve been coming here forever.
This is probably one of the most accessible trails in the Rockies. Much of it involves catwalks built into the limestone cliffs, complete with handrails—but hold on to your children. The view of the cascading waters below always impresses me no matter how many times I come here.
It’s only a 1.1 km walk to the Lower Falls. Here, a little bridge crosses the creek. The bridge itself is an excellent viewpoint, but it’s even more fun to cross over and enter the short tunnel on the other side which opens to an up close and dramatic view of the waterfall. Pause before you enter the tunnel and let a few tourists come out before you try to crowd in there. And don’t use your camera unless it’s waterproof.
Here is Wafaa at the Lower Falls. You can see the cave in the background.
This is Wafaa taking photos from the catwalk.
Now we continue up the trail another 1.6 km to the Upper Falls, which drop 30 metres (90 feet) into the canyon. At this point we have climbed 135 metres from the trailhead.
You can take pictures of the Upper Falls from the main trail’s viewing platform which juts out over the waterfall. Note the ice.
Or you can follow the trail to the catwalk which looks up at the falls. Again, it’s wet, so if you don’t want water all over your camera lens, don’t photograph from here.
Most tourists only go this far.
Now the trail becomes more like a trail, narrow and less developed, as it moves into the trees.
It’s another 3.1 km from the Upper Falls to the meadow at the top and the Ink Pots. And it’s another 80 metres of climbing. The total elevation gain is 215 metres (700 feet) from the trailhead to the Ink Pots. After the crowds below, we experience a quiet meander up the trail.
Apparently Johnston Canyon got its name from the prospector who discovered the creek in the 1880s. The Johnston Creek source is north of Castle Mountain. From there, the creek flows between Helena Ridge and the Sawback Range, across the meadow and down the gorge, the Johnston Canyon. Finally it meets the Bow River between Banff and Lake Louise.
And now we reach the top, and the seven pools known as the Ink Pots.
Fed by underground springs, the Ink Pots remain at 4 degrees Celsius throughout the year. If you see them while cross country skiing in the winter, the blue green water looks like a giant’s ink pots sitting in the snow. Notice the patterns created by the underground springs.
Here we sit and have our lunch.
The day is mixed sun and cloud. There is a light rain shower at the top and we put on our rain gear jackets. But we only need them for about 15 minutes and the sun comes out again.
My walking sticks are necessary for the down trip. I can hike up just fine, but on the return trip, my knees don’t like going down. So I’m glad they invented walking sticks and I use mine.
What’s your favourite hiking menu? Are your knees happy with steep downhill hikes? Do you find it annoying when waterfalls splash your camera lens?