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The Johnston Canyon Ink Pots Hike (Exploring Banff Canada)

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Of all the hikes available throughout Banff Canada, the Johnston Canyon Ink Pots hike strikes the perfect balance between difficulty and enjoyment.

This 7 mile (11.2 kilometers) hike weaves through a range of changing landscapes, from lush forests to stunning waterfalls, and culminates with an up close visit to the unique geological formations known as the Ink Pots.

If you’re just arriving to Banff, this is a great activity to start off with due to its moderate difficulty. You’ll be better served saving those more difficult hikes for later during your trip once your body has had a chance to acclimate to this areas high elevation above sea level.

Shortly after beginning this hike, visitors will get up close with Johnston Creek as much of the trail is suspended from the cliff faces above the water. The views here are not only stunning, but unique compared to much of what you’ll find throughout Banff National Park.

On your way out to the Ink Pots you’ll also have the opportunity to stop at viewing areas for the Johnston Canyon Lower Falls and the Johnston Canyon Upper Falls.

Be warned, that later in the day the viewing platforms for both waterfalls will be completely overrun by tourists which means you’ll have to wait your turn for a look.

Johnston Canyon Ink Pots hike in Banff National Park, Canada
The Johnston Canyon hike eventually leads to the Ink Pot geological formations

Fortunately, much of the foot traffic thins out as you continue working towards the Ink Pots. The majority of visitors turn back after the Upper Falls which means the Ink Pots experience is much more relaxed and intimate.

Once you reach the Ink Pots you’ll find benches to sit on and plenty of room to spread out from others to relax and enjoy a packed lunch as you take in the views and spend some time enjoying the Ink Pots up close.

This area also presents great access to Johnston Creek so if you were hoping to swim at any point on this activity this is the place to do it!

The Johnston Canyon Ink Pots hike is one of the most popular destinations in Banff Canada which means it can be extremely busy. However, if you follow the tips outlined in this guide and plan accordingly you can skip the mess and have an amazing hike like we did.

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Where is the Johnston Canyon Ink Pots hike located?

The Johnston Canyon Ink Pots hike is situated within the boundaries of Banff National Park, right at the heart of the Canadian Rockies.

Reaching the trailhead is relatively straightforward if you have a car at your disposal. Whether you’re navigating from the north near Lake Louise or south from the town of Banff, simply follow the Bow Valley Parkway.

Trailhead entrance to Johnston Canyon Ink Pots hike in Banff Canada
The Johnston Canyon trailhead entrance

Many of the popular hikes in Banff originate near Lake Louise, Moraine Lake or the Icefields Parkway which means this activity will expose you to a separate section of the park.

There’s a good amount of signage pointing visitors to the parking area, but keep in mind that your cell signal will fade rapidly as you approach Johnston Canyon. It’s important to have directions queued up ahead of time.

Don’t be surprised if your GPS navigation has issues in this area or other parts of Banff. I’d suggest grabbing an offline map as well just to be safe!

Where is the best place to stay when doing the Johnston Canyon Ink Pots hike?

The towns of Canmore and Banff, nestled right in the heart of the Canadian Rockies, serve as ideal home bases to explore the surrounding area, including the Johnston Canyon Ink Pots hike.

Canmore is approximately 55 kilometers (about 34 miles) away. It will take around 45 minutes to reach the start of the Johnston Canyon Ink Pots trail.

During my visit, we spent the first four nights of our trip staying at a VRBO located in Canmore. Hotels in Canmore tend to be more affordable than Banff so consider splitting your stay between these two towns to keep your budget happy.

Another nice perk when staying in Canmore is that you’ll be within minutes of the Three Sisters Viewpoint trailhead!

Man posing for photo at Canmore Brewing, Canada
Be sure to check out Canmore Brewing if you decide to stay in town!

Banff, on the other hand, is a bit closer to the Johnston Canyon Ink Pots hike and other popular destinations. Located about 32 kilometers away (approximately 20 miles), a journey by car will only take you about 30 minutes to reach the trailhead.

We spent two nights at the Brewsters Mountain Lodge which is located in the heart of Banff. It’s one of the more budget friendly hotel options in Banff and sits directly across the street from my favorite restaurant in town, Three Bears Brewery.

If you’re keen on staying near Johnston Canyon specifically, consider looking into the historic Johnston Canyon Lodge & Bungalows that reside here. This family run hotel is a great option if you’re looking to get away from the crowds you’ll encounter when staying in the town of Banff.

Do you need to rent a car when doing the Johnston Canyon Ink Pots hike?

Reaching the Johnston Canyon Ink Pots hike and the surrounding Banff National Park area can be made much easier and more enjoyable by renting a car.

Although there are alternative means of transportation available, such as buses and shuttles, having a car at your disposal offers greater flexibility and allows you to tailor your trip according to your preferences.

Be mindful that even with a car rental, you’ll need to leverage the Parks Canada Shuttle system to reach certain hiking areas such as Moraine Lake. The road leading to Moraine Lake is closed to personal vehicles so you’ll need to make a reservation with Parks Canada or a private shuttle company well in advance.

Canoe on Bow Lake in Alberta, Canada
A single canoe makes its way across the turquoise waters of Bow Lake

Other popular destinations such as the Peyto Lake Upper Viewpoint, Bow Lake, Crowfeet Glacier and Icefields Parkway are in isolated locations and best accessed by car.

Peak season in Banff Canada means expensive car rentals that can sell out if you’re not careful. Use a tool like Rentalcars.com to compare prices across agencies and make your reservation well in advance!

What is Johnston Canyon and the Ink Pots named after?

The Johnston Canyon Ink Pots hike draws its name from two significant features along the trail. Johnston Canyon and Johnston Creek are named after a gold prospector who explored the area in the late 1800s.

Johnston Canyon Ink Pot close up image Banff Canada
The Ink Pots are unique geological formations created by mineral springs located below the surface

The second part of the name, Ink Pots, refers to the set of seven cold mineral springs located in a meadow just beyond Johnston Canyon. These springs bubble up from below the surface and if you look closely in the pools, you’ll spot bubbles and ring formations below the water.

What is the Johnston Canyon Ink Pots hike best known for?

A significant portion of the Johnston Canyon trail is suspended above Johnston Creek, showcasing the beauty of this area while also making it easily accessible to visitors.

Trail engineers have crafted an extensive system of catwalks and bridges suspended on the canyon walls, offering hikers an intimate experience with the flowing waters of Johnston Creek. The sounds of rushing water below you make this a full sensory hiking experience!

Johnston Canyon Lower Falls Banff Canada
The waterfall viewing areas in Johnston Canyon will be heavily overcrowded later in the day, be sure to arrive early!

While the hike is moderate in length if you travel all the way out to the Ink Pots, part of this trails popularity comes from its easy access to the Lower and Upper Falls. It only takes guests about 3 miles (5 km) to reach both waterfalls and there is a negligible amount of gain through this section.

The Ink Pots themselves are also another reason this trail is popular with guests. The cold water mineral springs are a unique geological formation you’re unlikely to encounter elsewhere in your adventures through Banff and the Canadian Rockies.

Is there cell phone service during the Johnston Canyon Ink Pots hike?

Visitors should not expect reliable cell phone reception while on the Johnston Canyon Ink Pots hike. This lack of service extends to other areas within Banff National Park as well, particularly when you move into more remote areas away from towns.

In addition to the cellular network limitations, utilizing GPS navigation can be a challenge once you exit the main highway. Consider having a paper map of the area, or at minimum familiarizing yourself with the directions before leaving your accommodations.

Trailhead sign leading to Johnston Canyon Ink Pots Canada
A sign directing hikers to Johnston Canyon

While this hike is well marked and difficult to get lost on, I always download offline trail maps using AllTrails. If you aren’t a member, consider downloading the Pro version before visiting Banff. It’s a great resource to have on the trail and can help you find other hikes to try!

How much does visiting the Johnston Canyon Ink Pots cost?

While the hike itself is free to the public, access to Banff National Park, where the trail is located, requires a valid Parks Canada pass. I’d recommend purchasing your pass online in advance so you can skip the queues at the entrance to Banff National Park.

Views of Takakkaw Falls and Yoho River
Views leading up to Takakkaw Falls during our early September visit to the park

The Parks Canada Pass also provides access to other Canadian Parks such as nearby Yoho National Park which is home to other great attractions like Takakkaw Falls and Emerald Lake.

Are dogs allowed on the Johnston Canyon Ink Pots hike?

If you’re contemplating bringing your four-legged friend along for the Johnston Canyon Ink Pots hike, the good news is that dogs are indeed permitted on this trail. However, dogs must be leashed at all times while on the trail for both their safety and the safety of other hikers and wildlife.

Again, remember that this is a very popular trail often frequented by numerous hikers, so the trail can become quite congested, especially during peak times. In general, the trails within Banff National Park are pet friendly.

Are there bathrooms during the Johnston Canyon Ink Pots hike?

The primary restroom facilities are located at the main parking lot and trailhead of the Johnston Canyon Ink Pots hike. Once you start out on the hike, you won’t encounter another formal opportunity to use the bathroom.

Can you swim in Johnston Canyon or the Ink Pots?

While swimming isn’t allowed in the Ink Pots, visitors are allowed to swim in Johnston Creek. The best place to swim in Johnston Creek is near the Ink Pots. The nature of the suspended trail for most of the hike means you won’t be able to access the creek until the terrain levels out near the Ink Pots.

Just be mindful that the water here will be cold year round. During my visit we kicked off our boots and waded into the creek for a bit to refresh our feet. If you’re feeling extra adventurous, pack a swimsuit and go for a full on swim!

What is the best time of year to do the Johnston Canyon Ink Pots hike?

Summer is an ideal time for visiting Johnston Canyon and Banff National Park. During these months, the warmer weather makes for great hiking conditions and ensures trails throughout the park are clear of snow.

Rocky Mountains in Banff Canada National Park
After hiking through a canyon and heavy trees, the Ink Pots area opens up to beautiful mountain views

That being said, the Johnston Canyon Ink Pots hike also attracts visitors in the colder months, making it a popular winter hike. The suspended nature of the path and maintenance efforts means this area can also be enjoyed during the winter.

Since this hike can be enjoyed year round, your timing should be dictated by what other activities you hope to enjoy in the park during your stay. Summer is great for hiking while the winter months are ideal for skiing.

What is the best month to visit Johnston Canyon Ink Pots hike?

September is a great month for attempting the Johnston Canyon Ink Pots hike. This is the time frame for when we visited Banff.

During this time you’ll still enjoy warm temperatures, but by September they should have cooled a bit off the summer highs.

Johnston Canyon Waterfall in Banff Canada National Park
The Johnston Canyon Ink Pots hike features multiple waterfalls

Additionally, the peak summer season crowds will start to fade by Labor Day as kids return to school and most people have used up their summer vacation. Not only does this mean fewer crowds, but it also means prices for rental cars and hotels have usually started to moderate.

What is the best time of day to do the Johnston Canyon Ink Pots hike?

The best time of day to do the Johnston Canyon Ink Pots hike is first thing in the morning. By getting to the trailhead shortly after sunrise, you can secure a parking space more easily.

The popularity of the hike draws substantial crowds, so parking can be challenging during peak times, and being there early can save you time and energy in the long run.

These crowds can also mean a congested experience on the hiking trail. The viewing areas for the Lower and Upper Falls can be come completely overrun with tourists making it difficult to take photos or catch an unobstructed view of either waterfall.

Johnston Canyon Lower Falls during a crowded afternoon
The Johnston Canyon Lower Falls and Upper Falls can become extremely crowded

We arrived around 7:00am at the start of September and only encountered a handful of other hikers during our entire trek out to the Ink Pots. The waterfall viewing areas were nearly empty and we enjoyed as much time as we wanted taking in the beautiful views.

During our trek back through these areas a few hours later, the viewing platforms can become flooded with tourists. There were long lines to the front where you could view the waterfalls and the hiking paths were heavily congested.

How long does it take to do the Johnston Canyon Ink Pots hike?

For a thorough exploration of the Johnston Canyon Ink Pots hike I’d suggest allocating around four to five hours. This timing provides ample opportunity to hike at a leisurely pace, to take in the beauty of the surroundings, and plenty of time to stop for breaks and photos.

Johnston Canyon Ink Pots reflection in Banff Canada
There are tons of places to sit and relax once you reach the Johnston Canyon Ink Pots

We spent close to an hour hanging around the Ink Pots area itself. That allowed us time to view the different Ink Pot formations, eat a packed lunch and refresh our feet by wading into Johnston Creek!

How difficult is the Johnston Canyon Ink Pots hike?

I peg the Johnston Canyon Ink Pots hike as moderate in terms of difficulty. It’s a level that is generally manageable for individuals with average fitness levels. This is an out and back hike so you’ll return on the same trail you hike out on.

The trail itself stretches about 7 miles (or approximately 11.2 kilometers) from beginning to end. It’s a medium length distance, but achievable for most individuals when tackled at a steady pace.

In terms of elevation, the Johnston Canyon Ink Pots hike offers a moderate gain of nearly 2,000 feet (around 600 meters). The trail elevation ebbs and flows so you’ll encounter stretches of up and down during your trek out and back.

Hikers near the Johnston Canyon Ink Pots in Banff Canada
There are beautiful mountain views once you reach the Ink Pots area

If you’re just arriving to Banff Canada then chances are your body hasn’t had a chance to acclimate to the areas elevation above sea level.

Despite that, I’d still consider this a good hike to help get you acclimated to the area before attempting more difficult ones such as the hike from Larch Valley to Sentinel Pass or the Lake Agnes Tea House to Big Beehive hike.

Do I need any special hiking gear for the Johnston Canyon Ink Pots hike?

While large stretches of this hike are paved and well maintained, you’ll encounter rougher dirt terrain after you clear the Johnston Canyon Upper Falls. A sturdy pair of hiking boots are a must, if not for this hike then definitely for the entirety of your hiking adventure throughout Banff Canada.

It’s also crucial to remember that weather in the mountains can change rapidly, so it’s always a good idea to carry layers or a rain coat, plenty of food, water and sunscreen. While packing sunscreen is a must, much of this trail benefits from tree cover which helps cut down on heat and sun exposure.

Most of the elevation change on this hike is pretty mild, so trekking poles aren’t a must, but could be nice to have.

Don’t forget to pack a swimsuit and lunch for when you reach the Ink Pots and Johnston Creek access point!

Couple posing near Johnston Canyon Upper Falls Banff Canada
Quick photo op near the Johnston Canyon Upper Falls

Bear spray is a must have for your adventures throughout the park as well. While you could probably get by without any just hiking to the Upper Falls here, you’ll definitely want it if you’re hiking out to the Ink Pots or other remote sections of the Canadian Rockies.

If you’re looking for some help on packing hiking gear, be sure to check out my complete day hike checklist. That post will cover everything you could ever want on this hike or most other day hikes within Banff National Park.

Is the hike to Johnston Canyon Ink Pots dangerous?

The hike to Johnston Canyon Ink Pots is considered extremely safe. The trail is well-maintained and clearly marked, making it difficult to get lost on even without a map.

Views of Johnston Canyon Creek Banff Canada
Much of the Johnston Canyon Ink Pots hike follows a creek through the canyon

There are no sections along the trail that feature steep drops, so visitors need not worry about such hazards while enjoying the numerous scenic stops.

The waterfall viewing areas and suspended sections of trail contain guardrails which make this a very family friendly area, especially for young children.

Check out these activities available in the area

Looking for more ways to fill out your trip itinerary? Be sure to check out the list of activities below from GetYourGuide.

Is the Johnston Canyon Ink Pots hike worth it?

After spending a morning exploring the Johnston Canyon Ink Pots hike I can confidently say this should be on every itinerary for people visiting Banff Canada.

Waterfall along Johnston Canyon trail in Banff Canada
One of the many beautiful waterfalls located throughout Johnston Canyon

The hike offers a beautiful and unique pay off at the end, the Ink Pots, which you won’t experience elsewhere in the park. Plus, I always love an opportunity to dip my feet in refreshing icy cold glacial water like you’ll have during this adventure.

Along the way there’s so much to see including the Johnston Canyon Lower Falls, Upper Falls, Johnston Creek and incredible valley rock walls. The variety in scenery makes the entire distance traveled fun and engaging.

If you’re looking for help planning your trip to the Canadian Rockies then be sure to check out my travel guides that will help you learn my favorite hacks for saving on airfare or avoiding common travel mistakes.

The Johnston Canyon Ink Pots hike was the first trail our group did during a week long adventure through Banff Canada and Yoho National Parks and it was the perfect way to kick things off!

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