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Johnston Canyon and Ink Pots Hike


  • Johnston Canyon and Ink Pots



  • February 22, 2020



  • Ed, Jace, Dave, Tanya, Ian, Lisa, Craig, Janet, Keri



  • took the Johnston Canyon trailhead which is 6.2 km east of Castle Mountain Junction
  • came in from the 1A highway a few km’s past the Norquay/Banff turnoff which we find to be a more scenic drive than going all the way to Castle Junction on Highway 1 but we returned on Highway 1 as the 1A was a bit icy
  • it is 17 km from the Highway 1 turnoff to the trailhead
  • utilizing this trail is much more crowded than the Moose Meadows parking lot
  • the trail is very well marked for distances, and the only potential deviation is to make sure not to turn onto the Moose Meadows trail



Degree of difficulty:

  • 548 meters elevation
  • 12 km round trip out to the Ink Pots and back
  • 1.1 km to the lower falls and 2.7 km to the upper falls
  • 3-4 hours total time on the trail (it depends how long you stop to enjoy the scenery and ice climbers in the canyon)
  • moderate climb most of the way with no excessively steep sections
  • the section in the canyon was very slippery, so proper footwear including traction spikes was key to us staying upright
  • the last kilometer to the Ink Pots goes downhill after cresting the ridge so you need to save some energy to climb back out of the valley on the return voyage
  • there was no fresh snow, so we left the snowshoes behind



Interesting notes:

  • the tradeoff of going up through the canyon is the massive crowds vs. the spectacular creek
  • there are beautiful views of the creek, waterfalls, canyon walls, and the courageous climbers on the massive ice slabs with their blue hue color
  • is known as the busiest trail in the Canadian Rockies
  • there is not much of a view until you crest the hill and descend into the valley although the forest offers its own serene beauty
  • the five Ink Pots have some color but are not overly vibrant
  • the valley is very wide open offering great views of the various peaks (Sawback Range, Mt. Ishbel, Helena Ridge) although the low lying clouds prevented anything more than partial views
  • in 1885, a prospector named Johnston camps out at the creek head with the hopes of discovering gold while panning in the canyon silt; however this does not materialize, and he moved on to the Columbia Valley
  • the original log tea house at the trailhead was built in the early 1900s as a stopover for the horse-drawn tallyhoes on the route from Banff to Lake Louise
  • the original six bridges up the canyon were constructed by Hungarian intern camp prisoners during WW1 (replaced with metal bridges in 1980)
  • in 1980, Tao Berman, a young German kayaker, broker the Guinness world record for waterfall drops by plunging 98 feet over the upper falls and lived (eight people have lost their lives over the past nine decades in various tragic accidents)