Post Summary: What To Expect During A Johnston Canyon Ice Walk in Banff National Park
Ever wondered what it’s like to step inside Narnia?
Frozen waterfalls, icy blue gorges, and snow falling all around you – it doesn’t seem real, right?
What if we told you that among the snow-covered forest of Banff National Park, there is a place called Johnston Canyon that turns into a magical winter wonderland every year? It’s too good to be true!
Of all the Banff winter hikes, this is one of the most interesting, feature-filled trails of the season. If you’ve ever been curious about Johnston Canyon in winter and what it’s like, you’ve come to the right place.
In this post, we’re sharing why we think taking a Johnston Canyon Ice Walk is one of the best Banff winter activities!
Everything You Need To Know About A Johnston Canyon Ice Walk In Banff
This post contains affiliate links – the gear we love for an amazing Johnston Canyon Ice Walk!
Where is Johnston Canyon?
Johnston Canyon is located in Banff National Park. Its official address is Bow Valley Parkway, Improvement District No. 9, AB T1L 1K2, Canada.
In order to visit, you will need a Banff National Park Pass to explore Johnston Canyon in winter. Daily passes are $30 per vehicle at the entrances of the park.
Upon arrival at Johnston Canyon, parking is fairly easy, especially in the winter months when it’s not as crowded. There are bathrooms available at the entrance, too!
Want to save money on park passes? Read Our Ultimate Guide To Finding The Right Park Pass Here!
What Should I Expect On A Tour?
A Johnston Canyon ice walk can be self-guided, but we really suggest that you go on a tour. Tours are usually kept at a small size, no larger than 12 people.
Why a guided tour? Because the guides will often pick you up in town, freeing you from the worries that come along with driving in the snow. They often have extra supplies like microspikes, gloves, and some tours even pack cookies!
Johnston Canyon ice tours also bring amazing facts about the area, the geography, and seasonal features that may go unnoticed by the untrained eye.
You will be able to hear about how the ice forms, why you can still see the water rushing under that thick layer of ice, and many other interesting facts!
Who Runs Johnston Canyon Ice Walk Tours?
Several places around Banff host ice walking tours in Johnston Canyon. Here are some reputable companies we recommend:
What To Expect Along The Johnston Canyon Ice Walk Trail
Beginning your Johnston Canyon winter hike, you’ll quickly approach the steel catwalks that wind you into the canyon.
This allows you to get up close to the icy walls of Johnston Canyon while gazing into the frozen gorge below! (But it’s not completely frozen! We’ll get to that part later…)
The Lower Falls
After a short while on the gradually sloping catwalk, (about a 1/2 mile down the trail), you’ll encounter your first main feature of this Johnston Canyon hike – the Lower Falls!
The Lower Falls is a plunge pool that drops water 30 feet into the swirling basin below. You can see from the photo below that it’s not fully frozen – that’s because the water is constantly moving underneath the surface!
You can view it from the side path catwalk that stretches across the gorge.
For an even closer look, go all the way across the bridge to the natural arch, where you can crawl inside and peer down the falls for an up-close-and-personal view of the frozen Johnston Canyon Lower Falls.
Do you hear it?
You can listen to the water still flowing under all those layers of ice! In some pockets of the river in the gorge below, you can spy the aqua-colored water, still traveling through the gorge and out to the Bow River.
The Upper Falls
After the Lower Falls Viewpoint, it’s time to continue your Johnston Canyon winter hike to reach the Upper Falls Viewpoint.
You’ll spend time both along the side of the rocky canyon walls, as well as on a trail through the snow-covered forest. From the Lower Falls Viewpoint, the Upper Falls will be one more mile.
During this one mile, you’ll encounter the most difficult and icy part of the trail, which includes the most elevation gain as well.
This trail section is difficult because the slope is steep and the trail is sunny. The sun constantly melts the ice while the night re-freezes it, creating a sort of (not so fun) slide that challenges a lot of people!
Want to know some tips on how to walk on ice? Take baby steps, sidestep if you can, and have a partner up at the top to help you up. On the way down, if it’s safe, go ahead and slide!
Once you arrive at the Upper Falls Viewpoint in Johnston Canyon, you have two viewing platforms to choose from.
The lower viewpoint provides a full view of the frozen falls from below, often with ice climbers present. Spend a few minutes watching them scale the falls!
Interested in Johnston Canyon ice climbing? There are tons of guided tours that will take you out to try this Banff winter sport – and they provide all tour levels from total beginner to advanced climber!
The other viewpoint is just back up the trail where you came from, which gives you a larger perspective of the gorge, falls, and canyon walls surrounding everything.
Want to extend your Johnston Canyon winter hike?
Consider checking out the Ink Pots – 5 hot pools that stay warm all winter long. These don’t freeze, and can look quite beautiful against the contrast of the surrounding white snow!
This is two extra miles from the upper falls viewpoint, so make sure to plan ahead if you want to go here. Swap your ice cleats for snowshoes, and plan to venture out a little earlier in the day so you can still return during daylight hours. Remember, Banff days are short in the winter!
What Should I Pack For My Johnston Canyon Ice Walk?
Because the Johnston Canyon Ice Walk will be in, well, a canyon, there is little to no sunshine all season long. This almost guarantees you’ll encounter snow and ice, which is why you should prepare and pack accordingly for frigid conditions.
Here’s what we suggest bringing on your Johnston Canyon hike in winter:
Microspikes help you keep your balance when on icy trails in Johnston Canyon. Similar to cleats, these foot wraps have spikes or wire, but can easily slip on and off the bottom of your snow boot.
We like to use the “double glove” method, which consists of a thin glove topped with an insulated mitten. We use this method because as photographers, we’re constantly taking off our gloves to use our camera or fidget with gear.
With the double glove method, we keep our hands toasty warm on hikes, but also keep them warm when we take off one layer to manage our camera. With thin gloves, we can easily handle our gear and keep our fingers away from the harsh winter cold, too.
Layers Layer Layers!
In order to stay warm during a Banff ice walk, you’ll want to wear plenty of layers!
Here’s our cheat sheet for keeping warm in Banff in winter with layering:
- Base Layer: Sweat-wicking fabric like in this long sleeve from Smart Wool.
- Mid Layer: Insulating warmth from a fleece or down layer like these colorful Patagonia 1/4 zips!
- Outer Layer: A waterproof, protective shell to keep moisture out and warmth in! Go with a lightweight but powerful shell like this yellow one from The North Face.
Ultimately, the point of headwear is to keep your head warm, so pick a style that suits you and have fun in Johnston Canyon during winter!
Because of the bitter cold in Johnston Canyon during the winter season, you’ll want to make sure you cover your face when hiking in the canyon.
Choose something like a classic scarf, an adjustable buff, or you can even get real serious with a full-face balaclava. Whatever one you choose, wear it with confidence and make sure it’s fuss-free!
Still Want More Ideas? Read Our Guide To The Perfect Banff Winter Packing List
Frequently Asked Questions About Johnston Canyon In Winter
Is Visiting Johnston Canyon Free?
With the exception of the Banff National Park day pass (which you’ll have to pay at the entrance of the park), there is no additional fee to visit Johnston Canyon for an ice walk in Banff.
When Is The Best Time Of Day To Visit Johnston Canyon in Winter?
Mornings bring bitter cold, as well as the evenings when the sun is no longer in the canyon. The winter days in Banff National Park are short, making the ideal time to visit Johnston Canyon in the winter around late morning, like 10:00 am to 11:00 am.
If you plan to hike all the way to the Ink Pots, plan to start your Johnston Canyon winter hike a little bit earlier, as you only have a short window of daylight to work with. For emergency purposes, make sure to bring plenty of food and snacks, as well as a headlamp.
Can You Hike Johnston Canyon In The Winter?
Yes, you can! (See our above explanation to find out how.) However, most of the Johnston Canyon trail is made up of forest trails or steel catwalk platforms, which can collect snow and ice over the winter season.
This can cause the trail to be slippery and icy, so make sure to pack crampons or ice cleats (micro spikes) for your winter hike. The best ice cleats for walking have metal spikes that will stabilize you as you walk.
How Long Does It Take To Hike Johnston Canyon?
The Johnston Canyon Ice Walk is about 3.4 miles in walking distance; even farther if you plan to visit the Ink Pots. At a leisurely pace, plan to spend about 2-3 hours visiting Johnston Canyon in the winter.
Similar Adventures Nearby In Banff National Park
Not ready to finish your winter adventure in Banff National Park? There are tons of amazing activities to do in the area! Make sure to browse through these Banff winter activities and find some that are right for you!
- Taking the Grotto Canyon Ice Walk in Canmore, Alberta.
- Ice Skating on Lake Louise
- Booking a Dog Sledding Tour in Banff or Canmore
- Taking a Sleigh Ride Near the Banff Town
- Shooting Amazing Photo Spots in Banff
- Walk Around At The Top of The Sulphur Mountain Gondola
- Ski the Big 3 Mountain Resorts!