Hike through Johnston Canyon to the Ink Pots in Banff
» » Hike through Johnston Canyon to the Ink Pots in Banff

Hike through Johnston Canyon to the Ink Pots in Banff

In honor of Canada’s 150th the country offered free admission to all of it’s 46 national parks for 2017. We decided to take advantage of this and visit Jasper, Lake Louise and Banff. When in Banff, you must go hiking and one of the hikes we chose is the popular Johnston Canyon to the Ink Pots. It’s a beautiful canyon and a nice hike, but we had quite the adventure that day.

The Basics

First piece of advice is GO EARLY!

Popular places in Banff National Park get busy early. I’m talking the parking lots fill up and it becomes a madhouse of people/tourists. We tend to shy away from crazy busy, so we started this hike at 7am with only 5 other cars in the parking lot. Keep in my there are 135 parking spots and and overflow parking area with 75 spots. Then they start piling up on the side of the road. That should give you an idea of how crazy busy this place gets.

This hike starts at the Johnston Canyon parking area off of the Bow Valley Parkway. It is about a 20 minute drive from the town of Banff and about 30 minutes or so from Lake Louise.

This hike is 5.4 km each way to the Ink Pots making it 10.8 km total. This is just under 7 miles with a bit of climbing through the canyon. We would call it moderate for most people. It is at higher elevation. The town of Banff sits at about 4,800 ft., so that could be a factor for some. If the distance is too much, you can do only the waterfall areas (lower & upper or simply lower).

If you’re afraid of heights or catwalks, don’t do this hike.

You can hike with your dog here! Yes, Canada’s National parks allow dogs on trails, but they must be on leash! There are bears around, so keeping them on leash is really important for both dogs and bears safety.

Wear layers. When we started this hike in late July, it was 32F and we had hats and gloves on. By the time we finished it was about 60F. Since it’s the mountains you can get unpredictable weather and possibly thunderstorms (another reason to go early).

the canyon is ours to enjoy in the early morning

The falls area

If you go early, you get the place to yourself. On our way up the canyon we could stop whenever we wanted and enjoy the peacefulness of the canyon and the roar of the creek and waterfalls. On our return down, it was pure craziness with people everywhere and no place to get away from the craziness. It really was uncomfortable for us and we made a mad dash for the truck.

The catwalks are only wide enough for 2 people, so it makes it hard to pass anyone going slow or stopped for a photo. Plus, we had our dogs with us and even they were a little stressed over the amount of people.

Johnston Canyon creek waterfalls
Johnston Canyon creek waterfalls


Upper Falls of Johnston Canyon
Upper Falls of Johnston Canyon

You hike catwalks suspended off the walls of the canyon. It is spectacular scenery with several waterfalls along the way. But if you want to have the place to yourself, go early! I promise you don’t be disappointed in having to get out of bed early and you might even thank me later.

There is one small waterfalls before you see the official lower falls. I stopped at these falls because they are gorgeous and picturesque.

Then you make it to the lower falls which are pretty neat. You go through a little cave area that lets you come right out to the falls view. You might get a little spray here, but totally worth it. The roar is incredible.

Then you climb to the upper falls which are pretty fantastic. The Upper Falls are about 100 ft tall and so powerful!!! There are 2 viewing platforms for the upper falls. One let’s you see the whole picture and the other puts you above them. Both are worth a stop and view.

Ink Pots

the lower falls and the catwalk that takes you to the viewing cave

We enjoyed continuing on past the falls to the ink pots. It’s a nice hike through the forest where we even spotted a fox. We also had strong whiffs of bear, so hike prepared with bear spray and understand basic safety with bears.

The ink pots are 5 pools where the river bubbles out at different speeds to form the pots. They are beautiful aquamarine and green colors and quite peaceful. They are really unique in that the bottom of them is quicksand and they maintain a temperature of 4C year round.

The ink pots are in a little valley and the views are magnificent. They make a beautiful area to stop and enjoy a snack by the Johnston Canyon Creek before returning the way you came. There are even a few benches to relax and enjoy. Please keep this area clean and stay on trail to preserve it for everyone to see. Parks Canada struggle with the area being vandalized, so I really stress LEAVE NO TRACE. Enjoy the beauty and make sure it stays for others to enjoy.

From here you could continue on and stay at a backcountry campsite.

If you have 2 cars, you can park one at the Moose Meadows trailhead and hike back down that way to eliminate hiking through the canyon with the crowds. It is a much less traveled trail. Unfortunately, we only had one vehicle or this would have been a great option.

Our adventure

Hiking with dogs in Canada’s National Parks

Yes. You can take your dogs on the trails in Canada’s National Parks! Exciting!

We decided to bring them with us for this hike. No problem for these guys as they are great hikers. We even have a little backpack for Case to bring his own water along. All is good. They enjoy the hike and the sniffing is plentiful.

As we head back to the trailhead, we definitely watch as the number of people hiking increases. It soon becomes complete mayhem and super crowded. We notice a little spot in the trail wide enough to take a break, so we stop to give some water to the dogs.

The adventure begins

Suji after visiting the vet

At this point Suji starts to act weird. When he tries to mark a bush, his front legs give out on him and he does a face plant into the bush. He’s walking like he’s a little drunk.

We’re not quite sure what’s going on, but we keep an eye on him as we continue to descend. He is still walking drunk and struggling, but we know we are pretty close to the truck at this point. Near the bottom the trails widens a little bit and crosses a bridge to the parking lot. Right at the edge of the parking lot are bathrooms which Paul and I both need.

While I stand with the dogs as Paul uses the bathroom, I notice Suji is leaning all his weight on me. I know he likes to be close, but he doesn’t usually lean completely on my legs. When we go to walk to the truck, he is very hesitant. At this point he really doesn’t want to move. I check out his legs and paws for any sores, sticks, etc., but there is nothing evident. We get to the truck and Suji collapses beside it. His front legs give out on him and he is laying on them totally limp. We are frightened at this point and have no idea what is going on with him.

Being about 20 minutes from the town of Banff, we have to wait until back into town for cell signal and any vet help. There is only one vet in town and I call them. She tells me to take him into the nearest larger town, Canmore where they are better equipped to deal with emergencies. Thankful for their number and directions Paul continues on highway 1 towards Canmore as I make the phone call to Canmore Veterinary Hospital.

Suji has a “brain event”

Canmore Veterinary Hospital is more than happy to help and they tell us to come right there. Waiting for us to arrive, they see to him right away. The vet can see the drunk walking and does a thorough exam including a neuro exam. At this point the vet determines Suji’s front legs are weaker than his hind legs. Since Suji shows sign of improvement by this point and he’s not dehydrated, the vet believes Suji had a “brain event.”

A what, I ask?!?!? Brain event is his word for a mini-stroke. The symptoms are localized to his legs and he can eat and drink just fine. All signs lead to mini-stroke.

Since Suji is starting to show signs of improvement, he tells us to watch him for any other signs over the next 24 hours. Otherwise, we could do blood work and an MRI, but he doesn’t think the expense is necessary.

So our dog had a mini-stroke!

We are all exhausted at this point, so we return home.

Paul and I are thankful for some lunch. We did just hike 7 miles and it’s now 3pm!

Quite an adventure of a day, but we highly recommend this hike for its beauty. Don’t go expecting peacefulness, but do enjoy what nature has to offer.

Have you been to Johnston Canyon? What did you think?