March 10, 2020
Johnson’s Canyon is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Banff National Park. It is so busy, that I have not been here since, oh about 1997 or 1998. So when can locals see this beauty of a canyon? In the winter of course, when no one is around.
With the advent of spikes, trails that were more or less closed in the winter are now open and available all year. This day hike was organized by my hiking buddy Annette, who put together a series of winter canyon / waterway hikes.
I wore my hiking boots to ensure a comfortable shoe for the almost 13 km hike. My friend Sue wore her Baffin winter boots, but she’s used to walking long distances in those. As I froze my toes earlier this year, I am still dealing with cold-sensitive feet. I wore heated socks, boot gloves over my hiking boots, and gators.
For grip, I wore my microspikes the entire way. If you don’t have microspikes, the Visitor Centre will rent you some. Despite it being our low season, the vast majority of hikers were tourists. They all wore the rented spikes, and did just fine.
On my legs, I wore long underwear, and a soft shell guide pant. Upper layers were long underwear, wool sweater, vest with hood, and gore-tex jacket. I also had a micro down jacket for our lunch stop. This was just enough clothing as it was freezing. The temperature was probably around -15 or so, but as we neared the Ink Pots, the wind picked up.
From the Johnson’s Canyon parking lot, go past the visitor’s centre and washrooms to the trail head. Follow the 3 km guided trail to explore all the waterfalls. At the end of the guided trail, you can turn back, or continue on to the Ink Pots. To continue to the Ink Pots, continue on the main trail, and turn right at the T intersection. Follow the trail to the Ink Pots. Return the same way.
I always say that finding the trail head is the hardest part of any hike, but not here. You literally cannot miss the entrance.
Despite it being a cold day in winter, we were not the only ones at Johnson’s Canyon. We saw lots of tourists taking a day off from skiing, plus random tourists. There is a guided tour of the Canyon. If you are a tourist, I would recommend it as they give all kinds of info on the local history, geology and fauna.
The trail is also well signed. All the short side trips are also signed as you go along.
The 3 km trail parallels the falls and canyon. It has several interpretive signs, so take your time and learn about the natural and human history of Johnson’s Canyon. There are a couple of short side trips to get closer to the falls. Be sure to explore all these, as it adds to the fun.
For the locals, you might not recognize this. It’s the walkway with *gasp!* No one on it!
If you’ve only been to Johnson’s Canyon in the summer, and can’t think why you’d visit in the winter, here is one very good reason to go.
One of the side trips is to the lower falls. This is good fun as you pass through a short tunnel carved out of the limestone. You pop out at the base of the falls. If you look closely, you can see the water running behind the ice.
The Upper Falls really are spectacular in the winter. I took several photos, but couldn’t get a descent shot that encompassed the whole thing. A video was the best bet.
I took this video from the deck above the falls. There we met a father & son duo from North Carolina. The dad was originally from Canada, and was showing his adult son all the sights that Canada had to offer. They then took out a lovely gourmet lunch of olives, cheese, crackers and other yummy foods, which they gladly shared with us.
Added Attractions – Ice Climbers
There was an Intro to Ice Climbing course being held at the base of the Upper Falls. This added to the overall ambiance of the hike, and was a thrill for tourists who had never seen ice climbing before.
This photo is taken at the base of the Upper Falls. In the summer, I imagine the spray from the falls would be fairly intense.
From this spot, you are right at creek level.
Trail to the Ink Pots
From the furthest point on the Johnson’s Canyon Interpretive trail, if you want to do the extra 6 km (return) trip to the Ink Pots, then simply continue on the trail to the left. This will draw you away from the water and into the forest.
The trail continues for a few hundred meters, and then comes to a T intersection that is well signed. Turn Right.
The trail gradually gains elevation, until you hit the high point. There is a little look out here. It’s now all downhill to the Ink Pots.
The Ink Pots are in a wide open meadow. This is a fragile alpine environment. When it’s busy in the summer, it might be tempting to trample all over the place to get away from other people, but you are destroying the natural wonder you hiked to see. Please, stay on the marked trails at all times.
The Ink Pots are so called because they are little round ponds with different colours of green and blue. They are fed from below, and you can see bubbles rise up year round. The water is 4 degrees Celsius, hence the ponds not freezing over.
Return to Johnson’s Canyon
The Ink Pots is a there and back hike. I was absolutely frozen by the time we poked around the Ink Pots and had a bite to eat, so I was very thankful for the uphill trek to the high point. By the time I got up there, I was almost warm again. Thanks to my heated socks, my feet stayed toasty warm.
We did see several people on the Ink Pots trail in running shoes and hoodies. While no one dies out there, do yourself a favour and dress warmly. No one wants frostbite while on vacation.
If you found this post useful, please do me a huge favour and click the Star button to “Like” it. You can also follow my blog, or head on over to Facebook to join my page Al’s Adventurers.
Totals – Tracked on Strava
Date: March 10, 2020
Group: Three (Alisen, Annette & Susan)
Distance: 12.81 km
Elevation: 460 m (1,518′)
Time: ~4 hours (includes lots of time to ogle the scenery)