About Johnston Canyon Waterfalls
The Johnston Canyon Waterfalls are what I’m designating to be the many waterfalls found within the scenic Johnston Canyon itself. Even though the signage here indicated that there were two main waterfalls known as the “Lower Waterfall” and the “Upper Waterfall,” we did see a handful more. Some of those other ones were somewhat significant and pretty while others were more like mini-cascades or rapids.
Nonetheless, the gorge geology and being able to walk in what would otherwise be inaccessible terrain were what made this excursion stand out. Indeed, it was more than about just waterfalls.
The walkway itself was well-developed as it was mostly paved, flat, or on elevated catwalks so it was fairly straightforward to enjoy and take photos without some of the other worries and precautions necessary when on a more primitive trail. Moreover, we could also attest to the claim that this walk was a good bad-weather excursion because we happened to do it during a rainy and snowy mid-September trip in 2010, and it didn’t seem to adversely impact our experience here very much.
In terms of walking distances, it was said to be about 0.5 miles one-way to get to the Lower Waterfall and 1.5 miles one-way to get to the Upper Waterfall. We went all the way to the bottom of the Upper Waterfall so it was 3 miles round trip for us.
The walk to the Lower Waterfall was mostly flat with a slight uphill grade. The climb was not very noticeable, however, since it was mostly spread out over the half-mile it took to get here. It seemed like most of the visitors to Johnston Canyon use this waterfall as the turnaround point.
Once we were at the Lower Waterfall, we crossed a bridge over the stream responsible for carving out Johnston Canyon. That bridge provided us not only frontal views of this attractive waterfall, but it also provided access to a tunnel where its other end yielded an in-your-face look at the main plunge of the Lower Waterfall.
Beyond the Lower Waterfall turnoff, the main walkway climbed in earnest. On one of the switchbacks, I was able to get a nice view of both the Lower Waterfall and the bridge (see photo at the top of this page). The trail continued to ascend some more as it momentarily left the gorge and meandered through a well-forested area.
It was during this stretch that I was able to see a handful of more waterfalls. I think one of them was supposed to be called Stella Falls, which was the only one I noticed with an official name thanks to a sign with a drawing of it along the trail. Nonetheless, these waterfalls helped us take our time as we would frequently stop to take photos or try to channel the inner Ansel Adams in us for some landscape art photographs involving these falls.
After about a mile beyond the Lower Waterfall and some additional uphill walking, the trail reached a fork where going left would’ve continued ascending towards the top of the Upper Waterfall while going right led onto a catwalk. We took the catwalk which ultimately brought us face-to-face with a stretch of colorful walls as a result of algae and their byproducts. It also ended with a more frontal view of the Upper Waterfall.
With this being the turnaround point of our visit, we ended up spending 2 hours away from the car.
In hindsight, we probably should’ve continued going uphill to the top of the Upper Waterfall. It would’ve been interesting to see what kind of a view we would’ve gotten. But alas, that’ll have to wait until the next time we’re here.
On Hwy 1 going south from its junction with the Icefields Parkway (Hwy 93) just north of Lake Louise, we drove for about 28km (30 minutes) until we exited at a ramp connecting with Hwy 1A and Hwy 93 (I believe it’s called the Banff Windermere Parkway). We turned left at the exit to take Hwy 1A after crossing over a couple bridges as well as a railroad. When we reached a three-way junction, we turned right to continue going southeast onto Hwy 1A and shortly thereafter, we turned left onto the signposted car park for Johnston Canyon a little over 6km further to the south. In total, this drive was said to be about 36km (taking over 30 minutes).
Alternatively if we had come from Banff, we could drive north on Trans-Canada Hwy 1 from town to the Hwy 1A exit just about 5 minutes later. Then, follow the Hwy 1A exit for the next 16km to the Johnston Canyon car park on our right. Going about it in this way would be about 25km total and is said to take around 30 minutes though we think it would probably take longer than that due to the slower speed limit and the increased likelihood of wildlife crossings on this route.
Finally, for some context, Banff Town was 57km (45 minutes drive) south of Lake Louise, 127km (90 minutes drive) west of Calgary, 288km (over 3.5 hours drive) south of Jasper, and 413km (4 hours drive) southwest of Edmonton..
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