Johnston Canyon Ink Pots Hike: Cold Spring Pools & Waterfalls in Banff National Park

You can go right ahead and add the Johnston Canyon Ink Pots hike to your Banff bucket list – this is one of those “can’t miss” places in Banff.

The Johnston Canyon Ink Pots hike features waterfalls, mountains, vibrant cold spring pools, gushing rapids, and massive canyon walls. You can hike this trail during both summer and winter, but if you hike in winter I would recommend wearing micro-spikes because the terrain can get quite slippery (you can either buy these or rent a pair at Bactrax).

I’ve hiked Johnston Canyon twice – both times in the summer – and each time I found something new that literally amazed me. Before I tell you all about the Johnston Canyon Ink Pots hike, it’s important to note that Banff is a National Park and you therefor need a Parks pass for each day you’re in the Park. You can buy these at the park gates, at the town visitor centre, or online.

Now, let’s go hiking!

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Getting To Johnston Canyon Ink Pots Trail

Johnston Canyon is located about half an hour from the town of Banff and about 1hr 45mins from Calgary. The trailhead is along the 1A which you can access from the Trans Canada Highway.

Most times you need to rent a car to go anywhere in the Rockies, but luckily the Roam bus has a Johnston Canyon shuttle so there’s no need to drive if you’re coming from Banff! If you’re visiting during high season I’d actually recommend taking the shuttle because parking can get crazy.

Sometimes the 1A is closed. If this is the case you’ll need to book a reservation at The Blackswift Bistro. You’ll get an email confirmation of your lunch or dinner reservation which you will then show to the Parks Canada employees monitoring the road. They’ll let you pass and you can park right next to the trailhead.

About Johnston Canyon Ink Pots Trail

  • Distance: 11.7km
  • Elevation gain: 608m
  • Rated: moderate
  • Type of trail: out & back
  • Estimated time: 4-4.5hrs

Alternate Trail: to go to the Ink Pots directly and skip Johnston Canyon, take the Moose Meadows trail.

Johnston Canyon is a very popular hike in Banff National Park and will therefor be very busy. If you want to beat the crowds either start early or go much later in the day. If not, you’ll be stuck behind crowds of people and you’ll have to wait in line to see certain spots or take photos.

The hike starts out in a forested section following the canyon walls. The terrain will switch from a beaten down path to suspended metal grates – you’ll be walking directing over the flowing canyon! The section that goes through Johnston Canyon is the busiest, but once you pass the canyon and start heading towards the Ink Pots the crowd thins drastically.

The path to the Ink Pots is completely forested with the exception of a few lookout points. There are some exposed roots and rocks, but nothing over the top. This hike is suitable for all age groups and ability levels.

Once you arrive to the ink pots you’ll be in a beautiful valley complete with lush vegetation, mountain peaks, multi-coloured pools, and a bright blue glacial river.


Looking for More Banff Adventures?

Banff is an adventurer’s & view seeker’s paradise. If you’re planning a trip to this gorgeous Canadian Park, you can start with this step-by-step guide designed to help you plan the perfect Banff itinerary.

Alternatively, check out this page with all my Banff resources.

Banff Hiking Resources

On this page you can find all my Banff trail guides. A few signature hikes in Banff are these easy trails, Tunnel Mountain, Sulphur Mountain, Lake Louise, and Johnston Canyon. If you’re only in Banff for a few days, start with those!

A few of my personal favourite hikes in Banff are Mount Bourgeau, Sentinel Pass, Tower of Babel, the Banff Skoki Loop, and the Sulphur Mountain Traverse Route.

More Banff Resources you Might Find Interesting:

Want to continue your Canadian Rockies expedition outside of Banff? Check out my trail guides & travel resources for British Columbia and Kananaskis Country as well as Jasper, Waterton, Yoho, and Kootenay National Parks 🙂


Hiking Johnston Canyon Ink Pots Trail

Johnston Canyon

Very soon after starting the Johnston Canyon Ink Pots hike you’ll start to gain gentle elevation and enter the canyon. The canyon is absolutely magical to walk through. You’ll be surrounded by massive rock walls that have been scupted by water.

You’ll find rapids, small waterfalls, hanging vegetation, and rock shelves as you stroll through this natural beauty.

Johnston Canyon Ink Pots hike
Small waterfall along Johnston Canyon

The first notable point of interest you’ll come across is Lower Johnston Falls. To see the falls you must cross a bridge and enter a small cave! If it’s busy you’ll have to wait in line to enter the cave, but this is by far worth the wait.

Shortly after this you’ll arrive at Upper Johnston Falls. Upper Johnston Falls is by far the most striking natural feature on this hike, so make sure you take some time here to really appreciate the beauty of this bright blue waterfall.

Johnston Canyon Ink Pots hike
Upper Johnston Falls
Ink Pots

After the falls you can either turn back or continue on to the Ink Pots which I would recommend doing as the Ink Pots basin was my favourite part of the hike. You’ll want to keep in mind that the forested section of the hike can get quite buggy – I recommend bringing a bug suit.

It will take about 1-1.5hrs walking through the forested section to get to the Ink Pots. You’ll gain elevation in this section, but it’s nothing overly strenuous. Along the way you’ll come across a few viewpoints, but the prize view is when you exit the trees into the basin…

Johnston Canyon Ink Pots hike
Viewpoint overlooking Mount Ishbel

Here you’ll find the 5 Ink Pots which are natural cold spring pools of differing colour due to varying amounts of deposited minerals. What’s interesting about the ink pots is that they’re actually fed from underground water sources. If you watch closely, you can see water bubbles come up from the ground!

Johnston Canyon Ink Pots hike
Ink Pots

The Ink Pots are a UNESCO world heritage site and are very fragile. Due to their fragility, it’s very important that you do not touch or go in the water! If you want to dip your feet Johnston Creek is nearby – both times I hiked to the Ink Pots I spent the majority of my time at Johnston Creek.

The water is VERY cold, but it’s the perfect spot to hangout, have a picnic, and admire the views.

Recommended Hiking Gear

The following items are some of my favourites – I never hit the trail without them!

PD Capture Clip

The Capture Clip by Peak Design is a sturdy, safe, and super convenient way to carry your camera while hiking or backpacking.

Find it on Amazon (CAD).

Find it on Peak Design (US).

Hydration Reservoir

A hydration reservoir is SO important. It holds 2L+ of water and keeps you hydrated on-trail. I use the 2L Hydrapak; it never leaks and has a detachable tube.

Day-pack

Things to look for in a good quality day-pack: sternum strap, hip belt (with pockets), and a breathable mesh system for your back. I use the Osprey Sirrus 24L pack (men’s version) and I LOVE it!


What To Wear Hiking in the Rockies

For a detailed guide on what to wear hiking in the Canadian Rockies, check out this post.

Choosing what to wear hiking can be confusing, but the secret to properly dressing for a hike is layering. You can mix and match the tops and bottoms you already own to make up your base layers, however in addition to those clothes you’ll need a few extra things:

Waterproof Jacket

A waterproof jacket is the most important layer for hiking – it keeps you warm and protects you from wind and rain. I use the Marmot Eco Precip Jacket (men’s version) which is totally a bang-for-your-buck. If rain is in the forecast, don’t forget to pack waterproof pants (men’s version) too.

Hiking Boots

A good pair of hiking boots are Gore-tex, provide ankle support, and are durable. I use the Scarpa Kailash boot (men’s version) and they’ve never let me down. You’ll also want a good quality pair of socks. I use Smartwool – they’re great quality and last an entire season.

Puffer Jacket

A puffer jacket acts as your warm layer. I use the hoodless Columbia Women’s Heavenly Jacket (men’s version). Alternatively you can use a fleece zip – I have this one (men’s version) from Columbia. Both of these options are perfect layers to keep you warm on windy, cold, or high elevation hikes.

Rocky Mountain hiking exposes you to different natural elements and conditions – it’s imperative that you’re prepared for whatever nature throws at you. Trust me, I’ve learned the hard way!

More: Day-hiking Gear Guide

More: What to Wear Hiking in the Canadian Rockies

Tips For A Successful Hike

  • Start this trail early or go late in the day to avoid the crowds
  • Prepare for bugs – I always bring a bug suit rather than bug spray. This saves a plastic bottle and is a great way to avoid unnecessary chemicals
  • Start from Moose Meadows if you want to avoid the touristy section of the hike and head straight for the Ink Pots
  • Bring a towel and a picnic – dip your feet in Johnston Creek’s freezing glacial water
  • Planning on the Johnston Canyon Ink Pots hike during winter? Wear micro-spikes because it gets really slippery!

Where to Stay in Banff

More: Plan Your Trip to Banff: A Step by Step Guide

The “best” place to stay in Banff depends on your price range and what you’re looking for. There are a few ways to go about finding accommodations in Banff according to each price range:

Booking.com
Tips for Saving Money on Accommodations 

I won’t lie, Banff can be a pretty expensive place to travel (but worth every penny). So, to help you offset some of the costs of your trip, here are tips for saving on accommodations in Banff:

  • Camp in town. If you don’t have camping equipment you can rent tents, cooking sets, sleeping bags, and just about everything else from Bactrax.
  • Stay at one of Banff’s hostels: the Banff International HostelSamesun BanffHI Banff Alpine Centre, or the HI Lake Louise.
  • Utilize Booking.com to compare hotel prices and amenities to ensure the hotel you book suits your needs. Some of the benefits of using Booking.com are their price match guarantee, free cancellation on almost all bookings, and clear pricing with no hidden fees.
  • Check out hotels in Canmore. Canmore often offers cheaper rates and is located only 20 minutes from Banff.

More: Plan Your Trip to Banff: A Step by Step Guide

Happy adventuring!

Taylor ♡


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About The Author


Hey! I’m Taylor – the voice behind The Holistic Backpacker.

After moving to Banff National Park in 2020 I became an outdoor adventure enthusiast and vowed to never stop exploring.

I’m now focused on travelling the world and seeing everything our beautiful home has to offer.

I created The Holistic Backpacker so I could share my adventures and help connect people like you with the same amazing experiences.

I am also an advocate for the environment and do as much as I can to take care of our planet.

Get to know me and my story more here 🙂

I can’t wait to share my adventures with you!

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Taylor ♡