Banff Winter- Johnston Canyon Ice Walk

What You Need to Know About the Johnston Canyon Ice Walk

A Johnston Canyon hike is a popular Banff National Park thing to do in all 4 seasons.

In winter, snow and ice transform the canyon, creating a gorgeous Narnia-esque winter wonderland. Complete with frozen waterfalls, a snow-covered forest, and a canyon dripping with icicles, it’s easy to see why the Johnston Canyon ice walk is one of the top things to do in Banff in winter!

In this guide, we’ll cover what you need to know about the Johnston Canyon Ice Walk. 

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What You Need to Know About the Johnston Canyon Ice Walk

The Johnston Canyon trail is a combination of steel walking platforms and forest paths, which, in winter, will be covered in snow and ice. Large sections of the walk will be slippery so be sure to start off with your ice cleats strapped to your boots (more on necessary gear below).

Banff Winter- Johnston Canyon Ice Walk
Early winter…I’d expect a deeper layer of snow and ice the later into winter you visit.

The flatter ground at the trailhead will give way to a gently sloping path as it follows the outline of the canyon. With just over a half-mile of terrain to cover before reaching the Johnston Canyon Lower Falls viewpoint, it’s not long before the steel pathways cut into the canyon and bring you closer to the river.

Banff Winter- Johnston Canyon Ice Walk

As soon as the temperatures drop, ice begins to form on the river and along the canyon walls. Walking alongside the river, I could see an ice ledge had formed. It was slowly covering the aqua-colored water until spring.

Banff Winter- Johnston Canyon Ice Walk

Up overhead, icicles remade large sections of the rocky canyon in crystal blue and white. In some spots, the layers of ice were already several rows deep and winter had only just begun!

Banff Winter- Johnston Canyon Ice Walk

You’ll want to make sure to visit both Lower and Upper Falls.

The trails are well-marked so you know which way to go. At the split in the path, veer down to the right to see the natural pool of turquoise water formed from Lower Falls pounding the bed of rock and eroding the bottom away.

Banff Winter- Johnston Canyon Ice Walk

You can walk through the natural arch for a close-up view of the frozen falls and the natural plunge pool.

Banff Winter- Johnston Canyon Ice Walk

The icy falls encapsulated the cascading water but you could still see and hear the water pounding down behind the icy shell.

Banff Winter- Johnston Canyon Ice Walk

Traveling to Banff soon?

Research and book your hotels on TripAdvisor and Booking.com. I absolutely loved my stay at The Juniper Hotel. I’ve also had great stays at the Banff Aspen Lodge and the Fox Hotel & Suites.


Once you’ve filled up your camera‘s memory card with photos ;), head back up the slope and continue along the original path toward Upper Falls. From this point, it’s about 1 more mile until reaching the platforms. The path slopes upward and it’s at this point, you’ll certainly recognize the value of those ice cleats.

Banff National Park Jonhston Canyon

Although you won’t be as low to the river as earlier on the path, the higher perspective gives you better views of the snowy forest and other small waterfalls as you get closer to the Johnston Canyon Upper Falls.

Banff Winter- Johnston Canyon Ice Walk

Upper Falls has 2 viewing platforms, one from below and the other a bit further up the path. The lower platform comes up first and gives you a dramatic look at the tall waterfalls frozen along the canyon. On most days, you’ll also find ice climbers practicing their skills as they claw their way up the frozen falls.

Banff Winter- Johnston Canyon Ice Walk

Here the Upper Falls are the main attraction, but don’t forget to look at the river and the winding canyon! It just might be that one of the prettiest views is actually behind you. 😉 Banff National Park is gorgeous no matter which direction you look.

Banff Winter- Johnston Canyon Ice Walk

While the icy chunks at the base of the falls look like props straight from a movie shot in a winter fantasyland!

Banff Winter- Johnston Canyon Ice Walk

Be sure to go back to the trail and continue up to the higher viewpoint to see the perspective of looking down over the falls and at the icicles on the upper canyon walls.

For winter hikers planning to see Johnston Canyon and the Ink Pots, five cold mineral springs that never freeze, it’s just under 2 miles more from the Upper Falls viewpoints.

It’s also likely you’ll need to swap the ice cleats for snowshoes to make it possible to get through the deeper snow on this trail.

Johnston Canyon Trail Conditions

A Johnston Canyon winter visit comes complete with ice and snow.

The steel walkways and forest paths will be covered and slippery. Still, it’s important to check the conditions for the timing of your visit. Parks Canada regularly updates their Johnston Canyon trail report so visitors can prepare accordingly.

When’s the best time of day to winter hike Johnston Canyon?

There are Johnston Canyon tours in the morning and later in the afternoon. Ideally, a window in between is best. Think late morning.

Also, keep in mind the shorter winter days with less light than in summer. If you plan to snowshoe to the Ink Pots, you’ll want an earlier start to make sure you have plenty of time for the round trip before the sun dips too low.

What to wear for the Johnston Canyon Ice Walk

Banff Winter- Johnston Canyon Ice Walk

Johnston Canyon in winter can be a balmy 32°F/0° or much colder, dropping to the single digits Fahrenheit or minus teens Celsius. As with any outdoor winter activity, the right clothing and gear are what separates a fun, enjoyable time from a miserable time.

Ice cleats are the only gear you’ll need or, potentially, snowshoes if a large amount of snow fell right before your visit and hasn’t been compacted down by other hikers. Walking poles (even ski poles, if you have them) can come in handy for the steeper sections of the trail.

Ice cleats and poles can be easily rented at Banff Adventures in downtown Banff. For those staying in the Lake Louise area, Wilson Mountain Sports in the Lake Louise Village is a good option for gear rentals.

Here are a few tips on what to wear for winter hiking:

  • Layers are important, but especially winter base layers designed to trap your body heat.
  • Outer layers should be able to resist wind and moisture. Think winter hiking pants or even ski pants. Johnston Canyon is icy. If you slip and get wet, jeans and leggings will absorb the moisture, freeze, and make for a very cold experience.
  • Wear waterproof winter boots with winter socks. Uggs, suede boots, and sneakers won’t keep your feet warm and dry in the Canadian Rockies.
  • Cover your head, ears, and hands. Ladies, my readers love this winter headband.

Johnston Canyon Directions

From Banff, get on the TransCanada Highway going west.

Take the Bow Valley Parkway-Highway 1A exit and merge onto the Bow Valley Parkway. Head west for about 11 miles and the Johnston Canyon parking lot will be on your right. Don’t be confused by the left turn just beforehand for the Johnston Canyon Campground.

ProTip! The Bow Valley Parkway is a popular Banff scenic drive and destination all to itself. Go slowly in order to take photos and look for wildlife!

Banff National Park Wildlife
Spotted this guy nibbling on a grassy area along the road…

From Lake Louise to Johnston Canyon, the ride will take about 30 minutes.

The fastest way is to take the TransCanada Highway going east. Get off exit 50 for the Banff-Windermere Highway toward Castle Junction. Turn left off the exit. Then take a right about 1 mile up the road onto the Bow Valley Parkway-Highway 1A. The Johnston Canyon hiking area will be on the left after about 4 miles.

If you’re in the Lake Louise area and hoping to do some Banff wildlife spotting along the way, why not take the Bow Valley Parkway-Highway 1A directly to Johnston Canyon.

It adds about 15-20 minutes to the drive (more if you stop to take photos!) and can be accessed by passing over the TransCanada Highway and turning right onto the Bow Valley Parkway-Highway 1A.  The Johnston Canyon trail will come up on your left.

Johnston Canyon Tour

Banff National Park Town

Johnston Canyon is suitable for all ages and levels of physical fitness, which makes it easily accessible to independent-minded travelers.

However, if you haven’t rented a car for your Banff trip, you can book a Johnston Canyon tour. Going with a guide is also a great way to learn about the landscape.

Keep in mind, tours typically complete the hike to Johnston Canyon Lower Falls. Make sure it’s included in your tour if you’d like to continue on to Johnston Canyon Upper Falls. To continue on to the Ink Pots, you’ll need to go independently.

Would you like to do the Johnston Canyon ice walk?

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Traveling to Banff soon?

Research and book your hotels on TripAdvisor and Booking.com. I absolutely loved my stay at The Juniper Hotel. I’ve also had great stays at the Banff Aspen Lodge and the Fox Hotel & Suites.


Johnston Canyon Ice Walk
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34 thoughts on “What You Need to Know About the Johnston Canyon Ice Walk”

  1. Wow. This looks amazing. I’m adding it right now to my bucket list. I’m not a huge fan of the cold weather in general but I love iced and snowy landscapes… Such a contradiction! Your photos make me dream. Thank you for all the info and the tips!

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      Fantastic, Eloise! I hope you can make it for a visit soon. Banff and Johnston Canyon are gorgeous in winter.

  2. Beverley Goodsell

    If there are layers in the ice and it is only the start of the winter, I would hate to imagine how cold it must get when in the depth of the winter. It is definitely a sight to see in the winter, when it is covered in snow and ice. It must be incredible to see a waterfall frozen over!

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      I thought the same, Beverley! It was the start of winter and Banff was having a “milder” few weeks of temps just before we arrived. Definitely worth it though, regardless of temp, to see the frozen waterfalls in the canyon.

  3. Wow look at the frozen falls! I am not a fan of winter because I feel awfully cold but I do enjoy doing activities which take you through such breathtaking beauty. I love these views, the frozen ice and the blue water in between the white ice, it’s amazing. Not sure how easy or tough I will find it to walk through that, but I would love to do it anyway!

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      It’s an easy walk with a pair of ice cleats, Medha. That’s what makes Johnston Canyon a great walk or hike for all travelers in any season. Hope you can visit someday! 🙂

  4. Great advice for a great holiday on the snow! love this white view and I miss so much because now I am living in a kind of desert! Sony alpha is it so good as well for making video?

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      Two opposite landscapes for sure, Rocio! I’m not sure about video with the Sony A6000, but you would need to plug in a microphone.

  5. I did this hike a few years ago and loved it! I highly recommend getting cleats and poles from a place in town as well. I saw so many people just wearing tennis shoes and slipping everywhere!

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      Yes, Marissa! Same here. People weren’t prepared with the right gear. Definitely rent the ice cleats and poles.. Glad you enjoyed Johnston Canyon. 🙂

  6. Anita Hendrieka

    What a beautiful winter destination! I love how the waterfalls are frozen in time, such beautiful landscape. I think I have only seen summer photos of Johnston Canyon so it’s nice to see it in the winter time!

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      Ice and snow, so simple, yet stunning! Hope you can see Johnston Canyon in person someday, Anita.

  7. Banff is so high on my list and it looks incredible to visit in winter time! I’ve never done a hike required ice cleats, but I would love to try it sometime, it seems so much more adventurous than my average hikes. Thanks for the great tips – will save this one for when I visit one day

  8. Definitely not a fan of cold weather, but this gorgeous hiking trail might convince me to get out of my comfort zone. The photos are amazing, and I’m sure you had an amazing experience.

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      Thanks for reading, Bella. Johnston Canyon could win you over for sure. 🙂

  9. Carol Perehudoff

    I did an ice canyon walk in Jasper and it was one of the most magical winter experiences imaginable. I’d love to check out the Johnston Canyon, too, what a fantastic way of connecting with the Rockies.

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      Ah, sounds amazing! We didn’t make it up to Jasper on this trip, only in summer. I’d love to go back and head further north, Carol. Thanks for the inspiration. 🙂

  10. Frozen waterfalls always look so spectacular! I’ve been wanting to visit Banff for awhile now so this is just more of an incentive. I’m glad you mentioned the cleats because I wouldn’t have thought of using those.

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      Yes, definitely get some cleats in town. Your body will thank you! Hope you get to Banff soon, Vicky!

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      Hi Jennifer,
      Thanks for reading. 2, 2 1/2 hours is good because that allows for taking photos, stopping to just enjoy the scenery, and making the full trip up to Upper Falls. Allow more time if you want to go on to the Ink Pots. Enjoy!

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      Thanks for reading, Sydney. Glad the post was helpful and enjoy your trip!!

  11. Hi! I’ll be travelling with my husband and 3 kids (10, 8 and 5) to the ice walk in the next couple of weeks. Would enough ice have formed for us to view the amazing formations?

    All of the offered tours only allow kids 8 and above. I’m wondering why is there an age limit for these tours. Is the walk suitable for a 5 year old? If we choose to not go with a tour, can we bring our kids on the walk without a guide? Can we do a shorten version of the walk but still see some of the amazing formations?

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      Thanks for reading, Lydia! The ice formations will depend on the temperatures. It’s currently 20F in Banff and if that were to continue until your visit, yes, you’d see some amazing formations. As for is the walk suitable for kids under 8, I did see a few families with young kids while I was there. Keep in mind, depending on the weather, the entire walkway can be covered in ice. So, I saw a few younger kids sliding down some sections of the path on their bottoms. (They had snow pants on.) The walk itself isn’t very long or difficult. I’d definitely recommend ice cleats because a couple sections require a short uphill walk. All in all, though, I think you and your family would manage just fine, barring any extreme conditions because of a huge storm or something. Enjoy! Banff is incredible. 🙂

  12. Thanks for responding so quickly. We will definitely get the ice cleats for the kids and grownups (wouldn’t want to be sliding down on my bottoms ?)

  13. Hi! My family became a big fan of Banff since last visit and we have a plan to go back to there again at the end of December.
    We love to do Johnson caynon ice walk. Can we do without a guide? Because we like to ice walk along our paces. Our kids are almost adults.
    Thank you for this beautiful post!!

    Sarah

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      Thanks for reading, Sarah. Banff is definitely a destination to revisit again and again. You can absolutely do Johnston Canyon without a guide as long as you have a car to get you there. Don’t forget your ice spikes and enjoy Banff!!

  14. This is amazing. Going in a few weeks for my first time- are private tours available? Any recommendations for best gear to stay warm???

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      Thanks for reading, Caryn. So exciting about your upcoming trip to Banff! I didn’t see any private tours available but if you inquired directly with a tour operator perhaps they might be able to customize something for you. I wore what I would wear skiing. I have my ski packing list you could use for help. Base layers are important, as are snow pants to make sure you stay dry. 🙂

  15. We will be in Banff Dec 2019 and will have a rental car.
    Is it possible to do this Johnston Canyon Ice walk independently with our 8 year old child.
    Apart from cleats and warm clothes what else would we need ?

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      Hi Minh!

      Yes! Johnston Canyon Ice Walk is totally doable with an 8 year old. We saw toddlers on that walk.

      Cleats and warm clothes are musts. Pack snacks and snowshoes if you plan to pass the falls to the ink pots as it can get snowy there.

      Enjoy!

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