In summer 2019 we toured the Canadian Rockies including the magnificent Banff National Park. The Park is renowned for its many hiking routes and we chose to spend a day on one of the most popular trails at Johnston Canyon. This trail is famous for some wonderfully scenic waterfalls flowing through a limestone gorge and leads on to the unique landscape known as The Ink Pots.
Our day began with an early morning scenic drive west from Canmore into the Banff National Park with the classic backdrop of the Rockies mountains along the route.
Johnston Canyon is a very popular tourist site and so arriving early we were fortunate to find a parking space in the Resort car park near to the trail entrance. The trail consists of three stages, the Lower Canyon Falls, a climb to the Upper Falls and then the choice of continuing up and over forested hillsides to Johnston Creek Meadows and the area known as The Ink Pots. A ‘there and back’ hike of just over 7 miles.
The trail path initially winds through forestry with the first views of the meandering river and series of small cascade waterfalls through the creek providing a taste of the sights ahead. The rugged limestone rocks with tree topped slopes begin to narrow on each side and the powerful flow of the river provides some classic Canadian scenery.
As the gorge narrows the path heads upwards on the left side, eventually becoming a metal catwalk clinging to the canyon walls which allows you to walk just above the powerful, rip-roaring waters.
Reaching the Lower Canyon Falls there’s the wonderful sight of the cascading waters flowing thunderously over a cliff edge into a gorge. A bridge across the canyon provides an excellent vantage point and access to a small low tunnel through the rock for a view of the falls, experiencing the spray mist and thunderous sound, up close.
The Upper Falls
From Lower Falls, the trail route climbs for about a mile through a landscape of pine forest and rugged canyon until reaching the first of two viewpoints at the Upper Falls. The first viewpoint is a low level walkway which extends into the canyon giving the opportunity for you to directly view the plunging 30 metres drop of the impressive waterfall.
At the end of this walkway is a wide platform and it’s a very popular spot not just for the spectacular view, but also for those wanting a special photo, selfies or instagram shots. So it’s a case of taking your place in line to get ‘that’ photo with the backdrop of the superb falls!
The trail leads uphill to a second viewpoint of the top of the falls. This offers a stunning view of the dramatic natural landscape with the incredible flow of the river, swollen with springtime glacial melt waters, hurtling through limestone rock walls towards a clifftop ledge.
At this point, many people choose to end their hike and return back down the canyon. But with the opportunity to carry on across the mountain for two miles to visit The Ink Pots, we chose to continue on the trail. With far fewer tourists it was now much quieter and a peaceful ramble through cool forestry slopes with breaks in the trees offering occasional mountain views. We encountered some inquisitive golden-mantled ground squirrels as they darted ahead of us on the path, providing some entertainment along the way.
The Ink Pots and Johnston Creek Meadows
After hiking uphill through the forest, we then descended the slopes towards Johnston Creek Meadows with wonderful views of the beautiful landscape, the glacial river with a backdrop of lush pine forest and mountain peaks.
Walking down into the valley we were immediately drawn to the unique features named ‘The Ink Pots’. These unique pools, so named due to their distinctive blue green ink like colour, are formed by spring waters percolating from underneath a surface of soft sand and gravels.
The pools are a constant 4 degrees C temperature and it’s fascinating to walk around observing each one as the cold springs emerge from underground, a constant stream of air bubbles and swirling and ripples on the waters creating distinct changes in colour at each of the ‘Pots’. Some are milky green, others aquamarine or a clear green, blue hue, the colour effect caused by the different minerals in each pool.
We walked across to the shingle banks of the river creek, dipping our hands into the cold waters. The surrounding scenery of forests, mountain peaks, the clean refreshing air and the sound of rippling waters all made for one of those ‘time to stand and stare’ moments, to just choose a spot and appreciate what Mother Nature has created. This setting brought to mind a quote
“There is nothing more eloquent in nature than a mountain stream.”― John Muir
We even sampled some of the glacial waters as it looked so pure, but found out later this is not recommended as there’s a possibility of picking up some nasty bugs, although we were fine after some initial worries. Having soaked up this idyllic scenery and feeling refreshed it was time to head back over the hills and reflect on an outstanding hike in the Banff National Park.