A Johnston Canyon hike – we found the secret cave!
30 minutes outside of Banff, you’ll find this beautiful place. Johnston Canyon has a lot to offer for all different ages. The original Johnston Canyon hike will usually lead you to one or two of the falls along the trail, but for the adventurous ones there’s more to see – what about a secret cave off the beaten path?
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How to get here
Whichever direction you come from (Banff, Golden, Radium Hot Springs or Lake Louise) you’ll need to get on Highway 1A. It’s right next to Trans Canada Highway and you’ll have to drive on it for about 30 minutes before getting to the parking lot where the trail begins. The parking lot is right next to Johnston Canyon resort and can get very crowded, especially during summer. Try to get here early in the morning or later in the evening to avoid the crowds!
The Johnston Canyon hike – to the Lower Falls
When you’ve found a parking spot, it’s time to start the hike! Before you start walking, you might want to visit the washrooms or have a look at the map that you’ll find right at the beginning of the trail. To reach the Lower Falls, you need to walk 1,1 kilometres, one way, in a fairly easy terrain with not that much elevation. It takes about 30 minutes to get here.
Just simply follow the trail, and you’ll soon get to the Lower Falls. Once you’re there, don’t miss out on the opportunity to get a close view of the Lower Falls. If you cross the bridge, you’ll notice a tunnel through the canyon rock!
When you’re done at the Lower Falls, you can either walk back to your car if you don’t want to do the whole Johnston Canyon hike, or continue to the Upper Falls. If you’re interested in finding the secret cave, you’ll have to keep on walking!
How to find Johnston Canyon’s secret cave
The secret cave is in between the Lower Falls and the Upper Falls. We weren’t going to Johnston Canyon to see this, we were mainly looking forward to the falls, but we heard about this cave and couldn’t stop our eager to explore! Before I continue – if you want to visit the cave, please be careful. This cave is off the path and it can be dangerous, especially during winter when it’s icy. You can get seriously hurt. Also, in 2018 Parks Canada decided to completely forbid anyone to go there due to black swifts residing in the area. If this also applies when you’re visiting Johnston Canyon, please respect this and don’t go to the cave!
The cave will be found to your right, shortly before the Upper Falls. There are different unofficial dirt paths leading down to it. The one we took during winter was about 500 metres before the Upper Falls, while I know others who have found a way down just about 150 metres before it. I’m not going to tell you too much, part of the charm is finding the hidden cave yourselves – but now you know where to look for it!
The Johnston Canyon hike – all the way to the Upper Falls
If you get back to the trail and continue walking, you’ll finally reach the Upper Falls. A visit during winter might not give you a waterfall, but this beautiful ice formation instead. If it’s really cold, you could even see ice climbers on your hike! If you’re up for an adventure, why not take a private ice climbing lesson yourself?
The way to the Upper Falls is a bit tougher, with an elevation of 120 metres. It’s a 2,6 kilometres walk from the start of the trail and it takes about one hour to get here from the parking lot. There are two good ways to see the Upper Falls, one is from a platform above it and the other way is from a platform at the bottom of the falls. We enjoyed both viewpoints just as much!
Want to see more?
Are you looking for a longer hike? Maybe a hike to the Ink pots is something for you! If you start at Johnston Canyon Resort, it’s a 5,8 kilometres walk to get there. The Ink Pots are seven unique springs, only about 3 kilometres from the Upper Falls. We didn’t do the hike to them this time since we were out rather late in the afternoon, but we might go back to do that hike as well – read more about the Ink Pots here!
Useful information about the Johnston Canyon Hike
– Parts of the trail have catwalks with railings, while on other parts you just walk on a simple path – bring comfortable shoes.
– There are no washrooms along the trail, but you’ll find them next to the parking lot before you start the hike
– Going in winter? Bring ice cleats for your shoes! We didn’t since the conditions were good on the day we went, but I do recommend that you use it if you’re doing the hike in winter – it can get rather icy!
– Do you want to stay for the night? Stay in a cozy cabin right next to the hike, or a hostel less than 10 minutes away with mountains in the background!
Check it out here! And here!
Update June 2019: A friend told me that there are now signs saying the trail to the secret cave in Johnston Canyon is closed – if that is the case when you visit, make sure to respect that! Not only are you protecting the wildlife, but you can also get fined for not obeying the signs.