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Johnston Canyon in Winter

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I’m not sure how I missed Johnston Canyon during my 2009 visit to the Canadian Rockies.  It’s one of Banff National Park’s most popular attractions, but for some reason back then, I skipped it.  I think that’s actually a good thing, though, because it allowed me to experience Johnston Canyon for the first time, during the winter — which really is it’s most remarkable time.

Above, you see the end of the trail, where a catwalk takes you out into the middle of the canyon, above Johnston Creek, for a good look at the Upper Falls. It’s a 2.7 kilometer hike, one way, to get here, and it’s pretty easy, even when there’s snow on the trail.  You can choose a shorter hike, as well, to the lower falls, which is only 1.1 kilometers from the trailhead.

Let’s start back at the beginning…

… where the trail begins with a pleasant walk through the forest.  Sure, it’s snow-covered, but the Johnston Canyon trail is so popular, there’s very little chance that you’ll need snow shoes.

It’s essential that on this trail, and many others, you wear a set of ice cleats on your shoes. They’re like the chains you’d put on your car tires, only they’re made for your feet. Without them, you’ll slip and slide — and fall — a lot. My pair of ICEtrekkers cost about $35, and they proved to be a great investment.

Near the start of the trail, you’ll pass by the Johnston Canyon Resort, which offers cabins, a restaurant, and gift shop — in the summer.  Visit when there’s snow on the ground, and all those facilities will be closed.

Oh, and what’s the deal with this sign?  Half a mile?  A mile and a half?  What happened to the kilometers?

Ahh, that’s better.  As you can see, there are destinations beyond the upper falls, most notably the “Inkpots” — a collection of small, colorful ponds.  I didn’t go all the way to the Inkpots, but from what I’ve read, they’re somewhat disappointing, given that they require a nearly-12 kilometer round-trip.

It’s not long before the fun begins.  Much of the trail through Johnston Canyon follows a series of catwalks, which take you through narrow slots, and oftentimes directly above the creek.

At least part of the time, the creek will be frozen-over, and covered with lumpy snow.

Other times, the moving water breaks through, in just a few select spots.

This is one of the more wide-open spots along the trail, where you’re able to step back from the pathway and enjoy the view.

I’m willing to bet that there are some waterfalls along here, during the un-frozen months.

Don’t forget to look above you…

… at the towering cliffs and trees that almost swallow you up.

At the lower falls, a bridge takes you over the creek.  You can view part of the frozen falls from the bridge, but for a better look…

… cross the bridge…

… and go through this tunnel, which was created naturally by the rushing water.  In the 1920’s, Walter Camp spent a few hours with a pick-axe, enlarging the tunnel and leveling out the floor, turning it into a tourist attraction. Walter Camp was an early resident of the Banff area, and in 1927, he and his wife purchased a tea house near the Johnston Canyon trailhead.

At the end of the tunnel, there’s a small area, big enough for just 3 or 4 people.  Here, you get the best view of the lower falls, as it dumps into a chilly, ice-encircled bowl.

Go back through the tunnel, then head uphill, towards the upper falls.

In moments, you reach another viewpoint of the lower falls and the tunnel.

The catwalks continue, as you make a slow ascent through the canyon.

I got distracted by a particularly photogenic squirrel, who was insistent on posing for me.

The snow-packed trail almost looked like a photo studio.

But the shoot didn’t last long, and I was hiking once again.

It wasn’t much further to the…

Upper Falls

Remember that photo from the top of the page?  The perfect photo spot is at the very end of the catwalk, so I had to wait a few minutes for the other visitors to clear out.  Once I had the right spot, I had a great view of the upper falls…

… and the giant wall of ice that the falls forms in winter.

Don’t forget to zoom in on the huge icicles for some nice photos.

Drivelapse Video

Here’s the time-lapse, dash-cam video of the drive up highway 1A, which includes a stop at Johnston Canyon:

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