Johnston Canyon and the Ink Pots

Banff, Alberta

After many days of hiking, the nimble hiker finally agreed to a day off.  So we decided to just check out some things near the town of Banff.  One of the distinct features of the town is Tunnel Mountain, which hovers over the town.

Tunnel Mountain from the main street in Banff

So where’s the tunnel in Tunnel Mountain?  Well, there is no tunnel.  When the railroad first came to the area one of the obstacles in the way was this small mountain.  One of the plans was to build a tunnel through the mountain, but plans changed and the railroad went around it instead of through it.  But the name stuck.

The trail to the top is only three miles round trip with an elevation rise of 900 feet, but its proximity to the town make it a popular hike.  Since King George VI and Queen Elizabeth hiked to the top of the mountain during their 1939 Royal Tour, the nimble hiker decided we should do it also, even on our day off.  So up we climbed, not letting the threat of rain impede us.  The summit is an open, rocky area and there is something of interest looking in all four directions.

To the north is the town of Banff

To the west is the famous Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel

Couldn’t see the hotel? Here’s a zoom shot

To the east is our campground. Can’t see it through the trees? Imagine what we got with our satellite dish!

To the south is the Fairmont Banff Springs Golf Course. Hey Dave, we made you a tee time!

After a restful day off (with a climb up Tunnel Mountain), we headed around 30 miles to the north to Johnston Canyon, one of the most popular hikes in Banff National Park.  The hike is very popular because it offers something for all level of visitors.  There is a paved trail that leads up the canyon along a walkway built into the cliff.  In less than a mile you arrive at the Lower Falls, one of two main waterfalls in the canyon.

Walkway to the Lower Falls

The Lower Falls can easily be seen from the trail, but if you look at the picture below you’ll see an opening in the rock to the right of the falls.  Its a cave through the rock.

The Lower Falls with the cave on the right

After crossing a narrow bridge you can go through the tunnel for a close up look at the falls.

Up close with the falls after going through the cave

Some visitors turn around at that point but many continue up the canyon.  Along the way there are many smaller falls that are quite beautiful.

After gaining more elevation, the trail winds through the woods for a bit over a mile and a half up the canyon to the Upper Falls,

The Upper Falls

At this point the non-hikers turn around and make their way back down the canyon.  But to see one of the coolest sights of this hike requires another two miles up the trail, then back down into beautiful Moose Meadows, where you find a series of pools known as the Ink Pots.

The Ink Pots are seven pools of clear water that are formed by water bubbling up from underground.

The Ink Pots are impressive but the views around Moose Meadows are pretty spectacular.

Moose Meadows

The trail through Moose Meadows

The foliage in Banff National Park has decided that Fall has arrived.  Colors along the drive back to the town were very impressive.

We arrived back in town and looked for a place to park so we could access some Wifi at one of the many coffee shops in town.  But the street was blocked by a local resident who had no regards for traffic.

Our stay in the Canadian Rockies now comes to an end and we will soon begin heading south to the good old USA.  We have really enjoyed our visit to Alberta.  The cities of Calgary and Edmonton were very impressive.  They were clean, vibrant, and populated by very friendly people.  The National Parks in Jasper and Banff were spectacular and filled with exciting sights.  We were encouraged to visit the parks in September and are very glad we listened, for a number of reasons.  The most important reason is that school is back in session.  As a result the crowds are much smaller than they would have been a month earlier.  We can’t imagine what it would have been like just finding a place to park during the peak visitation season.  The other main reason this is a good time to visit is the weather.  While the snow and cold we encountered early in our visit to Jasper slowed us a bit, the snow on the mountains added to the beauty of the area.  And the cool weather made for very comfortable hiking conditions.

But now it is time to head south.  More on that later . . .

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20 Responses to Johnston Canyon and the Ink Pots

  1. GORGEOUS! Your idea of a day off is pretty funny…but that hike looks like a worthwhile reason to ignore the need for rest!

  2. pmbweaver says:

    I think they should call it Tunneless Mountain.

    After that stressful hike, you can now be knighted into the Royal family.

    That hotel is ridiculous!

    Banff National Park is absolutely gorgeous! I love, love, love all the waterfalls! And the view is amazing! I just can’t believe how that local resident was so unwelcoming to such a nice tourist couple as you two.

    The Ink Pots are so neat. Can you just image what the first person to see these might have thought. WOW!

  3. Laurel says:

    Hahaha, some day off — a three-mile hike with a 900′ elevation gain! (I would have done the same. Can’t resist an interesting hike that’s right in front of me.) Those waterfalls and ink pots are so beautiful in Johnston Canyon.
    You guys have done a fantastic job of exploring the Canadian Rockies. We’ll be there in the next couple of years, so thanks for showing us the way!

    • placestheygo says:

      Glad we could help with your plans. I got a lot of my information from fellow bloggers, as well. I don’t think John mentioned that we stayed at the Whistler Campground in Jasper NP. This section has FHU and all sites are long pull thru with nice spacing. In Banff we chose Tunnel Mountain Trailer Court section which has FHU. All the sites are long pull off the side of the road.

      • Laurel says:

        Thanks, Pam — all of this information is so helpful! It really makes a difference to have guidance from someone who has been there (especially someone I know who gives good advice). 🙂

  4. Sherry says:

    I’m with Laurel, too funny, a 3 mile hike on your day off. I think I might call that slave driver something other than the nimble hiker. LOL! But seriously what beautiful hikes. Those waterfalls are gorgeous. I have so enjoyed your September visit to the Canadian National parks and now that you’ve done it, I won’t be so intimidated about September and the possibility of snow. It sure worked out great for you. And now I know just where to go and what to do. Can’t thank you enough.

  5. paul weaver says:

    What a beautiful area for hiking… must be in heaven! Oh, glad to see you are back in shorts!

  6. LuAnn says:

    Are you two planning to take a respite from hiking now that your time in Canada has come to an end? Thanks so much for showing us the beauty of this area. You have helped to set our itinerary for next year. Looking forward to seeing you both again soon.

    • placestheygo says:

      We are taking a forced break from hiking for a few days. Not much in this area and the MH was in need of attention. So, LuAnn, we had to take a few days off to complete household chores. I’m not happy about it but we hope to get somewhere soon and get back on the trail:) Looking forward to meeting up soon!

  7. Jodee Gravel says:

    Love the non-hiking day hike – great views (that hotel is massive!). As soon as I saw the lady with her big purse on the Lower Falls trail I figured it was an easier trek than your usuals 🙂 The layers of color at Moose Meadows are beautiful, and the Ink Pots are fascinating. Is the water warm or cold spring water?

    • placestheygo says:

      Yes, Jodee, the first mile of the trail is wheelchair accessible. It is a little uphill so pushing someone wouldn’t be easy. From there the next two sections each get steeper.

      The springs were cold. I was surprised. I thought they would be warm since the water was colorful and they bubbled from below. I was expecting a little Yellowstone.

  8. Janna says:

    Gorgeous photos guys, be sure and let us know if you come anywhere near us on your way back into the US.

    • placestheygo says:

      Janna, I just checked the map to see how far away Big Timber is. We are in Polson now and heading to Missoula tomorrow. From there we are heading toward Utah. It looks like you are just a little too far east:( We’ll be west all winter so maybe we can meet up somewhere in the southwest.

  9. I’m so envious of the fantastic hiking you do, even on your day off! Thanks for sharing your beautiful experiences. It all goes into my notes for our future travels. -Linda

  10. Hiking on a day off? what’s up with that? Thanks for the tip that September is actually the best time to visit. We were literally apprehensive of being there in September now we know better, thanks to all your great hikes!
    Those Ink pots are looked very interesting.

  11. Erin says:

    Great hikes. We did Johnston Canyon, but had to turn back from the upper falls when the lacing system on Mui’s hiking boots broke. So we never made it up to the Ink Pots … another hike to do when we return to the Canadian Rockies someday.

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