THIS SIDE TRAIL IS CLOSED IN THE SUMMER BECAUSE THE CAVE IS HOME TO BLACK SWIFTS, AN ENDANGERED MIGRATORY BIRD SPECIES. IT IS TAPED OFF AND ADMITTANCE HAS BEEN BANNED.
PLEASE STAY ONLY ON THE MAIN TRAIL AND DO NOT TRY TO GO DOWN TO THE CAVE UNTIL PARKS CANADA RE-OPENS ACCESS, USUALLY IN WINTER OR LATE FALL.
If you follow the popular Instagram hashtag, #ExploreAlberta, you’ll no doubt see variations on this magical view of Johnston Canyon throughout your feed:
The view mystified me. I’d been to Johnston Canyon more than a few times, but I couldn’t quite place where the picture was taken. Was there some secret trail to see the upper falls at Johnston Canyon? If there was, I was the only one who thought it to be secret – everyone else was hustling up and getting the pic! Johnston Canyon is perhaps the most popular hike in the Rocky Mountains. It has a large parking lot frequented with tour buses, the entire path is paved, and it is perfectly situated between Banff and Lake Louise. It’s got a clear gushing creek, towering trees, and a few locations where you can sneak through holes in the canyon wall to get up close with nature. I first visited Johnston Canyon in the early 80s, taking the rock wall pathway up to the lower falls.
Since moving back to Alberta, I’ve visited the canyon a few more times, but I’d never made it as far as the upper falls I had seen in so many photos. Until this weekend. Previous trips to the upper falls had stalled out just steps from the view I had so desperately sought. With young, tired kids, we had turned around too soon. This time I kept my eyes open for the small trail that darted off the paved path just before the upper falls.
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To get the view from inside the large cave carved out by the Johnston Creek, you need to navigate a slippery slope down to the creek bed. After trying a few routes, the boys and I finally made it down and it was a view waiting 30+ years for. The creek has carved out a huge sweeping cave over the centuries leaving a tall cliff in the crook of the curve. It almost looks like James Bond Island, or any of those other precarious islands you see near Phuket, Thailand. If you snuggle deep into the cave, you get the inspiring and sweeping panorama You can take a small pathway to snuggle in behind the gushing waterfall. And make sure you leave an Inukshuk so that they know that we were there (although many others choose to leave graffiti on the rock walls). It took us about 2 hours to wander up to the upper falls, sit around for a while, have lunch, and then make our way back down. Johnston Canyon is a very easy hike, it’s very busy, but if you push past the crowds at the lower falls and find the pathway down to the upper falls, you’ll be rewarded.
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