Johnston's Canyon's popularity and proximity to Banff makes it nearly impossible to get to during the summer. Even on weekdays, the large parking area overflows with every type of car and the highway is usually lined with parked vehicles for at least a kilometer. Summer weekends -- I don't even want to think about it. For the Ink Pots, there's always the option to drive a little further down the highway, park at the Moose Meadows trailhead and hike in from there, but you miss the views of the canyon itself.
With all of this is mind, N and I figured a late-fall trek to Johnston's Canyon and beyond to the Ink Pots would be a nice diversion, since we'd missed getting out there all summer long.
Directions to the Johnston's Canyon trailhead are here.
My previous hikes in Johnston Canyon this season had both been in the spring, once in April, and before that in February. Both times there had been plenty of snow deep in the canyon, most of the falls were still frozen over and we did not venture beyond the Lower falls due to icy catwalks.
Happily, the entrance to the canyon was free of snow:
And look, running water! These mini-falls are on the way to the Lower falls. You can see part of the catwalk along the canyon walls on the rockface in the background:
As always, the deeper you get into the canyon, the more ice and snow you see. These logs were resting in the pool at the bottom of the Lower falls:
We were able to venture beyond the Lower falls, and from here everything had just a touch of ice. We passed a small creek beside the paved trail, and found the creek water just in the process of starting the freeze:
Yet the cliffs above the canyon were still covered in damp green moss:
One of the smaller falls between the Upper and Lower falls. Check out how it's just beginning to form ice on the surface:
At the end of the official trail, the catwalk descends right into the canyon at the base of the Upper falls. It ends right beside a giant orange rockface that is actually covered with a type of algae. And yes, this was just freezing over as well. There's some sort of cave at the top:
The Upper falls from the bottom. It's not frozen over, but it looks pretty cold to me:
Another shot of the algae wall freezing over:
From here there is a view from the top of the Upper falls, and then the Johnston's Canyon part of the hike ends. The path turns to a typical dirt trail and it's about a 4k hike to the Ink Pots, natural, coloured pools of water that collect near the river.
I originally did the Ink Pots hike one summer day many years ago. It was crowded and the "pools" were a disappointment because if they had a natural colour, it was the colour of mud.
This hike was much better. We had the trail to ourselves until we got to the, and even then, only a couple of other hikers were there. And the pools? Wow:
The valley itself was beautiful:
From here the trail continues on for hours. It's another 2k or so to a backcountry campground, and from there the trail forks into many backcountry options including Mystic Pass or Luellen Lake.
But, it was Halloween and N and I had other things to do, so we headed back through Johnston's Canyon and back out to civilization.