Johnston Canyon to Ink Pots, Alberta

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I’m gunna be completely honest, this was probably one of my least favourite hikes i’ve done. Not because the scenery isn’t beautiful, quite the contrary, its absolutely stunning with its partially frozen waterfalls, colourful ink pots and streams scattered across the trail, but the crowds are a real turn off. My mistake for going on a Saturday during prime time, but it really took away from being one with nature, it didn’t provide that cleansing I usually get when i’m out in the mountains, instead caused a bit of stress.

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If you’re looking for a nice short stroll to the Upper and Lower Falls (5.4 km roundtrip), it’s great for the family, but can be extremely crowded. Think waiting in line at Disneyland crowed. I can’t imagine what the crowds would be like in the summer, but I think this trail would be best early in the morning or later in the evenings.

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Once you go past the Upper Falls and make a left turn to the Ink Pots, the crowds dissipate and there are a few really great hills to get your heart pumping. The Ink Pots are a gorgeous greeny, blue with bubbling sand underneath the surface. The mountains are in clear view and a great spot to grab a bite to eat.

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We took about 5 hours roundtrip for this trail, taking our time and taking photos and enjoying the Ink Pots while snow drifted down.

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7/52: Johnston Canyon to Ink Pots

  • Rating: 5/10
  • Level: Easy (to Upper and Lower Falls) – Moderate (to Ink Pots)
  • Distance: 11.6 km roundtrip to Ink Pots (in and out), 5.4 km roundtrip to Upper Falls (Lower Falls are 1.1 km in)
  • Elevation:  215m
  • Time: 5 hrs (with crowds and long photography sessions)
  • Pros:
    • Good workout heading towards ink pots
    • Year round hike
    • Beautiful scenery
  • Cons:
    • Extremely busy, be prepared to wait in line to walk to and from the Lower and Upper Falls
    • Slippery during this time, spikes were a huge help in some areas
  • Overall: Very popular and crowded. Past the Upper Falls towards the Ink Pots the crowds dissipate and it is much more enjoyable. The falls and trail are beautiful if you can handle to crowds.

Directions: From Calgary, Head west for about 120 km on Highway 1, you will see a sign for Johnson Canyon after you pass Banff and will travel on the Bow Valley Parkway following the signs for Johnston Canyon for about 18 km. There are a few different parking lots, but we just parked at the first one we saw.

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