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Johnston Canyon + the Ink Pots: Hiking in Banff National Park

Johnston Canyon Hike and The Inkpots Banff National Park | Umami GirlWelcome to the first post in what promises to be a truly picturesque series on hiking the national parks of Alberta and British Columbia, Canada. Today we’ll be showing off Johnston Canyon and The Ink Pots in Banff National Park. Our family discovered right here that we’ve reached a stage where we all love hiking, and I can’t think of anything better. The littlest Cope, now 8, needed some encouragement from time to time in the form of, “Think of how all this altitude training will improve your gymnastics!” But otherwise we fielded few complaints. Small price to pay for a new world of magical experiences.

Johnston Canyon Hike and The Inkpots Banff National Park | Umami GirlAt Johnston Canyon you can choose your own adventure. There’s a more crowded 1.7-mile hike to the Upper Falls (3.5 miles round-trip), which takes you on paved paths and the catwalk type thingy in the photo above. There’s an elevation gain of about 120 feet (which doesn’t begin at sea level, let me tell you), and the scenery is MAGNIFICENT, but otherwise this part of the journey feels a little less  hikey and a little more touristy.

The second phase of the trip, from the Upper Falls to the Ink Pots, climbs higher through the woods on dirt paths and is much less crowded. The trail opens up at the end to beautiful meadows and the Ink Pots, seven cold mineral springs that bubble to the surface. Although they’re all in close proximity, each is a different color due to the mineral composition of the spring. I’m surprised how few people decided to continue on for the additional 1.9 miles to the Ink Pots. Maybe they’ve packed their schedules, or maybe they don’t know what they’re missing. But dudes. Do it. The total round-trip distance for this hike is 7.2 miles. We got a seriously late start on the day and still had plenty of time, even with kids.

Here’s a link to the official website for the area in case you’re in information-seeking mode. If you’d like to browse photos and endure some of my color commentary (both literal and figurative), keep scrolling.

Johnston Canyon Hike and The Inkpots Banff National Park | Umami GirlThe colors at Johnston Canyon — and in Banff National Park in general — are stunning. Of course everyone coos over the brilliant blue-greens of the glacial waters. (In fact, I last visited Banff as a teenager, and the colors of the lakes didn’t disappoint this time around despite seriously high expectations and vibrant memories. How often can you say that?) At Johnston Canyon I couldn’t get over the greens and yellows of the landscape, either. Look at that moss. WHAT.

Johnston Canyon Hike and The Inkpots Banff National Park | Umami GirlThese two made fantastic ambassadors from the under-10 set. I won’t say there were zero complaints, but there weren’t many. They’re both full of personality and things to say, which helps to keep bears away, too. The one on the left (i.e. mine) said to her violin teacher the other day while reviewing the treble clef line names, “OR it could be Every Good Boy Does FABULOUS.” Just to give you an idea of where we’re coming from.

Johnston Canyon Hike and The Inkpots Banff National Park | Umami GirlJohnston Canyon Hike and The Inkpots Banff National Park | Umami GirlJohnston Canyon Hike and The Inkpots Banff National Park | Umami GirlFalls falls falls. Or as we said in Iceland last year, Foss foss foss, am I right? Same idea, different language. We are all earthlings. (Bonus points if you caught that reference and know it’s me copping to my age.)

Johnston Canyon Hike and The Inkpots Banff National Park | Umami GirlJohnston Canyon Hike and The Inkpots Banff National Park | Umami GirlPost-lunch branch ride fiesta.

Johnston Canyon Hike and The Inkpots Banff National Park | Umami GirlHere’s a rare downhill moment on the way from the Upper Falls to the Ink Pots. (Of course that means the way back is downhill galore.) This is a good indication of what the trail feels like otherwise.

Johnston Canyon Hike and The Inkpots Banff National Park | Umami GirlWe saw a fox! This was our first glimpse of wildlife larger (though barely) than the insanely giant rabbits they have in Calgary. Side note, I might need therapy after seeing those in people’s yards. The fox was a fitting sight for our crew since we met while living in London, and similar foxes run rampant there.

Johnston Canyon Hike and The Inkpots Banff National Park | Umami GirlI enjoyed learning from this sign that I’d just spent the better part of the afternoon on a Nordic ski trail without knowing it.

Johnston Canyon Hike and The Inkpots Banff National Park | Umami GirlHere’s our crew looking smiley.

Johnston Canyon Hike and The Inkpots Banff National Park | Umami GirlAnd here’s where you really get to know them.

Johnston Canyon Hike and The Inkpots Banff National Park | Umami GirlYou can see two of the Ink Pots in the photo above and immediately notice the variation in water color. So cool, right? And check out this super-short Instagam video to see the water bubbling up from underground. 

Johnston Canyon Hike and The Inkpots Banff National Park | Umami GirlJohnston Canyon Hike and The Inkpots Banff National Park | Umami GirlThese two again, in their favorite shirts.

Johnston Canyon Hike and The Inkpots Banff National Park | Umami GirlJohnston Canyon Hike and The Inkpots Banff National Park | Umami GirlMy loves. 

Johnston Canyon Hike and The Inkpots Banff National Park | Umami GirlAnd this gorgeous crew. These lovely wildflowers are a tiny taste of what you’ll see when I take you to Sunshine Mountain in another post.

Johnston Canyon Hike and The Inkpots Banff National Park | Umami GirlPhotography in action…

Johnston Canyon Hike and The Inkpots Banff National Park | Umami GirlGot ’em.

Johnston Canyon Hike and The Inkpots Banff National Park | Umami GirlJohnston Canyon Hike and The Inkpots Banff National Park | Umami GirlA few of my favorite outdoorspeople in their natural habitat, a.k.a. THE natural habitat. And I’ll close with one of my signature meditative water flow videos. Don’t ask — I don’t know.  

You made it! Thanks for reading. See you soon.

Carolyn xx

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Hi there, I'm Carolyn, and I'm delighted you're here. I'm a NYC-area food, travel, yoga, coffee, wine, running, music making and book obsessive with a great family and a love for sharing it all with you. Grab a drink and come on in. Learn more.

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