Johnston Canyon + the Ink Pots: Hiking in Banff National Park
Hiking Canada's national parks
Welcome 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: choose your own adventure
At 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.
Leaving the crowds behind
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.
Johnston Canyon official website
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.
Every Good Boy Does FABULOUS
These 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.
Falls, falls, falls
Falls 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.)
Up top there, a post-lunch branch ride fiesta. And below, here’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.
Fox and rabbit therapy
We 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.
End of Nordic ski trail
I enjoyed learning from this sign that I’d just spent the better part of the afternoon on a Nordic ski trail without knowing it. That's Canada for ya.
Holiday card outtakes
Which photo should we go with? I'm partial to the one with the extra personality.
You can see two of the Ink Pots in the next photo 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.
You belong among the wildflowers
And this gorgeous crew. These lovely wildflowers are a tiny taste of what you’ll see when I take you to Sunshine Mountain.
A moment of zen
And I’ll close with one of my signature meditative water flow videos. Don’t ask — I don’t know. Just roll with it and turn on the sound for a moment of zen. Talk to you soon.