The last item on my itinerary in Banff was to see the frozen waterfalls of Johnston Canyon that I heard so much about. I was cutting it close with having to drive back to Calgary and catch my flight, but decided to quickly rent a pair of ice cleats in town and head out to get as far as I could on the hike.The canyon is only one exit north of Banff, after which you’ll follow a small road in the forest for a good 20 minutes or so. This area is known as a wildlife haven, so keep your eyes open. I missed the sign for the canyon and went an extra 10 miles into the forest, but my frustration went away when I saw a grizzly bear as I was turning around (I definitely didn’t stop for a photo, as it had just come out of hibernation).
Once I found the parking lot at the trailhead, the first thing I noticed was no one else was wearing the ice cleats I had on. As I started to head up the very icy trail, I saw everyone in their regular shoes slipping and sliding. They might look ridiculous, but I can’t recommend the cleats enough if you go ice hiking. I was able to get to the top and back in no time and never slipped.
There are two canyons you can see here – the Lower Falls and the Upper Falls. The Lower Falls are closer and are only a 0.5-mile walk from the trailhead. They’re beautiful and were melting more since they were lower on the mountain. I finally got to see the blue-green mineral water that I had longed for at Lake Louise. With how fast I was going in my ice cleats, I wanted to try to get to the Upper Falls as well, which were said to be even more beautiful.
The Upper Falls are 1.5 miles from the trailhead, but if you have the right shoes and enough time it’s a beautiful walk. You alternate walking through the forest and walking along bridges next to the river. I found the walk to be very peaceful, as I was in between the morning and afternoon tour groups, so it was pretty empty. I don’t think you necessarily need a tour to see these unless you’d prefer to get detailed information about the area. The trail is very clearly marked, so you won’t get lost.
When I got to the Upper Falls, the frozen waterfalls wasn’t the part that stunned me the most at first – it was the people climbing them! They looked like they had done it many times before, but I think I’d be too scared of the ice cracking to do that.
The waterfalls themselves were amazing. I couldn’t believe so much water had frozen solid. Some people were even having lunch down below the waterfall.
If you’re going to Banff, I recommend carving out half a day to see the falls. As I recommended before, rent ice cleats (several shops sell them in town) and dress in layers, as it’s cold when you first begin and the parts when you’re in the forest. It’s not something you see every day and it makes a great place to get some beautiful photos.
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