Johnston Canyon is a popular tourist attraction in Banff National Park, Canada’s oldest national park. In the summer, it’s an easy hiking trail with views of waterfalls, tunnels, and pools. In the winter, it’s a slightly harder hike, requiring ice cleats for most sane people, with a frozen version of the same views. For the adventurous, ice climbing is possible below a certain temperature.
- See photos of the falls unfrozen from Banff and Beyond
Although many go with a tour (I did it through Discover Banff), it’s not strictly necessary. The area has ample signage and established trails – it’s impossible to get lost. There’s no entrance fee to Johnston Canyon (there is one to enter the national park but once you’re through, there’s no additional fee for the canyon) and it’s open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Budget about two hours to see (and photograph) everything to your heart’s content. Dogs (on leash) are allowed.
According to our guide, no one is sure who Johnston really was. The rumor is that during the mid 1880s, when the Canadian Pacific Railway was being built, a group of weary workers in a mountain town bar came across a man who claimed to have literally struck gold. Eager to have a piece of the riches, they pressured the man into telling them where he had found the gold. Reluctantly, the man pointed east, towards the canyon, promising to meet them there the next day.
The next morning, the workers went searching for gold in the canyon but all they found were waterfalls and rock formations. Disappointed, they went back to the bar to drown their sorrows where the bartender informed them that the man from yesternight had in fact headed west.
They pressed the bartender – who was this trickster who had sent them on a wild goose chase?
“I’m not sure – I think he said his name was ‘Johnston.'”