Shannon Did What / Travel + Lifestyle Blog

Icewalking through Johnston Canyon

TravelShannon GuerreroComment

Have you ever wanted to walk through a frozen canyon?  Did you know you could do that?  What exactly is in a frozen canyon you ask?  Yes, everything is frozen.  There’s ice on the ground, the river is frozen, the canyon walls are covered in snow and ice and the gorgeous waterfalls are frozen solid.  In this case, since it was nearing the end of winter in Banff, the ice was starting melt leaving us with beautiful sights of both ice and rushing water running through the falls and river.  

Trekking through Johnston Canyon, especially in the winter, can be pretty tricky.  I would highly recommend wearing some kind of ice cleats to be able to walk on the icy floors.  The path can get very steep, so taking every safety precaution is a good idea.  Yes, you can visit Johnston canyon without ice cleats, but I really wouldn’t recommend it.  I saw people sliding around in sneakers, and they did not look steady.  I mean, I ate it while walking around Bow Summit because I slipped on some ice.  It hurt.  Trust me - ice cleats are the way to go!

There’s an awesome tour through Discover Banff Tours that can take you through frozen Johnston Canyon in Banff.  Actually, there are tons of tours that you can book through Discover Banff Tours.  They have both winter and summer specific tours.  Some of the summer tours are whitewater rafting, horseback riding and guided hikes.  Winter tours include the Icewalk, snowshoeing, dogsledding and heli skiing among many other options.  Truth be told, I really couldn’t decide between the Icewalk Tour and the snowshoeing tour.  I’ve always wanted to go snowshoeing so it actually was a tough choice.  Ultimately, I decided I wanted to be walking through the frozen canyon, rather than walking around above looking in.  

On the tour you'll see each of these sites (with descriptions from Discover Banff Tours):

- Bow Valley Parkway:  Travel through prime wildlife habitat on the way to the trailhead.
- Catwalks:  Steel walkways built into the canyon walls give an airy view of the gorge below.
- Lower falls:  Walk through a natural cave feature for a unique view of the lower falls.
- Rockies geology:  The rock is ancient, the creek is old, and the canyon you are walking in is young. Sort out the mystery on your tour.
- Upper falls:  Gigantic pillars of ice are the highlight of the tour. Ice climbers can often be seen scaling the frozen columns.

You can visit these locations on your own, but Discover Banff Tours just makes it so seamless for you - pick-up, drop-off, knowledge, gear, etc.  For the Johnston Canyon Icewalk, they provided the handy ice cleats!  Our guide, Hugh, was extremely knowledgable about the canyon and Banff especially after it being his 11th winter season with Discover Banff Tours.  Hopefully I’m remembering that number correctly! 

He actually had a funny folklore about how Johnston Canyon came to be called Johnston Canyon. It’s pretty long so I’ll just give you key plot points!  Back in the day, people thought there was gold in the Canadian Rockies. This one guy, Johnston, accidentally dropped a few gold pieces in front of some other towns men and they took notice.  The other men gathered together to raise funds to pay Johnston to tell them where the canyon was that he found the gold.  They eventually paid him off and learned the location of Johnston's Canyon.  The men set out to dig for gold.  Months and months passed, but no gold was found and neither was Johnston.  And now all these years later - Johnston Canyon stuck.

The actual walk, or I should probably say hike, was definitely a moderate one.  There were some steep areas, and in a small group, you have to keep up with the group pace.  I’ve mentioned before that I have a blood disorder that affects the amount of oxygen that I get to my lungs, so this was definitely a little more challenging for me.  Add in the high altitude and at times, I felt like my lungs were on fire.  Our tour guide, however, was very accommodating, pausing to take in the sites, for pictures or just to tell us more tidbits about the area.  It was all worth it for the maple cookie and hot chocolate break.  You know how Canada is famous for their maple.  Can someone please send me a box of those cookies? They were crazy delicious.

Overall, I think it’s definitely a great idea to add Johnston Canyon to your Banff bucket list.  Even in the summer months, it is a flourishing, beautiful canyon.  I think it’s worth mentioning that I’ve heard it can get extremely crowded there, especially in the summer.  The best time to visit is in the early morning or late afternoon when the crowds die down.  The 8am tour with Discover Banff Tours is perfect to avoid such crowds.

Yours Truly // Shannon


To see what tours and activities Discover Banff Tours offers, click here.

*Sponsored Post: Tour provided courtesy of Discover Banff Tours! All opinions are my own.