International Travel

Ice Walk in Johnston Canyon in Banff National Park

Would you hike into a snowy and icy canyon when the temperature dips to -21°C (-5.8°F)? If the answer is yes, then this adventure is for you. While in Banff, Canada, I took a break from skiing to go on a 3-mile ice walk with Discover Banff Tours.

The drive along the Bow Valley Parkway in Banff National Park is super scenic. Our guide Jeff was a wealth of knowledge about the area and shared some facts and stories during the drive. It’s the original road linking Banff and Lake Louise. It was built by immigrant prisons of Ukrainian, Hungarian, and German descent in interment camps during World War I. It was improved by work camps in the 1930s. The 48-kilometer paved road has stellar views of the pinnacles of Castle Mountain. Along the way I enjoyed chatting with Jeff and the rest of the group including two people from Texas, two from London, and two from Toronto.

Johnston Canyon is one of the most popular hiking areas in Banff National Park during the summer. In winter, the crowds are non-existent. We strapped on ice spikes and started our ice walk about 9:15am. It was a beautiful morning but it was frigid as we walked into the forest and across a bridge to our first stop by some very cute bungalows. In 1926, Walter and Marguerite Camp purchased the log tea house for $3000 and developed a bungalow motor camp. They expanded the camp for decades for a total of 36 bungalows in 1953. The Johnston Canyon Lodge and Bungalows is still operated by members of the Camp family. They’re closed in winter, but I’d love to stay in one during the summer or early fall.

As we walked along steel catwalks suspended on one of the canyon walls, Jeff pointed out a few things. First was one of many ice falls along the canyon walls. We stopped to see some seashell fossils in the rock.

At about the half-mile mark, we got to the short turn-off for Lower Falls and Jeff told us we were going in one-by-one. I went first crossing a small bridge and going through a short tunnel that opened to the view spot of Lower Falls and its stunning plunge pool. I couldn’t stop saying, “wow.”

From there we continued hiking through the pine forest making stops at Twin Falls and Stella Falls.

Upper Falls is about six minutes beyond Stella Falls. The steepest part of the trail is right at the end, but it’s not that bad. The short and slightly steep final climb leads to the overlook for Upper Falls. We enjoyed hot chocolate and cookies while admiring the naturally made icy features cascading down the falls and canyon walls. We also got to watch an ice climber near the falls.

On our way back, the sun started shining into Johnston Canyon adding sparkle to the snow and ice. It was -13°C (8.6°F) when we finished three mile round trip ice walk about 11:30am. It was a cool adventure…literally!

For more on Jennifer’s trip to Banff, check out blog How to Spend 3 Days in Banff on a Winter Vacation.