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The Ink Pots Hike via Johnston Canyon

Five pristine aquamarine coloured pools named the Ink Pots are a great destination for a picnic in Banff National Park. The trail to the Ink Pots is well marked, though moderately difficult with an elevation gain of 335 metres over 5.9 kilometres. On a summer weekend it can be a very busy place but if you go early or late in the day you might get lucky and have the place to yourself.

The Ink Pots Hike via Johnston Canyon

Plan on a picnic once you reach the Ink Pots

The Hike to the Ink Pots

Do the Ink Pots hike in Banff National Park with a start at either the Johnston Canyon parking lot or at the Moose Meadows Trailhead (just a kilometre or two further to the west) for a less scenic but quieter alternative. Certainly I prefer the Johnston Canyon route for its captivating beauty though on a weekend it’s incredibly crowded and parking is at a premium. Cars were parked down the highway for some distance on a recent spring weekend. The Johnston Canyon hike is considered to be one of the busiest hikes in Banff National Park.

The Ink Pots Hike via Johnston Canyon

Head up Johnston Canyon by 9 – 9:30 AM and there aren’t many people around

Johnston Canyon, named for a prospector who staked a claim here back in the 1880’s, is truly beautiful and it’s easy to understand why so many people visit. Catwalks suspended from the canyon wall allow you to get close – in a safe way to the flowing water. It’s also an easy, family friendly kind of hike.

The Ink Pots Hike via Johnston Canyon

It’s always a thrill being right beside a roaring river

The Lower Falls are reached at the 1.1 kilometre mark. Take the time to cross the creek and walk through a natural tunnel for an up-close view of the falls. Be prepared to get a little wet from the spray. Continue to the Upper Falls at the 2.7 kilometre mark. This part of the hike requires more vertical gain so you start to lose the crowds. The view of the Upper Falls is wonderful. You can see these falls via a catwalk to their base but again you’ll get covered in fine spray. If you continue up the trail for just another five minutes you can look at the falls from above – and get a real sense of the power of the water. (You’ll have to do this if you’re going to the Ink Pots.)

The Ink Pots Hike via Johnston Canyon

Looking down at the crowds at the lower falls on my return from the Ink Pots

The Ink Pots Hike via Johnston Canyon

Sometimes the trail can get a little jammed

The Upper Falls are covered by what is called a travertine drape – powdery limestone formed with the help of algae removing carbon dioxide during photosynthesis with calcium carbonate (limestone) as a waste product. According to Graeme Pole, author of Classic Hikes in the Canadian Rockies, “25 species of algae have been identified here and this may be the largest travertine drape in the Rockies.” In the winter this wall is popular with ice climbers.

The hike to the ink Pots via Johnston Canyon

Hike to the end of this catwalk to admire the Upper Falls and the travertine drape

From the Upper Falls take a short 0.2 kilometre spur trail to meet the trail coming up from Moose Meadows. From that intersection, it’s another 2.7 kilometres to the Ink Pots. This part of the trail winds through the trees, gaining elevation before it descends to the Ink Pots and the meadows.

You can see the trail continuing from the Ink Pots northwest along Johnston Creek. Two backpacking trips can be done from here; one to Mystic Pass and Lake (mostly in the trees) and one via the Johnston Creek Valley to Pulsatilla Pass and Baker Lake – though it is challenging and requires three to four days.

The Ink Pots Hike via Johnston Canyon

The junction to Mystic Lake is another 2.2 kms ahead

The Ink Pots themselves are mineral springs that differ in colour because each pool fills at a different rate. According to a sign the milky-green pools fill more slowly and have a heavier suspension of fine materials than the clear, deep-blue pools. Year round the water temperature of these pools is about 4°C.

The Ink Pots Hike via Johnston Canyon

People are asked not to throw ANYTHING into the Ink Pots

The Ink Pots Hike via Johnston Canyon

The Ink Pots can get very busy but of you go early you may almost have the place to yourself

The Ink Pots Hike via Johnston Canyon

You’ll be entranced with the views and the colour

The Ink Pots Hike via Johnston Canyon

Swirling circles in the sandy bottoms of the pools indicate the outlets of both air and water bubbles

If you’ve forgotten food and drinks you can purchase them at the bistro at the start of the Johnston Canyon Trail. Allow 2.5 – 4 hours to do the return hike.

Other hikes in Banff National Park you might enjoy:

The Ink Pots Hike via Johnston Canyon

Leigh McAdam

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
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Author Leigh

Avid world traveler. Craves adventure – & the odd wildly epic day. Gardener. Reader. Wine lover. Next big project – a book on 100 Canadian outdoor adventures.

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Join the discussion 7 Comments

  • Cutler Sports says:

    I’m fascinated by this beautiful nature, simply beautiful place!

  • Kati says:

    Hi Leigh,

    I’ve been following your blog for some time now.

    We visited Canada (BC, Yukon and a bit of Alberta) last year, and I wish I had discovered your blog before our trip because I could have gotten a bit more info on various hikes! :) Turns out we hiked up to the upper falls at Johnston Canyon but didn’t go on to the Inkpots. I didn’t expect much and it was already very late in the day when we started up Johnston Canyon. How wrong I was!! They look divine (that photo with the mountain backdrop – WOW!) and I wish we’d had the time to see them! Maybe next time… :)

  • Seymour Balling says:

    Nice post!

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