Johnston Canyon and Ink Pots
Banff National Park
Time: 5 hours
Distance: 11.6 km (return)
Elevation Gain: 215 m
How To Get There: The trailhead is at the Moose Meadows parking lot on the Bow Valley Parkway 1.4 km west of Johnston Creek or 5 km east of Castle Junction.
Back in 2015, I had the chance to do this hike with Kim. However, when we did the hike the weather wasn't very cooperative so we ended up calling it a day after reaching the Upper Falls (see Johnston Canyon). This year, I decided to take my mom on this hike and we were fortunate enough to have blue skies making for a gorgeous spring day (the temperature was around 15 degrees). We met up in Banff at 10:00 am and reached the parking lot for Johnston Canyon and Ink Pots at around 10:30 am. Once we had our packs on, we headed out on the trail. The first portion of the hike (the Lower Falls and the Upper Falls at Johnston Canyon) are covered in my Johnston Canyon blog so feel free to check it out for details! In this blog, I'll only be talking about the trail after the Upper Falls. However, I did manage to get some more pictures of the canyon so I'll leave those below!
Once Mom and I completed the canyon portion of the hike (which is about 2.8 km of the 5.8 km trail), we stopped beside the falls to have a quick snack. After that, we continued up the trail, which at this point went from pavement to dirt.
There were quite a few people on the interpretive trail but the crowds thinned out a bit once we started on the trail to Inkpots. This might be because it is a little more challenging than the Johnston Canyon portion. After about five minutes of walking, we reached a clearing that had a fork in the road.
There is a sign that lets you know that left takes you to Moose Meadows and right takes you to the Inkpots. Once we turned right, we were immediately hit with a trail full of wet slushy snow. The trail goes straight for a few hundred meters and then winds down into a gull and back up again.
The entire time we hiked, mom was fairly convinced we were going to run into a bear so we banged our poles against each other to make some noise. The trail was fairly busy though so I didn't think we would run into many animals. But I guess one can never be too careful! There are a few switchbacks and a lot of uphill as you continue to make your way through the slush and mud. Finally you reach a nice lookout point into the valley.
We stopped here for a brief rest, marveling at the beautiful mountain view before us. I loved getting the chance to watch mom as she took in the scenery. After that, we began making our way down towards the Bow River. This part was a little slippery and we had to take our time. I had brought microspikes but I only had one pair and mom refused to put them on.
So we did our best to step in previous footprints left by the hikers ahead of us and after a 1.5 km down ward hike, we finally made it to our destination!
I was surprised by how nicely set up the whole area was. There are guard rails to keep people on the trail in order to protect the delicate vegetation beyond and several bridges that cross over the numerous inkpots. Mom and I found a nice wooden grounded plank and sat down to have our lunch. I brought cliff bars, trail mix, an egg salad sandwich (not recommended for longer hikes), beef jerky and pepperoni and cheese sticks. Mom brought bananas, grapes, buns and granola bars. Needless to say we were pretty stuffed afterwards! Then we began to explore the area, studying the inkpots and watching the bottom of the water as the sand bubbled from the underground streams coming to the surface.
We took several pictures of each other in front of the turquoise colored water and even spotted some fish in one of the inkpots that was closest to the river. I tried to get a closer look but only ended up sinking my feet into a marshy area and getting my boots incredibly soaked! Mom had a good laugh about that one.
It was a little later in the afternoon, so at this point we decided to start heading home. What comes down, must come up (or something like that) so we were faced with another uphill climb. This time, mom finally relented and took my microspikes and was pleasantly surprised with the difference they made. There were actually even more hikers heading towards the Inkpots as we were heading back and the trail was getting a little crowded for my liking. I think that's why it's always best to do a hike like this earlier in the morning.
We made it back to my vehicle around 4:00 pm with sore feet and big smiles. It was a perfect day to go hiking and I really enjoyed the chance to go with my mom. While the Inkpots trail is a bit more difficult than the Johnston Canyon section, I would still recommend it for all ages!