Johnston Canyon and Lake Minnewanka


Day 5 in the national parks of Western Canada led us to Johnston Canyon and Lake Minnewanka. We were staying at the Johnston Canyon campsite which gave us direct access to the canyon so no need to jump in the van which was nice.

We headed off in what we were sure was the correct direction only to discover 5 minutes later it wasn’t. Never trust a campsite map.


The canyon is made up of two sections, Lower Falls which is 1.1km from the start and Upper Falls which is 2.7km and 30m high. There are a series of small falls between the two (I remember six but don’t hold me to that), the trail is a path and catwalk hanging from the cliff face that runs all the way along.


It was pretty busy as it was a beautiful day but once you got passed the Lower Falls it quieted down a bit. There is an extension to this walk up to the Paint Pots but it was quite a bit further so we skipped it this time round.

The walk was lovely (if a little up hill) and ran alongside the river. The canyon was beautiful and I can imagine how amazing it must have been to discover.

At the Lower Falls there is a small ledge next to the falls that you can climb through a small cave to get to. It was pretty wet and we failed to get a picture to prove just how wet it was but it was fun and refreshing. We pottered along the trail taking in the sights and enjoying the sounds of the river.


Once we reached the Upper Falls there was two platforms to view the waterfall. One easy to get to and just off the path, the second was a bit further up the trail but provided a platform for you to walk out on and get a great view of the falls.


The weather was hot on our way back and we stopped a few times to have a drink and eat some jelly babies. It was really a straightforward walk which I think most people would be able to do, it is a bit steep and uneven in some places but well worth it!!

After some lunch at the van we headed down to Lake Minnewanka (pronounced Min-wacka) for a lake cruise with Brewster Tours. Although it’s called and looks like a lake it’s actually a manmade reservoir. It’s also the longest lake in the Canadian Rockies!  


The boat tour was excellent and gave us loads of information about the lake. It was originally inhabited by aboriginal people around 10,000 years ago. The lake was dammed in 1912 and 1941 to supply hydroelectric power, the most recent dam cause the flooding of the village of Minnewanka Landing which had been on the site since 1888. The submerged village now provides scuba divers with a playground!


The also explained to us how prescribed burns work as one had taken place on one of the banks of the river, we had also driven past a few on our travels along with some areas of natural fires. The purpose is to control forest fires and rejuvenate the environment. They showed us one side of the river where the trees are plentiful and lush but were not as healthy as the other side where there were many less trees. The diversity was the key. A wolf pack was also active in the area!


Non-burned side – lots of the same trees 


Burned side. Lots more different types of trees 

Our Lonely Planet guide told of the Minnewanka Loop, a driving tour which stopped at some other key lakes and sites in the area. We did some short stops at Two Jack Lake and Johnston Lake before taking a walk round an abandoned mine, Bankhead. It was an interesting stop, the ruins of a town and a coal mine has led to semi-poisonous ground and abandoned mine shaft. There was however LOADS of wild rhubarb which has grown after some Chinese people planted in when they were “staying” in the ruins.


Off over the dam! 



Bit of wildlife on the way!





It’s a great loop to do and shows some of the nicest lakes in the area so if you’re there and you have time check it out!


We were moving on from Banff National Park to Jasper National Park the next day so an early night round the fire (with wine) was in order!