You saw the secret cave at Johnson Canyon on Instagram but want to know how to find it? This post shows you how to find the secret cave at Johnston Canyon in Banff National Park.
Instagram is a great place to look for travel inspirations and find things you never knew about before. While researching on things to do in Banff National Park , I came across this gorgeous looking cave somewhere hidden in Johnston Canyon. After reading more about this cave at Johnston Canyon, it became apparent that this is a secret cave that is not part of the regular hike at Johnston Canyon. All the descriptions online on how to find the secret cave at Johnston Canyon was vague at best. Fortunately we were able to follow other visitors and found this hidden cave at Johnston Canyon.
Johnston Canyon Overview
Johnston Canyon is one of the major attractions in Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada. The closest airport to fly into is Calgary International Airport. After you land at Calgary, rent a car and drive about 1.5 hours to get to Banff. Located about 25km (about 30 minute drive) from the town of Banff, Johnston Canyon is perhaps the busiest hiking trail in Banff National Park due to well maintained and easy and paved roads and beautiful sights at the two waterfalls. The Canyon is formed by erosion of Johnston Creek as it approaches the Bow River. The creek has cut through limestone rocks to form the canyon walls over thousands of years.
The main activity at Johnston Canyon is an easy and short “hike” that allows visitors to see the beauty of 2 waterfalls (Lower and Upper falls). For the more adventurous visitors, they can hike down to the “hidden Cave” located near the Upper Falls at Johnston Canyon.
Parking at Johnston Canyon
You should visit Johnston Canyon as early as possible during the day because parking tends to fill up fast. There are 2 parking lots at Johnston Canyon and if those fill up, you will need to park on the side of Bow Valley Parkway or take a shuttle bus. There are daily shuttle bus service between Banff train station and Johnston Canyon from May 18 – October 8. The journey is 45 minutes for CAD 5 round trip (free for youth 17 and under). The first bus leaves Banff Tran Station at 7:45am and the last bus leaves Johnston Canyon at 7pm.
Visiting Johnston Canyon
You can hike to both the lower falls and upper falls at Johnston Canyon, as well as access the Johnston Canyon “hidden cave”. It is a 1.1km walk to the lower falls and 2.7km walk to the upper falls at Johnston Canyon and the path is mostly paved with metal handles and railings. During the walk to the lower falls at Johnston Canyon, the well-made trail suspends from the Canyon Walls that allows you to get close to the stream and running water. Most people stop at the Upper Falls and turn back, but for the adventurous or avid hikers, you can continue your hike to the Ink Pots at Johnston Canyon. The Ink Pots are 5 pristine pools and is about a 3km hike from the Upper Falls.
How to Find the Secret Cave at Johnston Canyon
Many of the websites will tell you that the hidden cave at Johnston Canyon is located between the Lower Falls and Upper Falls, or that it’s right before the Upper Falls. In reality, it is very hard to describe the exact location of the hidden cave at Johnston Canyon. The hidden cave is indeed right before the Upper Falls and there are plenty of “dirt trails” leading down to the canyon, but let me try to be as detailed as possible on the exact location of the hike towards the secret cave at Johnston Canyon.
After the Lower Falls at Johnston Canyon, you will continue the hike towards the Upper Falls on the established trail. As you walk uphill towards the Upper Falls, you will see the canyon (and river) to your right hand side. There are also railings along the right hand side at different points during the hike towards Upper Falls.
During your hike towards the Upper Falls at Johnston Canyon, you will see signs pointing towards different things on the trail. If you see the sign says you are still 925m from the Upper Falls, you need to continue to walk because you are not at the hidden cave trail at Johnston Canyon yet.
When you are about 130-150 meters away from the Upper Falls (right before the railing as seen in the photo below), you will need to turn right down a dirt trail. It’s ok if you miss this dirt trail because once you see the Upper Falls viewing platform, you know you have missed this dirt path so you can always go back about 100-150 meters and look for it.
Fortunately (and maybe unfortunately), due to the popularity of Instagram and social media, this cave is no longer really “hidden”. Plenty of people are looking to find the secret cave at Johnston Canyon and you will most likely see a lot of hikers going down the hidden cave trail (that’s actually how we found the trail).
Once you turn onto the hidden cave dirt trail, you will be going downhill towards the water for about 5 to 10 minutes. If you continue down the trail, you will start to see a more steep slope as well as rock scrambling down to the cave. The secret cave trail at Johnston Canyon can get slipper and muddy after it rains, so it’s better to go slow and be careful to avoid falling.
Once you are down at the cave, you will see the view of the Johnston Canyon secret cave that you see on every Instagram photo. Note that this trail has gotten so popular that unless you go really early or really late, there definitely will be people there with you.
Can’t find the Secret Cave at Johnston Canyon?
I have to admit that this secret cave trail is not the easiest thing to find at Johnston Canyon. Knowing that the hidden cave is before the Upper Falls, I actually started going down random dirt path in hope of reaching this hidden cave. However, know that the secret cave trail is very short, it should take no more than 10 minutes for you to start seeing the shape of the cave and the water. The beginning of the trail down is also not super steep as you can see in my photos above. If you start going down a dirt trail that is extremely steep and you don’t start seeing the shapes of a cave in 5-10 minutes on your left hand side, it’s probably the wrong trail. Come back up and walk further towards the Upper Falls and look again.
The photos below show what it looks like when you walk pass the secret cave trail and need to turn back:
Things to Know Before Visiting Johnston Canyon in Banff National Park
- There are 2 parking lots at Johnston Canyon, but try to get there early. We got there around 10:30am and the lots were full. We had to wait for people to leave to park our car
- Johnston Canyon is extremely family friendly. The “trail” leading to the Lower Falls and Upper Falls are very well maintained and there are plenty of old people and families with small children on the trail
- There is a bathroom at the end of the parking lot at Johnston Canyon, but there is no bathrooms once you are inside
- There is a restaurant and small cafe at the beginning of the Johnston Canyon trail
- You don’t have to worry too much about bears at Johnston Canyon, at least the portion between the Lower Falls and Upper Falls. There are so many visitors everyday that generally bears would not show up on the trail
- Bring a wide angle camera lens for your visits at Johnston Canyon as well as your visit to the secret cave. The cave is simply too big to be captured without a wide angle lens
- Do not attempt to go off trail unless you know where you are going. There are plenty of stories of people looking for the cave and fall into the canyon because they went on the wrong dirt path
- You need about 2-3 hours if you plan on visiting the secret cave at Johnston Canyon
Conclusion on How To Find the Secret Cave at Johnston Canyon
Johnston Canyon is an amazing place to visit with friends or family regardless of whether you find the secret cave there or not. However, if you do plan on visiting the secret cave, be prepared that you may not find it or that it may be crowded even if you find the cave. Even though the photos of the hidden cave at Johnston Canyon is incredibly stunning, please pay attention to the instructions in this post. It is extremely dangerous to go off trail because the dirt path are generally slippers and steep and you can seriously injure yourself if you fall into the canyon in a hope of finding the Secret Cave.
For additional readings on planning a 3 to 4 day itinerary in Banff National Park and/or Jasper national Park, see my posts below:
- 3 Days in Banff National Park, a summer itinerary
- 3 to 4 Days in Jasper National Park, a summer itinerary
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