Banff National Park: Hiking Johnson Lake

Cascade Mountain viewed from Johnson Lake trail

Hiking (walking or tramping) for many of us is an important part of enjoying a destination.  The ability to get out and explore on foot in a natural or near natural environment, even if it's near a city, is good exercise, mentally cathartic and physically and spiritually rejuvenating.  I find there's no better way to get to know a place than to hike through it.  


Rocky Mountains near Johnson Lake Trail

 (the majesty of the Rocky Mountains)


We, at TravelGumbo, want to start a "Hike of the Week" blog post featuring some of our and your favorite hikes.  Remember, this is a participatory sport and we hope that many of you will contribute your favorite hikes as well.  These hikes can be easy, like today's, or difficult.  They can be short or long, popular or remote -- doesn't matter.  We can all enjoy someone's hiking experience, especially with photos to take us on the journey with you.  If you have a hike you'd like to share with our community, contact us by email at


Mt. Rundle viewed from Johnson Lake Trail

(Mt. Rundle viewed from Johnson Lake) 


Johnson Lake:


Rating:  Easy


Having grown up on the prairies, our family visits to the massive rugged Rocky Mountains were quite a novelty to me as a youngster and I loved looking at them and walking their slopes and valleys.  Over the years, if anything, my love of mountains has only grown. I've had the good fortune to explore many of the world’s great ranges — the Andes, Alps, Sierra Nevadas and Himalayas — but I think there is no part of the world more beautiful to hike in than Alberta’s Rocky Mountains on a nice summer day (if so, I haven’t been there yet).  The Canadian Rocky Mountain parks are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


Johnson Lake Trail

 (Johnson Lake trail)


Situated less than a ten minute drive from the Banff townsite, off the Lake Minnewanka Road, I consider this to be the best, easiest hike near Banff.  If you can walk two miles in the city, you can complete this hike.  If you've an injured knee or ankle and want a flat hike to take strain off that meniscus or Achilles tendon, this is the one you should do.


Calypso Orchids, Johnson Lake Trail

(Calypso Orchids, Johnson Lake trail) 


I've done the hike around Johnson Lake too many times to count.  One reason is that it's relatively low altitude so the trail is among the first to be free of ice and snow in the spring.  I love hiking here in early May when few people are around, it's still cool and the mountains are shrouded in snow and ice.  By late May the calypso orchids are blooming by the hundreds under the pine trees -- petite, but so beautiful.  The place gets pretty busy during the peak summer months but that's when I'm off looking for a nice alpine meadow to enjoy.


Fisherman, Johnson Lake Trail

(fishing for trout, Johnson Lake) 


Johnson Lake is easily accessible and beautifully situated, with wonderful views of Cascade Mountain, Mt. Rundle and many other Alberta Rocky Mountain peaks (mountains are visible during most of your hike).  The trail is predominantly around the lake-shore, so it’s nearly completely flat and of good quality (not quite like walking in a city but not that much harder).  The forest surrounding the lake contains old Douglas fir trees, some creeks, and abuts a large wildlife conservation area.  The circuit is less than 3.5 km (about 2 miles) and I'll often go around it several times as it's very easy to do (about an hour each circuit, depending on your speed and how often you stop to take photos).   You're likely to see a number of waterfowl, mostly loons, and may spot some larger animals like deer, elk and even a bear wouldn't be a surprise (note: always have bear spray with you when hiking in the Rocky Mountains).


My family walking the dogs, Johnson Lake Trail

(My wife, 2 sons and 3 dogs enjoying Johnson Lake)


When you're done with your hike, there's a lovely picnic area adjoining the parking lot for lunch.  Dogs on a leash are allowed in Canadian parks so the whole family can enjoy the lake.  There's a small beach for kids to swim in (never that warm, even in the summer, but these are Canadian kids so they used to it).  When the lake freezes over, it's popular with snow-shoers and cross-country skiers.


Also, I've uploaded a short videoclip of the lake in the winter, featuring Cascade Mountain which you can see right here.


The pictures accompanying photo gallery were taken during spring and winter.  For the photos legend, scroll your mouse over a photo and hold for a second.  Or click on the thumbnails below.


Johnson Lake Trailhead

Mt. Rundle viewed from Johnson Lake Trail

Johnson Lake trail

Mountain views from Johnson Lake trail

Johnson Lake Trail in the Winter

Johnson Lake Trail in the Winter

Johnson Lake Trail in the Winter

Mt. Rundle, from Johnson Lake Trail in the Winter

Views from Johnson Lake Trail in the Winter

Views from Johnson Lake Trail in the Winter

Views from Johnson Lake Trail in the Winter

Cascade Mountain viewed from Views from Johnson Lake Trail in the Winter

Cascade Mountain

Closeup of Cascade Mountain


Images (21)

Twitter: @DrFumblefinger

"We do not take a trip, a trip takes us".  John Steinbeck, from Travels with Charlie

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Fascinating to see that a hike in such rugged scenery can actually be an easy walk! There must be many more like that, that compare to a serious city walk and not to mountain-climbing. Good!

The best part of every trip is realizing that it has upset your expectations

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