A quick guide to hiking Johnston Canyon & the Inkpots (you really should go to the Inkpots)

The Inkpots, Johnston Canyon, Banff

By far, the hardest hike of our Canadian adventure was from Upper Johnston Canyon to the Inkpots. It was a punishingly steep hike, but the beauty of the inkpots and the alpine meadow they're in more than made up for it.

Johnston Canyon is one of the busiest places in Banff, and it's evident by how quickly the carpark fills up in the morning. The first time we visited Banff, we thought we'd rock up to Johnston Canyon about 1 pm - ha, no. While we did find parking spaces at an overflow carpark, the place was so busy there'd have been no point trying. 

This time, we turned up nice and early and enjoyed the lower and upper falls while it was relatively quiet. If you want to avoid the crowds, arrive for 9 am - especially during the summer. Very few people actually go further to the Inkpots, so that trail being busy isn't really an issue.

Johnston Canyon, Banff

Rainbow at Johnston Canyon

Johnston Canyon, Banff

It quickly becomes apparent why Johnston Canyon is so popular. The falls and the canyon are stunning, and walkways allow the whole family to get up close to them, and a little soggy. It's impressive walking through a canyon and trying to comprehend how water created something so incredible. I mean, we all get how erosion works but standing in somewhere like that and trying to comprehend it frazzles my brain.


Most visitors don't bother hiking the extra 3km/1.9 miles to the Inkpots, which is simultaneously ridiculous (it's so beautiful) and understandable (it's steeeeep). While Johnston Canyon is definitely something special, the Inkpots are even better.


That said, I can understand why so many people don't go; it's not a particularly family friendly trail (though we did see a couple of kids on the trail). We both found it the hardest hike of our trip; it was bloody steep, it was definitely leg day, and there isn't a huge amount to look at because the forest is so thick you only get the occasional glimpse of the mountains around you.

Alpine meadow, Johnston canyon and the inkpots

The inkpots, Banff

The inkpots, Johnston Canyon

It took us just over an hour to reach the inkpots , and my complaining and leg burn went away as soon as I saw the alpine meadow coming into view. (Don't let my complaining put you off, plenty of people seemed to storm past us so perhaps I'm just unfit?)


When you reach the meadow, you're rewarded with a stunning view of a few vibrant-coloured ponds you associate with Canada nestled inside an awe-inspiring alpine meadow. A couple of trails take you around the inkpots and there are a few benches too, making it the perfect place for a picnic.

Alpine meadow - Johnston Canyon and the Inkpots

The inkpots, Banff

Alpine meadow at the inkpots

The inkpots

Alpine meadow, johnston canyon and the inkpots

I don't think I'd ever been in an alpine meadow before this hike, and it was everything I wanted it to be - it reminded me of Heidi. It was so serene and neither of us wanted to leave and head back down the trail.

If you do fancy further hiking in this area, there are a couple of overnight trails into the backcountry along Mystic Pass, and Johnston Creek. If you're thinking about doing any backcountry trails, make sure you know your safety stuff; we read plenty of information saying bears use both of those trails regularly to get to drinking spots.

Tips for hiking Johnston Canyon & the Inkpots

• Give yourself at least four hours to enjoy the trip there and back
• Return distance: 10.8km/6.7miles
• Be there at 9 am if you want to see Johnston Canyon in relative silence
• Wear good, supportive footwear
• Take layers - you might be hot hiking but it'll be cool when you stop 
• Take plenty of water and snacks
• There are no toilets after the car park
• Enjoy a picnic when you reach the Inkpots
• Know how to behave responsibly in an area that's home to wild animals; make noise, keep dogs on a leash, never leave any food or food packaging, and keep your distance.

The inkpots, Banff, Johnston Canyon.


Mount Rundle, Two Jack Lake | The best 7am wakeup call ever

The reflection of Mount Rundle in Two Jack Lake, Banff

To say I am not a morning person is a severe understatement, so I was a little grumpy when Daz dragged me from our warm tent at 7am. He was right though; the view was worth it.

“You need to come and see this,” Daz said to me, trying to coax me out of the tent.

We spend the last couple of nights in Banff camping at Two Jack Lakeside Camground, which I definitely recommend because it’s a beautiful little spot that is just a short drive from Banff.

It was cloudy most of the time while we were in Canada and I was a little annoyed at not having seen a good sunrise or sunset, but this view of Mount Rundle’s perfect early morning reflection in Two Jack Lake more than made up for it.

Mount Rundle from Two Jack Lake

I’m so glad Daz was up early to spot this because it was one of the highlights of the trip for me. I feel like I say that on every post about Canada, but seeing this on our last morning and visiting Moraine Lake were the two high-highlights for me.

Two red chairs at Two Jack Lake, by Mount Rundle, Banff

Red chairs, two jack lake

These are my camping “pyjamas”.

Atop a little hill overlooking Two Jack Lake is two of Canada’s famous red chairs, so if you’re on a mission to sit in all the red chairs, you cannot miss this. Parks Canada has a full list of the red chair locations here.

If you’re stopping in, or visiting Banff, it’s worth visiting Lake Minnewanka and Two Jack Lake. There’s a scenic loop road called “Lake Minnewanka Scene Drive”  just off Highway 1, which is probably a good 15 – 20 minute drive through some stunning scenery. Take note that part of the loop is closed between November – April for conservation reasons; but you’re sure to enjoy the part of the road you can get on.

We loved camping at Two Jack Lake so much that we’re spending a few more nights here while we explore Banff and Canmore some more this summer. Hopefully it will be less cloudy and we’ll be able to see a beautiful pink-orange sunrise or sunset at this spot as well.

Save me for later!

Mount Rundle, Two Jack Lakeside, Banff






How cheaply can I travel to & stay in Banff / Jasper, Canada?


How cheaply can I travel to and stay in the Banff and Jasper region of Canada

I’ve wanted to visit Banff and Jasper for as long as I can remember being aware of their existence, but I was always put off by the idea that it would cost a fortune. BUT, it doesn’t.

Since it’s going to depend what country you’re visiting from, the time of year you’re visiting, and how long you want to stay, this obviously isn’t going to be any kind of concrete figure. I just wanted to show that you can visit the beautiful lakes and mountains of Banff and Jasper without breaking the bank.


Travel to Calgary

Calgary International Airport is the closest airport serving the Banff / Jasper region, though it’s still a good 2 hour drive away.

I’m flying up to Calgary from San Francisco, and managed to get a flight with West Jet for £98, though I will need to spend an extra £15-20 at check-in because you can’t pay for hold baggage in advance for some odd reason. I think that’s a fairly decent price for the length of the flight, and is probably only a little more expensive than what I’d expect to pay for the same length flight in Europe with a low-cost airline.

From the UK, you can get direct return flights to Calgary from London with AirTransat for less than £400 (dates used were 09/09 –> 17/09, but similar prices are available in other months if you do your research). Of course, prices are going to vary depending on the time of year; in the height of summer the area is popular for hiking and outdoor activities, while the winter attracts lovers of snowsport.

After doing a bit of research on Skyscanner, the cheapest months to from the UK appear to be May, June, September, and October. Though, I didn’t think prices during the height of ski-season were that expensive really for an 11 hour flight going direct.

Of course, if you already live in Canada, or the US, driving might be a more cost-effective option.

Totals for transport to Calgary can be done cheapest for in the region of £100 – £500, depending from where you’re starting your journey.


Transport around the region

Chances are, you don’t want to be confined to one area because there are so many beautiful things to see and do in Banff and Jasper National Park, so you’re going to need a way to get around.

There appears to be a pretty good selection of bus services operating in the region, but it depends on what you want. Being on a bus means you can’t just stop and enjoy the scenery whenever you want, but it might work out cheaper than hiring a car depending on your itinerary (especially if you have to pay a young driver surcharge).

Using a bus might also prove limiting depending on:

  • Where you want to stay – does your bus stop anywhere near your accommodation, or are you facing a walk with your baggage? 
  • What you want to do – does the bus stop near what you want to do or see? Where do any activities or tours you want to do start?
  • Is it going to be awkward to get to and from the airport depending on your flight times?

Car rentals are plentiful at Calgary International Airport and in the region. Things to look out for are:

  • Young driver surcharge – if you’re under 25, you will need to pay a surcharge in the region of about $20-$30CAD per day. Make sure you find out if that’s included in the quote, or if you will have to pay extra at pickup.
  • Young drivers – are you covered by loss / collision disclaimer waivers? Some rental companies (Budget are the example I’m talking about here) will include LDW/CDW in your online quote, but you won’t actually be covered by it if you read the terms and conditions.
  • Will you be charged for taking your rental into another province? I can’t say I understand this, but some rental companies will charge you if you drive your car from Alberta into British Columbia (again, Budget, but there are others who do the same). If you don’t tell them, you risk being arrested if you’re stopped by Police as you’ll be driving the car somewhere without permission from the rental company, if the company use GPS you could face a charge when you drop the car off. In my research, I’ve found that both Hertz and Avis do not charge for driving into other provinces.
  • Is your mileage limited? I think I only saw one example of this (and I can’t remember the company), but you’re probably not going to want to be driving on limited mileage. Who knows what wonderful place you’ll hear about and want to discover, only to be limited by your mileage.
  • Do you have a credit card? It seems near impossible to hire a car in Canada without possessing a credit card. It’s pretty annoying because it means I’ve actually got to get one, but it’s probably not a terrible thing when traveling. I didn’t see any companies that would let me hire a car without a credit card (I could pay on debit, but they want a credit card to ‘hold’ money).

For a week in September, renting a car a small car from Calgary airport and returning it to Calgary airport, you’re looking at:

  • Around £170-£180 with Hertz (+ around £100 for young driver surcharge + tax at pickup). That’s probably going to bring it to a little over £300 for drivers 25 and under, and under £200 for drivers over 25 years old.

This isn’t any kind of sponsored post, I just chose Hertz because they seem to be the best at giving you all the costs up front, are young driver friendly, and don’t charge for driving out of province.


Additional transport costs

On top of renting a car and the fuel, you will also need to purchase park passes if you will be stopping off and visiting any of the national parks (Banff, Jasper, Yoho, Kootenay). It is a little confusing as you have to display the pass in your car, but it’s actually based on the number of people in your car – Banff and Beyond have a blog post that makes sense of this. The long and short of it is that if you are renting a car, you will need to purchase a park pass.

If you’re taking public transport it will probably be included as part of the price of your ticket.



The fun part! At least, it always is for me (I think I should become a travel agent if a career in science fails).

As with most destinations, accommodation prices can go from one extreme to the other in Banff and Jasper. You can camp, stay in hostels, there’s Air BnB, low price hotels, nice comfy mid-range hotels, or extremely gorgeous and expensive hotels.

What you’re willing to sacrifice for a ‘cheap’ stay is something you need to be honest with yourself about. There are plentiful hostels in the region that have good reviews and you can get a bed for $30CAD / £16 a night in a dorm, but is that something you’d be happy with?

  • And what about hostels where there’s no showers? Is a shower a must-have, or are you happy to splash about on the edge of a river (where it’s safe of course).
  • Could you sleep in a room full of other people? Though, if you’d prefer your own space, some hostels do have private rooms or family rooms, but they will be more expensive. 
  • Do you want a private bathroom?
  • Would you prefer to stay somewhere with a cafeteria or restaurant, or do you want to make your own food?
  • Are you cool with a private room in someone’s house, where you can get to know the locals and put their knowledge to good use?
  • Are you looking for somewhere ‘out in the wild’ where you can pretend to be an explorer, or do you want to be in a town?
  • Do you basically somewhere clean to rest your head after a hard day’s exploring, or do you want something more?

You need to be honest with yourself and really question what you need from accommodation, because there’s no point you booking a hostel but hating it because it’s not you at all when you get there.



Hostelling International Canada has a great website that makes it easy for you to find a hostel in the area you want. They’ve got loads of hostels in Alberta and British Columbia that range from $16CAD / £9 per night up to $161CAD / £89 per night.

They also seem to have a fairly good range of hostels in terms of facilities. For example, the Lake Louise Alpine Centre has a cafeteria, running water and is a bit more like a hotel. While they have a series of Wilderness Hostels, which are much more rustic – but you get a gorgeous view for your sacrifices.

On average, you’re probably looking around $25-$30CAD / £14-£17 per night for a hostel.


Air BnB

There’s a good selection of properties on AirBnb ranging from shared rooms, private rooms, to being able to rent the entire place out. There are some really interesting looking places to stay as well from off-grid cabins, teepees, old RVs, beautiful looking houses; there’s something for everyone.

I think the average rooms on offer on AirBnB were probably within the £60-80 region per night, though you could spend less and you could also spend a lot more.



For the most part, hotels in the Banff / Jasper region aren’t as cheap as you’d probably hope. Sure, you can get cheap hotels, but hotels fill up fast which pushes the prices up, leaving you feel like you’re probably not getting the best value for money. At least, that’s how I felt.

Your best bet for finding decent hotel rates is to use websites like Booking.com, Kayak, or TripAdvisor, where they try to find the cheapest rates and you might be able to take advantage of special offers. Booking.com is my favourite because you can reserve a room for free, change your dates (which I had to do because I got dates mixed up) for free and easily, and you can cancel up until a few days before and incur no charge.


I’ve chosen to spend my first two nights in a hotel to help me acclimatise (I’m imagining driving on ‘the other side’ of the road being horrendous and will therefore need my own space), and then I’m spending five nights in three of HI Canada’s hostels.

There are hotel rooms around for less than £100 a night, but you can also get something pretty good for between £100 – £150 a night. Again, you can also spend a lot more.


To conclude

It’s hard to give a tight estimate of what you’re likely to pay to get to and stay in (excluding the cost of food, trips, etc – I’m sure that post will come when I get back) the Banff / Jasper region since it’s so dependent on where you’re starting your trip and what accommodation you’re happy with.

However, I can give you my costs, though they aren’t exactly straight forward.


From San Francisco –> Calgary with WestJet: £98 (excluding baggage fees)

From Calgary –> London Gatwick with WestJet: £189 (excluding baggage fees)

Total: £287



2 x nights in a hotel in Canmore: £153 / $278CAD

5 x nights in three hostels: £82 / $150CAD

Total: £235


Hire car

Not booked yet, but I estimate it will cost about £320


Total: £842.

Of course, I could have reduced my cost by at least £100 by staying in hotels for the entire seven nights, but I know myself and think I’ll need my own space to get over driving abroad for the first time. On top of that, my car hire would have cost £100 less if I wasn’t so darn youthful.

Have you ever wanted to visit Canada?