Snowshoeing to the Ink Pots, Banff National Park

The Ink Pots are spectacular on sunny winter days
The Ink Pots are spectacular on sunny winter days

Banff National Park is full of winter trails for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Some are well-marked well others take you into the backcountry. Snowshoeing to the Ink Pots near Johnston Canyon is one of the great options in the park. The trail is well-signed and easy to follow.

There is another option to get to the Ink Pots and that is via Johnston Canyon. If you had two cars you could do a loop, heading up one trail and down the other. You can actually walk back between the two trailheads as they are only 2 km apart.

Count on a workout when you go snowshoeing to the Ink Pots. Be sure to dress in layers so you don’t sweat – and then cool down in the chill of winter. Allow about four hours to do the return snowshoe.

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Some peek a boo views as you get close to the Ink Pots
Some peek a boo views as you get close to the Ink Pots

The trailhead for the Ink Pots snowshoe

You’ll find the Moose Meadows trailhead a few kilometres east of Castle Junction along the Bow Valley Parkway on the north side of the road. Signage is excellent. It’s only 2 km west of the Johnston Canyon Day Use Area.

Allow 30 minutes from either Banff or Lake Louise – especially if you’re driving the slower going Bow Valley Parkway. Keep an eye out for wildlife on the road, especially at dawn and dusk.

An empty Moose Meadows parking lot
An empty Moose Meadows parking lot

Location map for the Ink Pots snowshoe

                                                           

Snowshoeing to the Ink Pots summary

Distance: 12 km (7.5 miles) return via Moose Meadows. 

Elevation gain: 220 m or 722 feet

Level of difficulty: Moderate

Time needed: 3 – 4.5 hours

Permit: You do need a Banff National Park pass.

Weather: Check the Banff weather forecast before you go.

Trail conditions: Check the trail report put out by Banff National Park. 

Dogs: Allowed on a leash.

Pack: Always take the hiking essentials. In winter addhandwarmers, extra socks and an extra layer or two. Something hot to drink is also a treat.

Good to know: Please practice Leave No Trace principles, packing out what you packed in. Also, let someone know your plans for the day.

In the winter snowshoeing to the Ink Pots is on a beautiful trail
Snowshoeing to the Ink Pots
My husband having fun on the snowshoe trail
My husband having fun snowshoeing to the Ink Pots

Snowshoeing to the Ink Pots from Moose Meadows description

The snowshoe trail to the Ink Pots is well defined the entire way. Begin by heading up through thick forest for 3.2 km until you reach the junction with a trail leading to Johnston Canyon.

Bear left to continue to the Ink Pots and continue for another 2.7 km. This section of the trail sees the bulk of the 220 metre elevation gain. The higher you get, the better the view.

The trail flattens out just before the Inkpots
The trail flattens out just before the Ink Pots
Looking out to the meadows beyond the Ink Pots
Looking out to the meadows beyond the Ink Pots

Eventually you break out into a valley. The Ink Pots stand before you – throwing off a bit of warmth too. In non-winter months they’re brilliant coloured mineral hot springs – but in winter they’re not so good.

If you’re here in the summer months, you can continue on a multi day hike up the valley to Luellen Lake (a great campsite), a further 11.8 km away.

Snowshoeing to the Ink Pots is popular on a sunny day
Snowshoeing to the Ink Pots is popular on a sunny day
Some coloration in one of the Ink Pots
Some coloration in one of the Ink Pots
Another view of the area around the Ink Pots
Another view of the area around the Ink Pots

When we got to the Ink Pots the wind picked up and the clouds rolled in. This area is spectacular on a sunny day as you can see below.

A spectacular backdrop for the Ink Pots on a sunny day
A spectacular backdrop for the Ink Pots on a sunny day
It's another 8.7 km to Mystic Pass from the Ink Pots
The summer trail to Luellen Lake and Mystic Pass continues from the Ink Pots 

The return trip is fast since it’s mostly downhill. All told it took us 3¼ hours snowshoeing to and from the Ink Pots including a short lunch break. It’s a wonderful way to spend half a day.

Excellent snow conditions
Excellent snow conditions and an easy to follow trail while snowshoeing to the Ink Pots

Johnston Canyon to the Ink Pots on snowshoes

Follow the Johnston Canyon trail to the second set of falls. Look for signage pointing to the Ink Pots – of which there is plenty. From the top of the Johnston Canyon trail it is only 0.3 km to meet up with the trail coming up from Moose Meadows. One on that trail its 2.7 km to reach the Ink Pots.

Retrace your steps to return or snowshoe down to the Moose Meadows trailhead to a pre-arranged car shuttle OR walk back along the road to the Johnston Canyon parking lot, a distance of about 2.0 km.

Trail mileage sign at the intersection of the trail coming up from Johnston Canyon and the one from Moose Meadows
Trail mileage sign at the intersection of the trail from Johnston Canyon and Moose Meadows

Banff National Park snowshoeing information

The Banff Parks Office at 224 Banff Avenue in Banff is staffed with helpful, bilingual rangers who can direct you to a trail that best suits your ability.

Around Banff itself there are lots of easy snowshoe trails if you just want a short burst of exercise and fresh air. Some I’d suggest are the trails in the Cave and Basin area. There are pretty loops and an out and back along the Bow River.

The Spray Valley Loop is a good choice as is the hike or snowshoe to the summit of Tunnel Mountain.

For more ideas on where to go snowshoeing in Banff read Where to Go Snowshoeing in Banff National Park.

Late afternoon from the Ink Pots
Late afternoon snowshoeing the Ink Pots trail

What to take snowshoeing in Banff National Park

Be smart and go prepared because if anything goes wrong its never pretty. Take extra high energy food, along with lots of hot drinks. You might even want to bring awide mouth thermosso you can enjoy some hearty soup.

Everyone should have aheadlamp.

Consider bringing some extra clothes. Layering is always a great idea. I like alightweight down jacketfor instant warmth. Always take an extrapair of dry socks. Never ever wear cotton or you’ll freeze. 

If you want to sit down, it’s way more comfortable and you won’t lose as much heat if you have aninsulated sitting pad.

On sunny days the mountain views around the Ink Pots are superb
On sunny days the mountain views around the Ink Pots are superb                           

Where to stay in Banff

There’s lots of choice when it comes to hotels in Banff – across a whole range of price points from hostels to the luxurious Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel.

Some solid choices that won’t break the bank that I’ve stayed in or visited include theCanalta Lodge,Buffalo Mountain Lodgeand theMoose Hotel & Suites.

Baker Creek by Basecampisn’t far from the trailhead – and you can enjoy fire pits by the river and your own private cabin.

Our super cozy cabin at Baker Creek
Our super cozy cabin at Baker Creek

More great things to do in Alberta in winter

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Snowshoeing to the Ink Pots in Banff National Park - a fun half day outing

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