Five pristine aquamarine coloured pools named the Ink Pots are a great destination for a picnic in Banff National Park. The trail to the Ink Pots is well marked, though moderately difficult with an elevation gain of 330 metres over 5.7 kilometres. On a summer weekend the Ink Pots can be a very busy place but if you go early or late in the day you might get lucky and have the place to yourself. The prettiest way to hike it is via Johnston Canyon but you can still get to it via the Moose Meadows trailhead. It’s just not as interesting a hike.
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Ink Pots hike via Johnston Canyon summary
Distance: 5.7 km (3.5 miles) one way
Elevation gain: 330 m or 1,083 feet
Time needed: 2.5 – 4 hours to do the return hike
Dogs allowed: Yes, on a leash but I’d recommend not doing the Johnston Canyon route because of the number of people on the trail unless you go first thing in the morning.
Best time to hike: The Ink pots hike vis Johnston Canyon can be done year round but avoid in spring when it’s wet and muddy.
Go prepared: Despite the fact the hike is a busy one, it still pays to go prepared with the right gear. Always take water and food as well as the other hiking essentials.
Where to buy food: If you’ve forgotten food and drinks you can purchase them at the bistro at the start of the Johnston Canyon Trail.
Before you go: Check trail reports in the park before you head out.
The Ink Pots can be hiked via Johnston Canyon (the scenic but busy route) or from the quieter Moose Meadows trailhead.
There is no swimming in the Ink Pots. Please don’t throw anything into the water either.
The Ink Pots are gorgeous blue and green pools of water that differ in colour because of their fill rate.
The Ink Pots are at an elevation of 1645 metres.
You probably won’t see any bears on this hike as its popular, especially the Johnston Canyon section, but it’s always a good idea to carry bear spray in the Rocky Mountains and keep it in a bear spray holster. You can rent bear spray from Snowtips-Bactrax or Ultimate Sports in Banff.
Hike to the Ink Pots description
Do the Ink Pots hike in Banff National Park with a start at either the Johnston Canyon parking lot or at the Moose Meadows Trailhead (just a kilometre or two further to the west) for a less scenic but quieter alternative.
Certainly I prefer the Johnston Canyon route for its captivating beauty, though on a weekend it’s incredibly crowded and parking is at a premium. Cars were parked down the highway for some distance on a recent spring weekend. The Johnston Canyon hike is considered to be one of the busiest hikes in Banff National Park. Try to go very early in the day.
Notable mileages along the route are:
1.1 km – Lower Falls
2.7 km – Upper Falls
3.2 km – intersection with the Moose Meadows Trail
4.5 km – high point on the trail
5.7 km – Ink Pots
Johnston Canyon, named for a prospector who staked a claim here back in the 1880’s, is truly beautiful and it’s easy to understand why so many people visit. Catwalks suspended from the canyon wall allow you to get close – in a safe way to the flowing water. It’s also an easy, family friendly kind of hike.
The Lower Falls in Johnston Canyon
Reach the Lower Falls in Johnston Canyon at the 1.1 km mark – after a mostly easy hike on a fairly flat trail. At the Lower Falls take the time to cross the creek and walk through a natural tunnel for an up-close view of the falls. Be prepared to get a little wet from the spray. You may have to wait to get into the tunnel as it can get a tad backed up with people.
Hike to the Upper Falls of Johnston Canyon
Continue hiking, gaining elevation to reach the Upper Falls at the 2.7 km mark. You start to lose the crowds once the hiking gets tougher but it’s worth it. The view of the Upper Falls is wonderful. You can see these falls via a catwalk to their base but you’ll get covered in fine spray.
If you continue up the trail for just another five minutes you can look at the falls from above – and get a real sense of the power of the water. (You’ll have to do this anyway if you’re hiking to the Ink Pots.)
The largest travertine drape in the Rockies
The Upper Falls are covered by what is called a travertine drape – powdery limestone formed with the help of algae removing carbon dioxide during photosynthesis with calcium carbonate (limestone) as a waste product.
According to Graeme Pole, author of Classic Hikes in the Canadian Rockies, “25 species of algae have been identified here and this may be the largest travertine drape in the Rockies.” In the winter this wall is popular with ice climbers.
The hike to the Ink Pots
From the Upper Falls take a short 0.2 km spur trail to meet the trail coming up from Moose Meadows. From that intersection, it’s another 2.7 km hike to reach the Ink Pots. This part of the trail winds through the trees, gaining elevation before it descends to the Ink Pots and the meadows.
You can see the trail continuing from the Ink Pots northwest along Johnston Creek. Two backpacking trips can be done from here. One takes you to Mystic Pass and Mystic Lake though mostly in the trees. The other one goes via the Johnston Creek Valley to Pulsatilla Pass and Baker Lake – though it is challenging and requires three to four days.
What are the Ink Pots?
The Ink Pots are mineral springs that differ in colour because each pool fills at a different rate. According to a sign the milky-green pools fill more slowly and have a heavier suspension of fine materials than the clear, deep-blue pools.
Year round the water temperature of these pools is about 4°C.
Where to stay in Banff National Park
There are plenty of choices across all price points. One of the closest accommodation options to the Inkpots hike is Baker Creek by Basecamp.