Johnson Lake, Banff National Park
Text and photography by Mike Potter
Looking for a leisurely hike in the Banff National Park area of the Canadian Rockies? Look no further. The Johnson Lake circuit provides an excellent chance for viewing the flora and fauna of Banff National Park, without requiring a multi-day outing, or an enormous pack. This hike is also a perfect family hike in the Canadian Rockies.
Gordon Stermann, of Banff’s White Mountain Adventures, says, “We lead lots of tour groups on easy walks around the lake.”
And, he notes, that although the terrain is generally easy, “The view of Mt. Rundle behind the lake is very impressive and for first time visitors to Banff who aren’t able to get into more adventurous hikes. It’s a great introduction to the nature of the Rockies.”
And, Stermann adds, “The hidden hermit’s cabin is a really cool surprise!”
A network of trails in the vicinity of Johnson Lake provides ample scope for leisurely walks. Many of the paths are primarily intended for cross-country skiing Banff in the winter but are still great for hiking.
The most well-known outing is the circuit of the lake itself, from the parking area at the end of the road. The open sunny slopes on the north side of Johnson Lake are especially good for wildflowers, including the exquisite prairie crocus in early spring.
A highlight of this area is the presence of numerous Douglas-fir trees, one of which–at almost 700 years–is the oldest known example of the species in the province of Alberta.
After an excursion in the Johnson Lake area you might feel like relaxing at the picnic tables at its west end; if it is a warm summer day you could even go for a swim.
Distance: 2.4 km (1.5 mi) – Circuit of Johnson Lake
Day Hike: 30 – 45 minute loop
Elevation Gain / Loss: 10 m (33 ft)
Maximum Elevation: 1420 m (4660 ft)
Topo Map: Canmore 82-0/3
Trailhead: West end of Johnson Lake, reached by turning right at intersection 1.5 km north of Minnewanka interchange on Trans-Canada Highway, right again after a further 3.5 km, and proceeding 2 km to parking area at end of road.
0.0 – Picnic area at northwest corner of Johnson Lake (elevation 1410 m). Follow the north shore, along paved path at first, then make a sharp left turn after 100 m to go around a cove on a dirt path that continues along open, south-facing slopes.
1.2 – Dam at east end of lake. Turn right at south end.
1.9 – High point (1420 m).
2.3 – Turn right to bridge over outlet at west end of lake.
2.4 – Return to picnic area (1410 m).