What do you do in the dark? How about a dark evening icewalk at Johnston Canyon, one of the many marvels of Banff National Park, with a headlamp and an excellent guide from Discover Banff Tours! Not only is this trip a great way to extend your day, it’s one of their truly unique sightseeing tours. The snow crunches underfoot and waterfalls glitter in the light of your headlamp. When you turn it off, the stars light the whole canyon.
Our tour started at the Mount Royal Hotel, because the canyon icewalk tour includes free hotel pickup. They also include ice cleats, hot chocolate, cookies and a souvenir headlamp to light the way.
We were met by Matt, our guide and driver, who welcomed us on the tour. There were 6 of us in total, making it a lovely, small group for the evening adventure. As Matt drove to the canyon, he discussed Banff’s efforts to live with wildlife and maintain balance in the ecosystem. He touched on the necessity of predation and forest fires. He also discussed the importance of keeping garbage contained so wildlife can stay where they belong – in the wild.
When we arrived at the Johnston Canyon parking lot, Matt set us up with headlamps and ice cleats. He gave us a quick safety rundown – this isn’t a strenuous hike by any stretch, and there isn't any elevation gain, but it’s always good to be prepared.
And then we were off! The snow crunched under our cleats, punctuating the serenity of the chilly winter night. Matt explained details about the canyon, lighting them up with his large flashlight in addition to our headlamps. He discussed the geology of Banff National Park and how that geology is displayed in Johnston Canyon. He spoke about the history of the canyon walk and pointed out all the popular features, such as the steel catwalks built into the canyon walls, the ice used for climbing and the fossils still visible in the sedimentary rock. Matt was very knowledgeable about the park, which added to the wonder of the overall experience.
Halfway to the lower falls, Matt suggested we turn off our headlamps. When our eyes quickly adjusted to the darkness, we could see the canyon, with all its details, under the brilliant starlight. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and the stars did not disappoint! We walked most of the way to the lower falls in darkness, and in silence, just taking in the majesty of the canyon and the beauty of the sky above us.
When we reached the lower frozen waterfalls, Matt illuminated the ice with his flashlight. We turned on our headlamps again. We explored the falls and went through a cave to get a closer look. It was stunning to see the ice reflecting the light of the headlamps and the rock glittering in the frost.
We explored for a while before Matt broke out the hot chocolate and cookies. It was a nice snack and it gave us a chance to chat about the canyon and the other amazing features of Banff National Park. During the day tours of this remarkable canyon, guides bring visitors all the way to the upper falls.
We walked most of the way back with our headlamps off and spent some time enjoying the starlight by the cabins at the trailhead. Then it was back to town. Matt drove everyone back to the hotels where he picked us up. He told more stories on the way back and kept us entertained.
Johnston Canyon is beautiful at any time of day, in any season. But there’s something special about experiencing it under the starlight of a winter’s night. The evening icewalk with Discover Banff Tours was a wonderful way to get outside and play in the short days of winter. It was a truly amazing sight to behold.