Johnston Canyon is a popular hiking trail that was named after a gold prospector who discovered the sheer canyon walls during the days of first World War. The area was eventually settled by Walter Camp, who fell in love with the waterfalls in the area. He worked out a lease with Banff National Park that allowed him to build cabins near the mouth of the canyon, creating Johnston Canyon Resort Cabins & Bungalows. Walter, along with his wife Marguerite and their children, spent the summers at these cabins and rented them to tourists exploring the area. They were never insulated because the Camps didn’t think people would want travel to the canyon during the winter.
Walter dedicated the rest of his life building and maintaining trails through the canyon that brought people to see the waterfalls. These routes were unique because they didn’t just bring people to the scenic viewpoints of the famous lower and upper falls, They brought them “right through the guts of the canyon,” explains mountain guide Matt Luttrell. The trails involved suspension bridges and ladders, all built from logs harvested in the area. The Camp family charged admission to the trail and they made enough money to support themselves from tourists looking to experience the beauty of the canyon.
In the 1970s, Walter passed away and Parks Canada approached the family to discuss their use of the canyon. Not only was the trail “super sketchy,” says Luttrell, but Parks decided people couldn’t charge for admission to a trail within the National Park. So, Parks Canada assumed responsibility for the trail and the Camp family got to keep their cabins. Today, the cabins are run by Walter’s great-great grandchildren, making the Camp Cabins one of the longest running family businesses in the Rockies.
After acquiring Walter’s trail, Parks Canada upgraded it to meet safety regulations. The trail quickly became famous because of the area’s unique and stunning beauty, but also because of the amount of money Parks spent refurbishing the unique features of the trail to make it safe for public use. Walter’s suspension bridges and ladders were replaced by suspended steel catwalks that allowed visitors to safely walk through the heart of the canyon and appreciate its natural splendor, just the way Walter had.
If you want to see this marvel of the Banff and Lake Louise, and the impressive engineering feat that allows you to experience the canyon from inside its steep walls, take a guided tour of Johnston Canyon from Discover Banff Tours. Visiting the mountains during the winter? Ice walking is a popular way to explore this famous canyon. During the day, you can often spot people ice climbing. Want more mystery? Try it at night! You won’t be disappointed.