Back in 2016, my husband and I traveled to Banff to celebrate his birthday in the great outdoors. In 2019, when Americans were still allowed to visit Canada, my husband surprised me with a return trip to the Canadian Rockies. It turns out, Banff is the perfect place to celebrate another year on our tiny blue dot.
Today, we’ll travel back in time, through the recent human history these rocky walls have known.
Johnston Creek, flowing down the center
of the gorge, is a tributary of Bow River.
Once the Canadian Pacific Railroad connected the country by way of the Rockies in 1885, folks began transversing the countryside at a greater rate. This very canyon was panned (unsuccessfully) for gold. Turns out the land itself was the hot commodity.
Throughout the early 1900s, interest in exploring the area heightened. Lodging and accommodations slowly began popping up in the wild slopes and hillsides. Unfortunately, not every trail has a charming backstory. The very first paths and bridges along Johnston Canyon were built by Hungarian internment camp prisoners from WW1.
In 1926, Walter and Marguerite Camp took their last name seriously, bought a cabin, and transformed the area into a campground. The couple maintained the trails and led expeditions.
The Camp family and grounds continued to expand. Walter and Marguerite had 4 children, all grew up to work the canyon, as did their children after them. By the 1950s, the grounds had 36 bungalows. And in 1979, a good 50 years since its founding, Walter Camp led his final talk. At 83, he was bound to a wheelchair, but still loved entertaining crowds with tales of the wilderness.
After Walter’s passing, the national park system assumed control and responsibility for the trail, but the camp itself remains with the family to this day. The cabins are run by Walter’s great-great grandchildren–making it the oldest family run operation in the Rockies. Click here to see their current accommodations.
Perhaps the most impressive change happened in 1980, when all the bridges that spanned the canyon were replaced with iron catwalks that led you directly through its depths. These amazing pathways are a testament to engineering, allowing humans to walk where they never have before.
The hike is an easy one, only 1.7 miles
to the upper falls, pictured below.
You can visit Johnston Canyon year round. During winter months, it’s one of the most popular spots to ice climb. They say if you can climb a ladder, you can climb a frozen waterfall.
Johnston Canyon is a remarkable place. I’m glad to say I’ve made the hike more than once in my lifetime. Here’s to hoping I can venture there again someday.
Until then, these pictures will have to do.
Stay tuned. In my next post, I’ll take you further up the trail toward the Ink Pots.