Saturday, July 23, 2011

Backyard Bucket List: Hiking Johnson's Canyon in Alberta


Every year for our family holiday, my husband and I travel to Radium, British Columbia, where we rent a cabin for a week of fun in the sun with his side of the family. We hit the beach at Invermere (which is more of a pebble beach than a sand beach - so bring your water shoes!), go hiking in the mountains, and go sea-dooing and white water rafting. Of course, we have to spend at least one evening soaking in the relaxing and therapeutic hot springs.

This year we changed things up and are renting a house in Invermere, rather than the cabin at Radium. It is a lovely house, and cheaper than staying in a hotel. The inside is nicely decorated, and there is more than adequate room for all ten members of our crew. We are a ten minute hike from the beach, and a five minute stroll from the downtown strip. This morning we casually made our way down to the Farmer's Market, bought some fresh bread and lemonade, and then checked out the various art galleries dotting Invermere's downtown area.

Our Invermere cabin rental for the week.

We are very fortunate to be having such an idyllic vacation: yesterday was a day of tragedy on the British Columbia highways for two families who crashed with a semi-truck that exploded. Our four hour drive to Radium turned into an eight hour detour, but we were more than happy to drive it considering everyone in our party was safe and sound.

My husband and I counted our lucky stars that we had decided to go hiking rather than drive straight on to Radium. If we had not gone hiking, we would have been driving along Olive Lake, the scene of the accident, right when it occurred. Sometimes it really pays to stop and take a break while driving! Our stop was at Johnson Canyon in Banff National Park in Alberta. It was a place that I hiked at a lot while growing up, with my parents and sisters.

The mountainside path - treacherous-looking but safe enough!

Johnson Canyon has three levels of hiking: the Lower Falls, the Upper Falls, and the Ink Pots. The Lower Falls is a two kilometer hike, round trip, and leads hikers to some gorgeous falls that can be viewed by crossing a bridge and entering a naturally formed cave. You get soaked with the spray, but it is refreshing and beautiful.  The hike very mild - families with toddlers are capable of strolling along the pathways with ease.  I remember hiking this trail as a small child, and enjoying every moment!

The Johnson Canyon Lower Falls

My husband and I enjoyed this easy and quick hike, and decided to go on to the Upper Falls, which is a 5.2 kilometer hike round trip, and much steeper than the hike to the Lower Falls.  If you are hiking this trail with younger children, be prepared to stop and rest a few times.  At one point, we became a party of three when a crow casually landed just ahead of us and proceeded to hike along with us, even hopping up three flights of stairs without flying away, no matter how close we got. He stayed with us until we reached the Upper Falls; then he cawed at us until I actually took a photo of him, perfectly posed on a tree stump.

The Johnson Canyon Upper Falls

The Upper Falls were spectacular, and can be viewed from the bottom of the falls, as well as above. One of my favorite sights was the limestone formation beside the Upper Falls, which oozed water run-off and appeared to glisten and move in the sunlight.

Strange-looking rock formations along the sides of the canyon walls.

It was a wonderful hike, a nice break from the long drive, and even better, a chance to get really close to nature. To my delight, the ground squirrels were so tame that they would come right up to you for a handout. I am aware that this isn't really a good thing, for they are supposed to be wild, but it sure was cute to have a chattering squirrel three inches from your hand, desperate to eat whatever you had for them. The little kids at Johnson Canyon sure liked it!

The cute and hungry squirrely squirrel!

Johnson Canyon is free to hike in, and there is no charge for parking, but be sure to buy a park pass or you will be ticketed if a park ranger finds your vehicle without a tag. Day passes start at $19.00 and go up depending on your length of stay in the park.  We will be hiking to the Ink Pots soon, and I will keep you all updated on what that trail is like, and what we find at the top!