After a much-needed good night sleep, we packed up our site in good time and were ready to get in a full, final day in Banff. And it turned out to be a terrific one.
Waterfalls at Johnston Canyon
Another early start proved to be a good plan as we headed to Johnston Canyon – we had the trail to ourselves! It’s just 15 minutes west of Banff. Discovered in the 1880s, the canyon consists of seven sets of waterfalls via Johnston Creek, a tributary of the Bow River. Fed by a glacier, the cold water has a gorgeous tropical blue color to it.
Getting to the Lower Falls is a relatively easy half-mile hike. A lot of the hiking through this point goes along an ingenious path, that’s more or less like a bunch of scaffolding that’s attached to the inner rim of the canyon. It feels like you’re literally walking on water at times. Once at this first stop, there’s a little cave you can go through to get sprayed by the falls and cool off. (We needed it after a long, hot hike.)
You can continue hiking for another mile up paved trails to get to the Upper Falls, but it’ll definitely be steeper. Seeing the next six waterfalls along the way makes the haul to the top worth it.
Continuing on to the Ink Pots
After getting to the Upper Falls, we continued on for another two miles up a 1,200′ (steep!) climb to get to the Ink Pots, seven pristine, crystal clear ponds that differ in color. Some of them have air bubbles coming from the sandy bottoms, making it look like the water is boiling. But at only 40 degrees, it’s clearly not.
Getting to the Ink Pots was a bit surreal. The hike getting there is on a windey, narrow path, which suddenly opens up to this gorgeous meadow where you see the Ink Pots, Johnston Creek, and the massive Pulsatilla and Mystic passes.
We headed down to the creek and hung out for a while, or course dipping our feet in the ice cold water.
We even emptied out our Camelbacks and filled them with water from Johnston Creek. The ice cold water tasted amazing. (Oh, and Frankie is still addicted to it.) The deer flies started to swarm in, so we took that as our cue to make our way back to the base of the canyon.
Even though most of the hike back was downhill, it was a warm and we were in dire need of some rest … and some cooling off.
A drive around Lake Minnewanka
After hiking 7+ miles, Swindle and I were pooped. The dogs were pooped. So a short drive in the car was right up our alley. We read that the scenic drive around Lake Minnewanka was worth it, and we wanted to check out another campground. Driving past the campground was part of the Lake Minnewanka loop, so it was an easy option.
Two Jack Campground has two parts: Main and Lakeside. Sites are jam-packed next to each other at Main, which is not my thing. Lakeside is pretty incredible. There’s a bit more privacy, but most important, it sits right on the gorgeous, calm, aqua blue Two Jake Lake. You can only tent in the sites or rent the incredible oTENTik facilities, which is like a mixture between a tent and cabin. To get a Lakeside site you need to book WAY in advance. And be sure to bring a paddle board, canoe, or inflatable device to enjoy the lake.
Going “all in” at Two Jack Lake
We continued on the drive and saw another pull off for Two Jack Lake where we noticed a bunch of people swimming. We were still warm and curious to see what it would be like to take a full dunk in 50-degree water, so we pulled off the road to try it out. (Good thing we had easy access to our swim suits!) The rocky lake bottom definitely requires water shoes. (I initially tried without shoes and to my body’s surprise, fell in.) You have to walk out a ways before you can get to a point to do a full body dunk, which I couldn’t decide if it was a good or bad thing. It means you have more time to get used to the cold, but that means you also have more time to talk yourself out of not immersing yourself in it. It’s seriously that cold. We carried the pups out with us … they were even unsure, holding their paws up and looking at us like we were crazy as we got deeper in the water. The puppy power seemed to give us the courage to go all in. The dogs were like little, graceful guppies racing to the shore while we not so gracefully made our way back over the rocks.
Overall, it was incredibly invigorating … even for the dogs. (Despite being zapped from the hike, they ran around like total spazzes after.) Once we got back to the shore, we sat and let the sun warm us up. We did this cycle three times, each time dunking a little more of our bodies in the cold water, but not being brave enough to go all the way under the water. In between dunks in the lake, we enjoyed a beer and chatted with fellow travelers who were loving the day just as much as we were.
We eventually finished the scenic drive, going by Lake Minnewanka, where people were swimming and taking lake cruises, before connecting back to Trans Canada Highway 1 and making our way to our Airbnb.
Ending the day in Cochrane
After a long day of logging nearly 30,000 steps, we were wiped and in need for a good night sleep before making the long drive home. Before getting to our Airbnb in Cochrane (which is about 30 minutes west of Calgary), we stopped at Tim’s Gourmet Pizza to get a pizza and salad to-go and also grabbed a pint of chocolate peanut butter ice cream from MacKay’s Icecream Shoppe that’s just around the corner from the pizza spot. Our Airbnb was lovely and comfy, with a patio to enjoy our pizza, beer, and ice cream. Talk about a perfect ending to an already perfect last day.
We have a long drive home, this time going through Montana and the southern part of North Dakota. This trip has been incredible, and we seriously lucked out with amazing weather. While I’m “soar-ry” (not sorry) to leave, it’s time to go home. (We do have day jobs.) The biggest bonus with this trip – instead of missing my bed and my dogs, this time, I only miss my bed. And I’m even more in love with my dogs than before. 🙂