Johnston Canyon is a very cool trail that should not be missed. It is less than 2 miles to the upper waterfall with not much elevation gain. This hike is extremely popular and the large parking easily overflows during tourist season. I like getting photos without people in them so we started the hike a little later in the day to avoid the majority of the crowds. There are lots of things to see on this hike including several waterfalls. I recommend bringing a good camera, tripod, and hiking daypack with emergency supplies.
This hike has lots to see. The well groomed and well traveled trail includes catwalks that hug sheer rock cliffs with the river below. The trail follows a valley filled with plants, waterfalls, rapids, rock formations, animals, etc. The long metal catwalks give you some pretty spectacular and unique views. Having water below and cliffs to the side gives a very unique hiking experience.
There are two waterfalls listed at the trailhead but there are other no-name waterfalls along the way. Even though these waterfalls are not named they are still quite impressive. With a bit of care you can get down to them. I have been on waterfall destination hikes where the waterfalls were not as impressive as these no-name waterfalls.
Another no-name waterfall on the trail. A very impressive waterfall on the way to larger waterfalls. I like using a longer shutter speed and tripod to give the flowing effect on the image. This shot was taken from the main trail.
The Lower Falls is just off the main trail. A bridge across the river leads to a passage through the rocks that gets you right in front of the waterfall. I could not get pictures from that location because it is small, there were others sharing the space, and there is a lot of spray from the falls. I think I took this shot from the bridge just off the main trail.
A long catwalk high above the river ends at upper falls. I would imagine that this area gets very crowded at peak times which is why I always hike this trail when the crowds are much smaller. At the end of the catwalk you are situated between walls of rock with a thundering waterfall directly in front of you (but at a bit of a distance). When you get back to the main trail you can continue up and see this viewing area located above the falls. I recommend taking a few extra minutes to explore this viewpoint.
The trail is well-traveled and well-groomed. On our last visit there was a short patch of ice on a section of trail that had a steeper than average incline. A woman slipped and broke her ankle. When we arrived there were several responders and her ankle was being immobilized and she was being medicated. On our way back we saw a helicopter with lifeline, gurney, and rescue worker flying in. We later saw the helicopter flying out with her suspended from the lifeline and the rescue worker stabilizing the gurney. This serves as a good lesson to all of us. Even the “easy” hikes can turn dangerous very quickly. Be sure to always have your hiking kit with emergency supplies and keep your wits about you. As I passed people going up the trail I warned them about the ice patch so that they would be better informed.
In summary, the Johnston Canyon hike is one to see but only go after the crowds have subsided. Be prepared to take some time on the trail because you will want to stop at many spots for photos. Also, be sure to explore the areas around the canyon. There are many fields with wildflowers, picnic area, other trails, and wildlife. At one field we saw a HUGE elk munching on some grass.