Many times I've seen trail sign at Johnson Lake outlet leading over Fairholme Benchlands ridge to Cascade Ponds via Water Tower, but never checked it out. Enticed by awesome experience few weeks earlier, as on initial post of this thread, decided it was high time to do so. Parked at Cascade Ponds; it is a bit unclear where trail starts & I had to do some guesswork. Basically cross the wooden bridge across the ponds, turn left then at outwash go right and find good size trail climbing up the shoulder. This is the largest elevation gain of the day, but still trivial. It was bit tricky as hard ice was covered by wet snow, but I made it. What followed is delightful hiking on mostly open montane ridge leading to that Water Tower, seen many times driving on Trans-Canada near Banff. Pics:
[Cascade Ponds (pic from last year). Water Tower Trail rises the forested ridge upper right]
[Great view back to Cascade Mtn as trail crests the ridge. Cascade Ponds are in lower part of photo]
[Rundle Range at other side of Bow Valley]
[Water Tower. Old weathered Parks Canada sign here informs you 3.9km to Cascade Ponds, 1.7km to Johnson Lake. I didn't have GPS on me, but I suspect this is not quite right based on my fairly strong sense of distance. I think it is less]
From Water Tower old road leads in ~15min or so to Johnson lake. Passing by noticed this little gem
However, peeking over saw only this old weathered tin can
At Johnson Lake sat at picnic bench and had late lunch / early dinner. This is one of my favorite local places, so pristine any time of year and something just keeps calling me over and over. Even if not planned, did usual loop around the lake, with side trip down to meadows where I disturbed group of deer. Really enjoyed this part with warm spring sunshine after several cold days. South side of the lake was slushy
[Outlet of Johnson Lake. I always sit here on wooden bench and get lost in thoughts gazing at distant peaks of Fairholme Range]
[Interesting view at Lake Minnewanka peaks from south side. Peak in the middle intrigues me; it is just an outlier of Mt. Girouard, but I suspect view from the top must be fantastic. No reference I know off exists about the way up, hiking guidebooks or personal sites. It is probably just a steep hike, but these lower slopes could be bad bushwhack. I am not sure which ridge (L or R) would be better; after snow melts I'd actually be inclined to try gully in the middle halfway up, then swing to the left. Stay tuned]
On the way back followed obvious trail from Johnson Outlet; this leads to hidden, quite lovely waterfall/cascade of Johnshon creek very few people know off. It will be right at the bridge on right side, 3-4 min from the lake
Note that if you start this hike from Johnson Lake, you are likely to make a mistake. If you follow trail by above waterfall, you will simply end at valley floor by fenced Trans-Canada with nowhere to go
Correct way from Johnson Lake is obvious gravel road just before outlet bridge (coming from parking lot).
I did not take GPS, but here is rough map of the route, taken from trailpeak
[Cascade Ponds to the left, Johnson Lake right]
Return is the same way and I estimate return distance to be ~10km with ~100m vertical. I probably did close to 15km for delightful afternoon walk.
Finally I must point out that Fairholme Benchlands past Johnson Lake, as described on top of this thread, are seasonally closed April 1 - July 15; there were signs posted at couple of places, so please check and respect this closure.
Full report with high-res pics covering both Water Tower trail and South Benchlands here