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C Level Cirque Trail, Banff

by Karen Ung

Hike past coal mining ruins to two scenic viewpoints near Lake Minnewanka, Banff National Park.

C Level Cirque, Banff National Park

From the Upper Bankhead Parking lot, it is a short 3.9 kilometre hike to C Level Cirque. Named for Bankhead’s “C Level Operation,” an anthracite coal mining operation that was active from 1904 to 1922, the trail climbs steadily uphill through mixed forest. In early summer, look for blue clematis, glacier lilies, and calypso orchids along the way.

C Level Cirque Trail, Banff

After a kilometre, you will arrive at an old mine building with two rooms. Large bolts indicate where heavy machinery once stood. In contrast, colorful graffiti covers the walls. (To see more mining buildings and learn more about Bankhead, hike the interpretive trail at Lower Bankhead.)

Shortly beyond the mine building (approximately 200 metres), there is a small path on your right which leads to a stunning viewpoint of Lake Minnewanka. My kids grumbled about me “making the hike longer”, but when we arrived at the viewpoint, they agreed the 1-minute (100 metre) detour was worthwhile. At this spot, you are standing on a massive tailing pile (refuse from the highest coal seam mined on this side of Cascade Mountain). Carrying on, there are several fenced-off mine shaft vents. For your safety, do not climb over the fences!

Lake Minnewanka Viewpoint on C Level Cirque Trail

Continue through the trees until the cirque, an alpine bowl carved thousands of years ago by a glacier, comes into view. There are lots of rocks to sit on and chipmunks to watch, but for an even better view of the cirque and Lake Minnewanka, follow the trail up the hill, past the second boulder field. Allow 45 minutes to reach the upper viewpoint.

On your way back to the parking lot, don’t miss the turquoise pond near the cirque. Take the small, overgrown trail on skier’s right (50 metres from the base of the cirque), and follow it around the intermittent pond. Water levels vary, but if you go early in the season, the pond is really full offering the chance to catch Cascade Mountain’s reflection.

View of C Level Cirque from the pond

Return the way you came.

C Level Cirque at a Glance

  • Distance: 3.9 km one way (5 km one way to the upper Lake Minnewanka viewpoint)
  • Elevation Gain: 450 metres (750 metres to the upper Lake Minnewanka viewpoint)
  • Nearest washrooms: Upper Bankhead Parking Lot
  • Trailhead: Upper Bankhead Parking Lot
  • When to go: June to October
Lake Minnewanka viewpoint on C Level Cirque

Know Before You Go

The cirque and terrain beyond it is avalanche terrain. Do not attempt this trail during avalanche season.

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