C-level Cirque – Banff Hikes

C-level Cirque – Banff Hikes

C-level Cirque trail is great for deer spottingThe trail to C-level Cirque is a forest-filled walk up to an old mining area just outside of Banff. There are some fantastic views of Lake Minnewanka on the way up, and then the viewpoint at the top allows you to stare up into a massive mountain bowl, that has been hollowed out by a glacier. This was the highest that miners were able to dig for coal.

Our most recent trip to Japser and Banff was in the middle of April, so there was plenty of snow on the ground. But we still wanted to get outside and take a peek at some shoulder season hikes. My brother and his wife had been exploring with us on most days, but we decided to split up for a day so we could head into the mountains while they explored the town.

C-level Cirque Trail Map

C-level Cirque – the basics

Distance: 13 km (8.4 km for the main trail plus 2.3 km extra each way in winter)
Elevation gain
: 455 m
Highest Point: 1920 m
Time:  3-4 hours. We took 2 hours 10 minutes to go up, and 1.5 hours to come down (including the extra 4.6 km to Minnewanka Lake)
What to bring:
We used microspikes as the trail was well packed down. Earlier in the winter snowshoes might be better.
The 10 Essentials (as always)
If you do this hike in winter, the road will be closed, so you can park at Lake Minnewanka and hike in.
There were toilets at the Upper Bankhead car park, but they were closed for the winter.
Dogs are allowed on this trail if you keep them on a lead.
How hard is it?
Easy/Moderate. The path is easy to follow, but there are a few steep-ish sections. Be careful if you bring children along on this hike as there are some (fenced off) mining shafts.

C-level Cirque – Getting started

We stayed at the Juniper Hotel and Bistro just outside of Banff. I loved it for the views, and thought they have a reeeeally good breakfast. Hiking up to the C-level Cirque takes less than 4 hours, so it’s worth stopping for a decent meal before your walk! We had eggs benny with salmon and it was the best breakfast of our holiday.

The C-level Cirque trail starts at the Upper Bankhead Parking Lot and Picnic Area. However between November and April, the Lake Minnewanka Scenic Drive is closed (as it is a wildlife corridor.) Just drive to Lake Minnewanka and park there. You can take a peek at the beautiful frozen Lake Minnewanka aaand there are some fantastic loos with views.

You then walk the extra 2.3 km to the starting point. Cascade Mountain in the photo below is where we’re heading. We get to climb up to the large cirque just above the treeline. Before May, they’ll be no cars on this road, so you can walk right in the middle and see the best views.

Ex-mining paraphernalia

This area has some buildings and slag-piles left from the mining operations that continued here up until 1922. The “C-level” mines were the highest that the miners ever excavated. We were impressed that they ever managed to get up here carrying their heavy tools. They must have been incredibly hard-working.

As well as the old mining buildings, there are quite a mining shafts as well as vent holes from the mine shafts below ground. They are all fenced off, so you cannot see much. I personally am not keen to fall down a mining shaft, so I kept well clear of them!

Woody Wonderland

The trail winds through lovely tall woodland. In mid-April the first few hundred meters of the path were clear, but after that we needed micro-spikes the whole way up the mountain. We heard a few sweary squirrels, but the main noise at this time of year is the creak of the trees. We didn’t see any other hikers on the trail, even though it is a perfect shoulder season hike.

Once you’ve made it to the graffiti-covered mining buildings, you are just under half way up.

Viewpoint down to Lake Minnewanka

If you take a mini detour off the trail (a few minutes after the old mining buildings) there is a fantastic viewpoint down to Lake Minnewanka and the surrounding Rockies. You’ll be standing on a large slag heap, so there is an opening in the trees to give you this view.

After the viewpoint, head back to the main path and follow it up, past the mine shafts through more pretty woodland. The path curves around a few times following the contours of the mountain, but eventually you’ll start to see Cascade Mountain towering above you through the trees.

C-level Cirque Views

You’ll emerge from the trees and have a short steep climb up to the cirque. In summer you can continue beyond this to a higher viewpoint (where you can relax and meet marmots.) We found this top area had deep snow, and no obvious path, so we decided to stop here to admire the views.

It was such a beautiful, warm day! Clouds kept swooshing past, but we were warm and happy looking out to the surrounding Rockies.

The snow-covered rocks above are gorgeous. Then, in the other direction you get a fantastic view back to Lake Minnewanka, Banff and the surrounding Rockies.

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Good for shoulder season?

We made it to C-level Cirque before 12:00pm, and the snow had *just* started to get soft. So if you go early you won’t have *too* many issues with post-holing. We could see marks on the snow from mini avalanches in the cirque, so just be sure to check local avalanche reports before you head out on this walk. We didn’t feel safe to go any higher in these conditions, but in summer or autumn you could keep heading up for even more impressive viewpoints.

Deer rescuing adventure

On our return journey, we decided to follow the Cascade trail through the trees, rather than walking on the road again.  We found a pen where animals used to be fenced in. All the gates were open so there shouldn’t’ve been any animals around, but two young deers seemed to have wandered into the back of the pen and stressed themselves out trying to escape.

The poor deers were running and throwing themselves against the fences (with fur flying everywhere) in their attempts to escape. We figured if they’d just try running in the other direction, they could get back out into the forest. So, we went into the pen with them. Marc walked in one direction, and I went in the other in our attempt to shoo them out of their self-imprisonment. It worked! It was slightly scary when the deers took one look at us both and decided I was the less-scary option, they charged towards me, only zipping around me at the last second. Eep!

The deer lolloped off into the forest so we felt like we’d done a good deed for the day. Our reward was these gorgeous mountain views on our hike back to the carpark.

We saw a few other deer by the car park in Lake Minnewanka. These dudes looked for more chilled. There were four more in the forest behind the bravest one. Can you spot one of their faces?

If you like the look of this awesome hike, click on the link below to pin it.

C-level Cirque trail is great for deer spotting C-level Cirque looking up from the cirque C-level Cirque with a gorgeous view to lake Minnewanka

31 thoughts on “C-level Cirque – Banff Hikes

  1. I so appreciate that you include the approximate time this hike will take. It bugs me when posts about hiking leave that information out. And you’re right, those views of the mountains!!!

    1. Thanks Catherine!

      Although, I find hiking times are so subjective. I like to post about the distance and elevation gain so people that are used to walking can work out how long it’ll take them. I have a feeling the time I posted will be too long for summer hikers (as they won’t be sinking knee-deep in snow like we did!! 😉 )

  2. The views on the C-level cirque look amazing! Your photos are brilliant! When the kids get a little older we will have to head back to Banff to do it for ourselves!

  3. What a spectacular hike that must have been! The views are stunning. And good for you for rescuing the poor deer. Goodness that was scary for a second.

    As usual, lovely post and terrific photos.

    Patricia Rickrode
    w/a Jansen Schmidt

    1. Thanks Patricia! My heart did beat pretty quickly when those deers started thundering towards me, but still, I think the poor things were even more scared than I was! 🙁

  4. Thanks for all the great information on the C-level cirque. The photos are amazing. Banff is on my bucket list!

    1. Yay! I’m glad you liked it! If you make plans for Banff, please feel free to ask me about it. We found sooo many fun walks.

  5. Great photos detailing the hike – it looks stunning, especially that viewpoint towards the lake! We keep seeing more posts and photos of Canada – maybe it’s a sign we should go!!

  6. Wow, what spectacular views! I love seeing deer also- even though they are fairly common where I am from in the US, I still am always in awe. Definitely want to try this hike if I’m in the area!

    1. It’s funny, I used to live in Nara (Japan) and that city has 10,000 deer living in the center of the city. You’d’ve thought I’d be used to seeing deer…but I’m excited to see them every time!!

  7. The viewpoint down to Lake Minnewanka is breathtaking! And those poor deer, I am glad y’all were able to help them. Overall this hike looks stunning and I would love to do it during the summer months.

    1. The funny thing is we hardly ever get to see deer, let alone help them out! I’m glad we could help though!

  8. Beautiful views! Must be a gorgeous 3 hour hike! It’s nice to hike in the snow, you don’t get as tired, but it takes leg muscles too. We’ll try this when we’re there! 🙂

    1. Thanks Iva!

      Yeah, this walk didn’t tires us out too much, so we actually went off and did a second walk afterwards (I still need to write about that one) So at the end of the day we were totally exhausted! 😀

  9. Man, Canada is such a beautiful country. The more blog posts I read the more I realize I still need to see. I just got back from my first ever visit to Canada with a weekend in Vancouver. I loved everything about it! Also, very cool that you guys took the time to help out the deer that got stuck. I think I would have done the same. I think that’s awesome of you.

    1. Oooh yay! I hope you had fun in Vancouver! That is where I live normally (it’s amaaaaazing for hikes!)

      Let me know if you write about it. It’s always awesome to see places you know well through someone else’s eyes!

  10. Lordy lord, the drama of your background. I could gaze at them for a long, long time. Let’s say I put up a hammock in a village there somewhere … but I could not say who would be more startled at the prospect of deer passing through. Them or I?!

    1. Oooh there were plenty of trees that would be perfect for putting up a hammock! I guess you’d just want to make sure you’re in a populated (ish) area to avoid the grizzly bears.

    1. Thanks Gemma!

      It’s not quite as wild as your posts on NZ, but there are sooo many good places to explore near Banff and Jasper!

    1. Yes! I love a good brekkie!

      They often serve “biscuits” in stead of bread, but their version of biscuits is more like a savory scone. The version in my photo was flavoured with lemon zest, so it went soooo well with the salmon. Om nom nom…

      I know you’re a foodie too, I think you’d LOVE it Rachael.

  11. Wow never heard of this part of Banff, I was born in Alberta but never lived there long, mostly raised in BC. I go to Banff almost every year on my way to Calgary …I am much too afraid of meeting wild animals on hikes, so I rarely go ..beautiful shots!

    1. I know the feeling! We always carry bear spray and make noise/chat just in case!

      I hope you’ll be able to explore a little next time you go through. If you walk in a large group 4+ you should be fine. The rangers told us it was smaller groups or people that hike alone that are in danger…

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