Banff National Park was our first experience with the Canadian wilderness, and the cause of our crush on Canada. There’s something about its majestic mountains and pristine lakes that make our hearts go pitter patter and our stomachs gently flutter. No other part of the Canadian wilderness can quite compare to the grandeur of Banff. That’s the interesting thing about first loves though, they incite a deep emotional reaction at the very thought of them, but they also become the gold standard from that point on. We fell in love with Banff National Park the moment we stepped on that first trail, turned, and gazed out over Lake Minewanka. One could even say, when it comes to us and Banff it was love at first hike!
We visited the Banff National Park area in Mid-October which turned out perfect for us. Being the off-season, the weather was chilly but hadn’t become brutally cold, and we missed the crowds from the summer vacationers and the winter skiers. We had one day to spend in the park so we decided to stay near the Banff town center, take advantage of the break in the weather, and go for a nice hike. With a little research we found the perfect hiking trail for us. It was the C-Level Cirque, near Lake Minewanka. What drew our attention to the trail was the fact that it had been once used for mining. There were remnants of a mining camp and the old mine shafts along the hike. The second we drove out to the trailhead we knew we had made the right choice. The sky was a bit cloudy and dark, but the area looked absolutely stunning.
Before we started hiking the trail we took a walk over to the nearby Two Jack Lake, it was a small preview of what we would get to see once we made our way up the trail.
As soon as we started on the hiking trail, we were greeted by one of Banff National Park’s many friendly squirrels. He was quite busy getting ready for Winter, but he stopped just long enough to pose for a picture.
The trail begins in a bit of an open space, affording some lovely views of the pine forest.
The hiking trail then quickly turns into a more heavily wooded area.
The forest had a quiet calm about it. We had the opportunity to really get in touch with the natural area around us, and appreciate the beauty of the little things.
The C-Level hiking trail is considered intermediate. At first we thought that it may have been mislabeled, but the terrain began getting steeper and muddier along the way. We were dead set on making it to the remnants of the mine house and shafts though.
Before we made it to the mining camp, a little grouse stopped by and paid us a visit. It was interesting to see how acclimated it was to humans. We were able to watch it for quite a while before it finally moved along of the path.
It was after this point that the trail opened up again and we saw the first signs of the coal mining activity that used to dominate the area. There were open mine shafts with small fences around them. Apparently not so smart hikers have tried to enter the old shafts and have injured themselves.
After passing many shafts and hiking further up the mountain we came to the old abandoned mining building. It was a plain looking cement building with no windows or doors. Inside, there was a pleasant surprise. Artists had made the hike up here, and taken some time to decorate the building.
We stopped here and rested for a while. The trail isn’t very long (only about 2.5 miles) but the incline really gets to you; especially when you’re not used to the altitude. There isn’t really ever a break in the climb, so it’s important to rest when you can. We continued up the trail for another 30 minutes or so, and eventually the incline became a bit much for both of us. We took a look at the cloud cover at the top of the trail, and made the decision to turn back. There was supposed to be a clearing at the top with a view of the nearby Cascade Mountain, but we knew the weather wasn’t going to agree with our plans. We reluctantly decided it was best to turn back and have lunch at the old shelter. Once reaching the shelter though, we noticed a small unmarked trail made up of small bits of coal leftover from the mining operation. We followed it for a bit and then suddenly came to a little clearing. The moment we broke out into the clearing, we knew we were in love.
We sat down and ate a fine lunch that day. I’m sure the mountain air and the spectacular view had something to do with it, but that was the best peanut butter and jelly sandwich I’ve ever eaten. After lunch, we spent a bit more time in the area, and snapped a few more pictures.
Sadly, it was then time to head back down and drive back to town. On our way, we did find one more stop off that we just had to make. If you take a drive up the nearby Mount Norquay, there is lookout near the top of the drive that allows you to see the whole town of Banff. If you ask me it’s definitely worth the drive.
All in all we had an incredible day hiking through Banff National Park. We only scratched the surface, but know we can return time and time again, and our love will never wane.
For more information on the hiking trails in and around Banff National Park, take a look at the Parks Canada website.