Monday, 15 July 2013

Hiking with Kids in Banff: C-Level Cirque, the Whole Trail

In the past, I'd led a kid's hike to the abandoned mine building part way up the trail to C-Level Cirque in Banff. The kids had a blast playing around the roofless concrete structure and woods around it, but I'd left feeling like I'd left some business undone. So when the flooding of June 2013 severely limited the hiking options in Kananaskis and Banff, I decided to take the kids back and do the whole trail.

Click here for more kids hikes in Banff, Kananaskis, Kootenay and other areas of the Canadian Rockies.
Setting out from the Upper Bankhead parking lot, we arrived at the old building within half an hour. There, we took off our packs, had a snack and explored for another half hour. Maybe it was because the kids had been there before, or because they were three years older (8 and 13), they had fun but the worn concrete shell of a building just didn't seem to hold their interest like it had the first time. So, with nary a complaint, we put our packs back on and followed the trail up.

Like the trail to the building, the trail beyond stayed in the trees the entire way to the cirque although it wasn't quite as steep. We knew we were getting close to the cirque when the trail took a left turn and the trees began to open to reveal glimpses of Lake Minnewanka to the left and Cascade Mountain straight ahead. Then, almost without warning, the trees opened to reveal the cirque itself.

Although not the most scenic or impressive cirque--the bowl carved into the mountain by the
end of a glacier--in the Rockies, C-Level Cirque gives you the definite feeling of having gotten up into alpine. It also had the fixings of a good kid's hike: rocks to scramble on and snow to slide and dig around. More than enough to keep the kids busy for an hour until it was time to start back to the car, which would take us to the post-hike ice cream cone in town.

In some ways, the hike down was the best part of the day. Fifteen minutes after leaving the cirque, we were met by a grouse and her young blocking our way. Or were we blocking it?

Distance: About 8 km return
Roundtrip Time: 3 to 5 hours
Elevation gain: About 450 m

Driving Directions: From Calgary, drive west on Highway 1 and take the exit for the townsite/Lake Minnewanka. Turn right towards Lake Minnewanka and drive for 3.5 km to the Upper Bankhead picnic area on the left. The trail starts at the far end of the parking lot near the picnic tables and garbage bins. The road to Upper Bankhead is closed from November 15 to April 15 to give wildlife a breather.

Click here to see a driving map.

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