Bankhead - Banff National Park - Hiking Alberta


The ghost town of Bankhead was a coal mining operation in Banff National Park, Alberta.


Bankhead, Ghost Town, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada


Bankhead is an Alberta ghost town which existed between 1903 and 1923.  On the road to Lake Minnewanka, about 2.5 KM (1⅝ miles) north from the TransCanada Highway, Town of Banff exit, there is a turnout on the right where a short and easy 1.1 KM (¾ mile) interpretive loop hike through old mine, processing ruins is worth the time for hikers willing and able to negotiate the steep stairs in and out of the site.  The historical display can also be accessed from Cascade Ponds on a longer but more civilized trail.  The mine is located on the east base of Cascade Mountain.


Cascade Mountain


The predecessor to Bankhead was Anthracite, northeast of Banff, on the shores of the Cascade River.  Coal mining at Anthracite, managed by the Canadian Anthracite Coal Company to supply fuel for Canadian Pacific Railway locomotives, occurred from 1886 to 1903 when the town was abandoned after a series of devastating Cascade River floods repeatedly destroyed the infrastructure and eventually flooded the mines. 

Miners migrated to the upstart mine at Bankhead which produced coal from 1903 to 1923.  All mining activity was shut down in National Parks by legislation in 1930

Each ghost town has left relics of their short existence including old foundations, derelict buildings and the debris of life in those times.


Anthracite Ghost Town Anthracite Ghost Town

Anthracite Ghost Town Bridge Foundations at Anthracite


Anthracite Ghost Town Cascade Mountain from Anthracite


Anthracite Ghost Town It is a genuine Leroy


Anthracite Ghost Town Anthracite Ghost Town


A very short road distance further, towards Lake Minnewanka, is the Upper Bankhead parking area constructed where the residential area existed long ago. 

If a passenger keeps their eyes peeled on the right hand side of this short drive between Lower Bankhead (mine operation) and Upper Bankhead (residential area) you may glimpse an old foundation.  There is no place to park but you can squeeze over to the side of the road and make the short walk to the old Bankhead church foundation.  There is an interesting historical plaque at the old church.


The Bankhead Church


The Upper Bankhead parking area is also the trail-head for the 3.9 KM (2½ mile) one-way hike with net elevation gain of 450 m (1,475 ft) up into C-Level Cirque on the east flank of Cascade MountainC-Level Cirque is a excellent hike into one of Cascade Mountain's most picturesque cirques and there is a good possibility of witnessing mountain goats foraging on steep rock faces. 

This area also supported coal mining and along the route there are old foundations and fenced ventilation shafts.  Although evidence of Bankhead's existence is virtually gone, there is an opportunity to walk across the field adjacent to the parking area to root around in the bush to potentially discover old relics from Bankhead's brief history.  

At its peak, Bankhead boasted a population of 1,500 people and included about 100 homes, a hotel, a school, a pool hall, and several taverns.  For mining history buffs there are fascinating stories in this area worthy of research.  As an example, the settlement which preceded Bankhead is now a popular scuba diving site.  Really! Apparently, visibility in the cold water can be an issue.


Mine ruins from C Level Cirque


Continuing to drive northeast from the Upper Bankhead parking area towards Lake Minnewanka arrives at a turn right to nearby and beautiful Johnson Lake and Two Jack Lake for a pleasant stroll among magnificent mountain views.


Two Jack Lake Two Jack Lake








As I recall, and to be honest, my confidence in this recollection is not high, the old Leroy stove was in a meadow near a forested area east of the townsite on the south side (town) side of the Cascade River. It was definitely not on the mining side of the TransCanada and definitely not at the Bankhead site. The photograph was taken many years ago and it is possible the old stove is no longer there. Our policy has always been to leave everything untouched and our presence invisible, but not everyone does the same. If I wander and find it again, I will provide coordinates. If any reader of the blog can help, I would appreciate the contribution.

Hi Barry.....twice in one day. We did this hike some time early this spring and for 95% of it all these pics and associated artifacts and remnants look familiar. We hiked on both sides of the Cascade river what was obviously known as Anthracite. What's confusing is the Leroy stove as we didn't see that. Was that in the Bankhead area (as there are also pics of that area here) or in the Anthracite area (north of the highway(mining) south of the highway (town). Thanks........Jake

Interestingly enough, when you are driving west from the Banff National Park East Entrance to the Town of Banff, you actually pass through the middle of old Antrhracite. When you can see the pale green water tower ahead, there will be spectacular hoodoo cliffs to your right. Just past those cliifs, and before the water tower and hydro distribution building, there is an open, treed area with mounds in it. Those mounds are where the Antrhracite mines were located more than 100 years ago. The mounds are overgrown coal slack heaps and there are a few minor remnants of old structures, pots and pans, and cables, steps and wooden beams, scattered at the base of the area. Winter is not the time to go. Summer or Autumn would be my choice. The town is below the mines on the other side of the TransCanada Highway at the bottom of the valley where it could not survive the flooding from the Cascade River which was completely uncontrolled in the late 1800's. The small dams built by the people of Anthracite are still there but they were no match for the raging water of the Cascade River. To access the location of Anthracite village, I refer you to the comment section of another post <a href="" title="Anthracite and Banff Hoodoos - Banff National Park - Hiking Alberta" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">'Anthracite and Banff Hoodoos'</a> where I have answered the approach question for another reader. It is off Tunnel Mountain Road. Access to the mining area above is via parking at Johnson Lake. Hike east along the top of the hoodoos, drop down, walk west and return via the power house road to Johnson Lake parking. There is very little left in either location. To find remnants, you need to scrounge about and keep a keen eye. In the valley there are occasional bits of the Parks Canada buildings down toward the edge of the Cascade River. You will need to work hard to achieve very little and potentially nothing. But you will be walking through early Alberta History. Good luck. Stay safe. The tops of those north side hoodoos are attractive for photographs but the ground can be ubstable close to them, so step carefully. Have fun and exercise your inner child.

Barry, I was curious as to how you got to Anthracite? We have been to Bankhead many times and have tried finding how we can get to Anthracite??

If I interpret your question accurately, Katherine, I would say this. Driving the road to Lake Minnewanka you will first arrive at Lower Bankhead which contains an interpretive trail through the old mine site. It is an interesting walk but the stairs up and down are steep to get there. Back at the parking area, you head further towards Lake Minnewanka and, within a short distance, if you are watching very carefully, the old church foundation is in the forest to the right. There is no place to stop so all you can do is pull over to the right as much as possible off the road and walk the short distance into the church. Continuing further towards Lake Minnewanka, you will arrive at, and make a left turn into the Upper Bankhead parking area. There is a picnic area, washrooms, and the trailhead to C-level Cirque on the left. In front is a large grass field with a forest background. The old mining town of Bankhead was located under the parking area, through the field and into the forest. There is a bit of debris remaining in that forest area if you root around, back and forth, up and down. It has always been my practice to leave as little impact as possible and take nothing away but memories and photographs. This allows the next person to capture their inner child for awhile as they discover the sense of pioneer history. If I had known at the time I would writing a blog someday, I would have paid more attention and taken better pictures for those who will not, or cannot get there. Thank you for your comment. Hope this answers your question and helps. It is my understanding several of Bankhead's buildings were relocated prior to the towns demise. Trail descriptions for Bankhead and C-level Cirque are well presented in the guide book 'Backcountry Banff' authored by Mike Potter. He also provides references for further research for anyone who is interested.

Barry, thanks for the pics! They are very interesting and great shots! Where do you get the trail/ direction information for the hike on up to Bankhead? My boyfriend recently went on the C Level Cirque hike and found the abandoned house that looks like the one in your picture there. Is it very far from that trail? Thanks! Katherine

I appreciate your kind words, June. Bankhead is a fascinating area for the kind of exploration and discovery that nurtures the inner child. I hope you get those boots laced up and take the opportunity to enjoy some easy hiking in this historically rich area.

Once again, you have posted fabulous images. They inspire me to lace up my hiking boots. There is a wonderful balance of information and unanswered questions in this post, wonderful enough to leave the reader wanting more.

It is a good day. The sequence would be Lower Bankhead, the church, Upper Bankhead, C-Level Cirque and finally some off-trail exploration in the bush across the field. There are lots of places to relax and enjoy a packed lunch. Then you can stroll at Two Jack Lake and finish the day at Lake Minnewanka followed by dinner in Banff or Canmore before returning to Calgary. There are facilities at Upper Bankhead, Two Jack Lake and Lake Minnewanka.

I haven't done this hike, but it sounds like the perfect hike to take my German visitors on this summer. Thanks for the idea!