A visit to the Bankhead ghost town in Banff National Park is a unique opportunity to take an easy walk through a fascinating piece of Alberta history. In its heyday in the early 1900’s, Bankhead, Alberta was a thriving town of nearly 1,000 citizens built next to the operations site of an anthracite coal mine.
When the Bankhead Banff coal mine ceased operations in 1922, many of the buildings were moved or dismantled. What remains on the former site of Bankhead, Alberta is now the Bankhead ghost town.
Today, visitors to the Bankhead ghost town can enjoy a fun, educational interpretive walk around the remains of the former Banff coal mining operation. Despite its short length, this ghost town walk is so fun we’ve included it on our list of the best Banff National Park hikes.
What You’ll Find in This Article on Bankhead, Alberta – Banff Ghost Town:
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History of Bankhead, Alberta
Cascade Mountain in Banff National Park is blessed with abundant high-quality coal reserves. The coal within Cascade Mountain is anthracite coal, which is considered the best quality coal due to its high carbon content, low impurities and high energy density.
The Canadian Anthracite Company was the first to open a Cascade Mountain coal mine in Anthracite, Banff in 1886. The difficult slanted coal seams within Cascade Mountain led miners below the water table, causing water to flood into the mine. The Anthracite coal mine ceased operations in 1904.
The Canadian Pacific Railway had a voracious appetite for high-quality anthracite coal for its operations. The CPR thus formed the Pacific Coal Company, which began coal mining operations in Bankhead, Alberta in 1903.
The town of Bankhead, Alberta grew around the Pacific Coal Company mine. By all accounts, Bankhead was a thriving town of nearly 1,000 inhabitants, enjoying many modern luxuries such as municipal water supply, a sewer system, electricity and street lights. By comparison, in 1905, neither Canmore, nor the Town of Banff had any of these modern luxuries.
No official reason was given for the closure of the Bankhead coal mine in 1922, although it was widely thought the mine was not profitable. By 1926, many of the buildings from Bankhead, Alberta had been moved to Banff, Canmore and Calgary.
Today, Bankhead is a fascinating Banff ghost town. Visitors to Banff can enjoy an easy 1km hike through this abandoned coal mining town. The Lower Bankhead trail is a must-do kid-friendly hike in Banff.
Bankhead Ghost Town Interpretive Hike
At the Lower Bankhead trailhead hikers are greeted by an elevated viewpoint complete with a series of interpretive signs. Take some time to learn about the history of the town of Bankhead, Alberta and its coal mine before you start your walk along one of Banff’s best easy hikes.
Even if you don’t wish to do the Lower Bankhead hike, the views of the Bankhead site and Mount Rundle from the Bankhead viewpoint are very nice.
The actual Bankhead ghost town hiking trail begins with a walk down 70 steps. The Bankhead ghost town interpretive trail is very flat, so the walk back up these 70 steps is the only challenging part of the entire Bankhead hike.
The Bankhead ghost town hike doesn’t waste any time serving up some Alberta history. The Bankhead coal mine lamphouse building sits at the bottom of the stairs.
The lamphouse building was an important safety feature for the coal miners at Bankhead. Each coal miner was assigned a numbered mining lamp at the beginning of their shift. At the end of each shift, the mining lamps were counted to determine if any Bankhead miners were missing.
Shortly after the Bankhead coal mine lamphouse building, the interpretive trail becomes a loop. We recommend going right to enjoy this easy Banff hike in a counterclockwise direction.
At the 200m mark, the Bankhead ghost town hike arrives at a large building with many windows on both sides. Take the time to walk up-and-down the building as there are displays in the window with lots of information about the fascinating Bankhead, Alberta coal mine.
Next to the building is an old coal mining rail car. It’s amazing to think that at its peak, the Bankhead coal mine could fill up to 400 of these coal mining cars, each carrying up to 2 tonnes.
Next to the coal mining rail car are some old, large pumps and motors used in the Bankhead coal mining operation. The pumps provided fresh air to the 320km of tunnels within the Bankhead coal mine under Cascade Mountain.
At the 300m mark of this easy Banff hike, you’ll pass the remains of the Bankhead power house, where compressors, generators and steam engines worked to provide electricity for the coal mining operation along with homes in Bankhead and Banff.
The power house is followed shortly by the remaining walls and foundation of the Bankhead boiler house. In this vitally important building, coal was burned to heat water in nine large boilers. The steam created in the boilers powered all the Bankhead coal mine machinery.
The easy walk through the Bankhead ghost town has so much history, they can’t document it all. After the boiler house, the Bankhead hike passes the remains of many unmarked coal mining structures for several hundred meters.
By the 600m mark, the Bankhead ghost town hike arrives at the briquette building. Nearly half of the anthracite coal produced at the Bankhead mine was processed into briquettes, which were used to fuel locomotive engines and heat homes.
The briquette building is one of the most structurally intact ruins within the Bankhead ghost town with many walls and archways. Good luck keeping your kids out of the briquette building!
This marks the halfway point of the Bankhead ghost town trail and the loop trail turns back after the briquette building.
The first structure you encounter on the second half of this easy Banff hike is the remnants of the Tipple building, which sorted the coal from the rocks. The Bankhead Tipple building was 30m tall, a massive structure for its day and a source of genuine pride for the residents of Bankhead, Alberta.
Shortly after the Bankhead Tipple, you’ll encounter a trail junction. Go left to continue along the remainder of the Bankhead ghost town hiking trail. The trail heading right is an easy mountain biking trail from Bankhead to the Cascade Ponds picnic area.
Beyond the Tipple, you’ll start passing large heaps of coal slack heaps on the side of the Bankhead ghost town trail. The slack heaps consist of rocks, dust and waste coal which couldn’t be sold.
You may be lucky enough to see rhubarb plants growing in the wild in the meadows beyond the Tipple. These rhubarb plants are ancestors of the rhubarb planted by the Chinese immigrant workers, who had their own village near the slack coal piles. Many accounts indicate the Chinese workers were not overly popular with the residents of Bankhead.
At the 800m mark of this kid-friendly Banff hike are the remnants of a rusted, old coal mining train engine and coal mine cars. This compressed air locomotive from 1901 wasn’t from the Bankhead coal mine, but rather from the nearby Old Canmore Mine. It may not be an original train from the Bankhead mine, but it is very similar.
The tiny locomotive engines, called Dinkies, ran off compressed air as a combustion engine would have sparked explosions when mixed with the dangerous gases within the coal mine. Kids of all ages love walking around this amazing piece of Alberta’s coal mining history.
After leaving the compressed air locomotive, you’ll pass a few more foundations of former buildings in the Bankhead ghost town, before returning to the stairs leading up to the Lower Bankhead parking lot.
Present Day Locations of Bankhead Buildings
After the Bankhead, Alberta coal mine ceased operations in 1922, many of its buildings were moved offsite. If you’d like to see more history from this Alberta ghost town, here are where you can find former Bankhead, Alberta buildings today:
- The HI Banff Alpine Centre on Tunnel Mountain Road is now home to the renovated Bankhead Railway Station. There is a map of the Bankhead townsite on its front door.
- The Kidney Residence is located at 328 Muskrat Street in Banff. This former Bankhead house is typical of the homes provided to the coal mine managers.
The Old Banff Cemetery is home to the Bankhead Miners Memorial, which honors the 15 miners who lost their lives during the short lifespan of the Bankhead coal mine.
There is a WWI memorial near the Lower Bankhead sign on Lake Minnewanka Scenic Drive which honors the Bankhead citizens who lost their lives in the Great War.
Bankhead’s Holy Trinity Church was moved to Forest Lawn in Calgary, where it continued to be an active house of worship until 1962. Sadly, the original Bankhead church no longer stands.
Additional Bankhead Coal Mine Structures
If you are up for a beautiful, but more difficult Banff hike, you can see additional structures from the Bankhead coal mine higher up the slopes of Cascade Mountain.
Along the very enjoyable C-Level Cirque hiking trail, you’ll pass ruined buildings from the Bankhead coal mine, along with fenced off ventilation shafts from the tunnel mines deep below.
Bankhead Ghost Town Location
The Alberta ghost town of Bankhead is in the Lower Bankhead day use area in the Lake Minnewanka Loop of Banff National Park.
You have several options to get to Bankhead, Alberta:
Drive to Bankhead Ghost Town, Banff
The Bankhead ghost town parking lot is a medium sized lot and offers free parking. This is a popular kid-friendly thing to do in Banff National Park and the parking lot can fill up fast on weekends and holidays. Arrive early and avoid peak hours if possible.
Take the Bus to the Bankhead Ghost Town
You can’t take a bus directly from the Banff townsite to the Bankhead ghost town, but you can get close. The Roam Route #6 bus runs from the Banff townsite to nearby Cascade Ponds.
From the Cascade Ponds, it’s a 3km walk along the Minnewanka Loop road, or a more enjoyable easy 2.6km hike through the trees. The hiking trailhead is a little hard to find, but it’s just north of the northern-most shelter at the Cascade Ponds picnic area – watch for a Park Canada hiking trail sign in the trees.
Learn more about taking the Roam bus to the Minnewanka Loop in Getting Around Banff Without a Car.
Cycling the Minnewanka Loop to Lower Bankhead
Cycling the Lake Minnewanka Loop is a popular activity within Banff National Park. It’s an easy 3km ride along the Rocky Mountain Legacy Trail from the Banff townsite to the Cascade Ponds, near the beginning of the Minnewanka Loop.
From the Cascade Ponds it’s a 3km ride to the Lower Bankhead parking lot. Cycling is a great option if you want to see more of Banff National Park while getting some bonus exercise. Ride with caution as the Lake Minnewanka Scenic Drive does not have shoulders.
Mountain Bike from Cascade Ponds to Lower Bankhead
The Cascade Ponds picnic area is one of the best places to spend a day in Banff. A fun combination of things to do in Banff is to base yourself at Cascade Ponds, then enjoy a short & easy mountain bike ride through the forest to the Bankhead ghost town.
This kid-friendly mountain bike trail from Cascade Ponds begins at the north end of the picnic area. The easy Banff mountain bike trail is visible on Google Maps. Depending on the time of year, you may need to contend with a few fallen trees and/or a creek crossing.
Bankhead Ghost Town Interpretive Trail Statistics
How Long is the Bankhead Ghost Town Hike?
The walk around the abandoned coal mining town of Bankhead, Alberta is the shortest of the hiking trails in the Lake Minnewanka Loop, clocking in at just over 1km long.
How Steep is Bankhead Ghost Town Walk?
The only noticeable elevation gain you’ll encounter on your hike around the Bankhead ghost town is the 70 steps you need to climb to get back up to the Lower Bankhead parking lot. Outside of the stairs, you won’t notice any incline along this easy Banff hiking trail.
How Hard is the Bankhead Ghost Town Hiking Trail?
The Bankhead ghost town hike is one of the easiest hikes in Banff. It’s short, flat and easy but it delivers a super-fun dose of fascinating Alberta history. With this combination, it’s no surprise the Bankhead ghost town hike is such a popular Banff hike.
We rate the Bankhead ghost town trail as an “easy Banff hike”.
How Long Does It Take to Hike the Bankhead Trail?
Without stopping, it should take a typical adult roughly 15 minutes to complete the full Bankhead interpretive trail. Of course, visitors to Bankhead will want to stop and learn more about this fascinating Alberta ghost town, so be sure to plan on additional time.
Lower Bankhead Trail Map
It’s nearly impossible to get lost on the walk around Bankhead, Alberta. Just walk down the stairs from the Lower Bankhead parking lot and follow the coal duct covered loop trail around the abandoned coal mine.
We used the AllTrails app while hiking the Bankhead ghost town loop trail. We use AllTrails for all our adventures in the Canadian Rockies and hiking with kids around the world. In addition to helping us stay on the trails, we like the ability to track our stats (distance, elevation gain, etc.).
To find the Lower Bankhead hiking map on AllTrails, simply search for “Lower Bankhead Trail”.
Being so close to Banff and the TransCanada Highway you should have some cell service on this Minnewanka Loop hike but expect it to be spotty. It’s always a good idea to download the trail map onto your phone ahead of time just in case.
Enjoy map downloads and many more premium features with a 7-day free trial of AllTrails+!
Visiting Bankhead, Alberta with Kids
If you are visiting Banff with kids, they are sure to enjoy exploring this fascinating Alberta ghost town. We’ve been enjoying visits to the Bankhead ghost town with our kids for years. There’s just something magical about exploring a ghost town that sparks a child’s imagination.
Kids will love exploring the ruins of the Bankhead coal mining town. There are no posted signs specifically requesting children keep off the buildings, foundations, trains, etc. but there are distinct safety risks involved. Please watch your kids close and make sure they stay safe and don’t harm any of these important historical artifacts.
Keep in mind that the anthracite coal scattered throughout the Bankhead site is carcinogenic and poses a health risk. Wash your kids’ hands frequently if possible and do not let them eat any plants, berries etc. growing onsite.
With so much coal around the Bankhead site, make sure your kids wear grubby clothes that you don’t mind getting dirty.
The Bankhead ghost town hike is so easy, interesting and fun, it’s one of our favorite free things to do in Banff with kids.
Where to Stop for Lunch or a Break
Aside from the bench at the observation area near the Lower Bankhead parking lot, there are no obvious places to stop and eat lunch. Given the Bankhead coal mining town has potentially harmful coal and related mining substances throughout, it’s probably a good idea to have your picnic elsewhere.
There are lots of excellent picnic spots in Banff. The nearest ones are located at the beautiful Cascade Ponds, or the Upper Bankhead picnic area (where the C-Level Cirque hike begins).
Bankhead Ghost Town Safety Tips
The Bankhead, Alberta coal mining town is near a “core area for Grizzly Bears” in Banff. Before visiting the Minnewanka Loop, please take the time to educate yourself on Bear Safety in Banff National Park. And please, make lots of noise as you hike to alert the bears of your presence.
Don’t let this scare you off – chances of a dangerous wildlife encounter in Banff are very low, but you never know what will happen with Banff wildlife, so be educated and prepared.
Increase your odds of safely seeing wildlife in Banff with expert wildlife spotting tips from a local photographer.
Bankhead, Banff Trail Logistics
On-leash dogs are allowed within the Bankhead coal mining town.
For those who ride their bikes on the Minnewanka Loop or the mountain bike trail from Cascade Ponds, you will not find any bike racks. Bring a bike lock large enough to wrap it around your bikes and a small tree.
There are no washrooms in the Lower Bankhead parking lot. If you need one, try the nearby Cascade Ponds picnic area or the Upper Bankhead picnic area.
What to Bring for Visiting Bankhead, Banff
Generally speaking, you don’t need a lot of hiking gear on short day hikes in Banff. Check out our list of essential Banff hiking gear with the items we recommend to enjoy your hike, regardless of the variable Banff weather and trail conditions.
There isn’t much tree cover to provide shade at Bankhead, so if it’s a hot summer day, be sure to bring sunscreen.
We hope you love the Bankhead ghost town as much as we do!
Things to do near the Bankhead Ghost Town
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Dan Brewer, a life-long Alberta resident, calls Canmore home along with his wife and two kids. He is the co-owner of Travel Banff Canada, where he gets to share his passion for the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Dan, along with his family, love being outdoors doing one of the many activities they enjoy in the mountains: hiking, mountain biking, paddleboarding, skiing, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.
When he's not in Canmore enjoying one of his favourite local hikes, you can find him hoping on a plane to explore a new country with his family or working on one of their other two travel sites: Family Can Travel and Baby Can Travel.