The guy climbing down through the hole in the roof looks really, really happy. The display at the Cave and Basin National Historic Site shows an amazing graphic of a Stoney elder shimmying down a rope into cave, which contains a hot spring pool.
I think I’d be pretty excited too, if I was him. The springs were a sacred site to the Stoney, and they had it all to themselves – for a time.
Canadian Pacific Railway workers climbed down a fallen tree into the cave in 1883, and the next year they built a small structure near the site. They wanted to commercialize the hot springs. But others had the same idea, and because of the conflicts John A. Macdonald’s Canadian government reserved 26 square kilometres (10 square miles) around the Cave and Basin, the Banff Hot Springs Reserve.
Today you can’t soak in any of the pools at the Cave and Basin – it’s a Parks Canada exhibit. If you feel the urge to soak your bones, you have to travel up Sulphur Mountain to the Upper Hot Springs.
The site of the Cave and Basin is on the outskirts of the town of Banff. There are some beautiful old structures, a cavern containing a hot spring pool, and an outside basin. There are exhibits, artifacts, and a display hall with large screens for a multimedia presentation.
My only criticism of the historic site is that the multimedia presentation was long on “happy feelings” and short on information. It’s probably intended to motivate visitors to visit other National Parks; I would have loved to learn more about the site I was visiting.
When the temperature dips, there’s a man-made skating rink at the Cave and Basin. It’s in what was once the outdoor pool; it’s not huge but would be great for families with young kids. They have outdoor fireplaces, and lots of warm treats for sale at the venue.
Is the Cave and Basin worth visiting? Probably, once you’ve seen the other remarkable sites Banff has to offer.
CDN $3.90 [as of July 1, 2016]
- January 1 to May 16 (Wednesday to Sunday): 11:00 am to 5:00 pm
- May 17 to September 4 (open daily): 10:00 am to 5:00 pm
- September 5 to October 8 (Wednesday to Sunday): 11:00 am to 5:00 pm
- October 9 to December 31 (Wednesday to Sunday): 11:00 am to 5:00 pm
- December 25 – Closed for Christmas