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On our last day in Banff National Park, we made a last minute decision to visit the Cave and Basin. The attraction was very close to our hotel and it was also a nice way to end our trip to learn about the birthplace of Canada’s National Parks. The Cave and Basin and the entire Banff National Park is a part of the UNESCO Rocky Mountain Parks World Heritage Site.
The story goes something like this:
Back in 1883, three railway workers discovered hot mineral spring waters in the caves. The railway workers saw the huge potential of money that could be made with this discovery. They built a small hotel and made some money as guests paid to soak in the waters, but when they got around to applying for land titles, the government denied it. Instead, the government decided to dedicate the area to Canada’s first National Park.
Surprisingly, parking was extremely easy and plentiful. This was a stark contrast from all the other places we visited in Banff. We’re assuming that not a lot of tourists make the time to visit this place as most visitors make their way towards Lake Louise and Moraine Lake.
Cave and Basin Boardwalk Trail
This is a very easy trail that takes you above the cave to see the cave vent and the location of the former hotel. It was a fun little trail where you learned about the history of the three railway workers and the discovery of the cave and basin. There was also lots of interesting information about the hot springs and it’s healing capabilities.
This area is also home to the endangered Banff Springs Snail. We came upon some nasty looking water and discovered that these were where the snails lived. The Banff Springs Snail is found nowhere else in the world and were classified as an endangered species in the year 2000. They are so tiny that we barely noticed them but you’ll see them if you look close enough.
Once we viewed the cave vent from above, we headed back down to gain access to the cave inside the park’s building. We initially thought the entrance was free, but there was actually a fee of CAD $3.90 (17 and under is free of charge). After reading all the history from above, we couldn’t pass up on seeing the natural spring water inside the cave. Before we headed towards the cave’s entrance, there was a section with a brief history of the cave and it’s discovery.
Once we entered the cave, it was a short distance to the natural spring water. We could smell the sulphur, but got used to the smell fairly fast. The water was clear and the turquoise color was gorgeous. There is absolutely no touching of the water, although it was quite tempting. It’s pretty hard to take pictures in here as it’s a small area and also dark.
After we spent some time at the cave, we headed to the outdoor art exhibit called ParkArt. There were some interesting art and amazing photography showcasing the beauty of Banff National Park and it’s surrounding areas like Yoho National Park. There were also some tents that mimicked what it was like to camp in the winters for the artists and explorers of Banff. In the back of the exhibit was a historic pool deck where the naturally heated pool operated until 1971.
It’s funny because initially, we didn’t think this place would be that great because right before we decided to make a stop here, we had lunch beforehand and asked our server what she thought of Cave and Basin. Her response was, “That place stinks of sulphur”. We thought it was her nice way of saying it’s okay, but nothing special. Despite her answer, we decided to check it out anyway and we’re so glad we did. It ended up being the most educational and interesting place to learn about the history of Banff.