The Cave and Basin is a small but informative musuem located in the town of Banff. It’s within walking distance from the majority of the hotels. This historic site is the reason that Banff National Park and the entire Canadian National Park system exists. Through the interactive exhibits and film presentations you will learn how the hot springs were founded and be given a look into history of Banff National Park and the railway.
A short tunnel leads to the hot springs cavern. Be warned the sulphur smell can be quite strong at times. The Cave and Basin is just one component of nine sulphurous hot springs on the northeast flank of Sulphur Mountain (the same mountain the Banff Gondola operates on). It’s the only hotsprings of the nine that has a cavern large enough to accommodate groups of people. The water is heated geothermally from a depth of several kilometers within the ground.
Directions To The Cave And Basin
The Cave and Basin is located at 311 Cave Avenue at the end of Banff Avenue near the Bow River.
Driving directions – From downtown Banff go over the Bow River bridge and turn right onto Cave Avenue. If coming from Spray Avenue keep straight, it becomes Cave Avenue. The facility and parking lot are located at the end of the road.
Walking directions – From downtown Banff you can take the Cave and Basin trail from the Bow River bridge to the Cave and Basin. From the bridge the trail is approximately 1.5km’s with no elevation gain. Allow 20 to 25 mintues.
How Long To Spend At The Cave And Basin
It doesn’t require a great deal of time to visit the Cave and Basin. In total allow up to an hour to see the hot springs, watch the film presentation, walk through the displays and check out the upper decks that offer panoramic views of the surrounding mountains. Adjust the extra time accordingly if you plan on doing any of the nearby trails.
The Cave And Basin Is Home To The Endangered Banff Snail
The warm spring waters of the Cave and Basin are one of the few places in Banff where the snail can be found. The Banff Snail is found nowhere else in the world. In the year 2000 the Banff Spring snail was classified as endangered and at risk of extinction by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife on Canada. These tiny snails are between 3 and 5mm’s in size. The snail numbers fluctuate drastically, they seeming to follow the seasonal rise and fall of the water temperatures. More of them can be seen with the rising water temperatures. Most of them can be found right where the spring bubbles out of the ground. More information on the snail can be found at Parks Canada Banff Snail.
Information And Tips For Visiting The Cave And Basin
- Take note that there are reduced days and hours in the winter.
- The cave itself is small and it can be crowded in the summer months. Like many attractions in the parks you can avoid crowds by visiting as early or late as possible in the day.
- There is no bathing in the hot springs at the Cave and Basin. Public bathing can be done at the Banff Upper Hot Springs.
- On the location there is a gift shop, restrooms, cafe and picnic area.
- The Cave and Basin is a Parks Canada National Historic site so remember it’s free to visit if you have a valid Annual Discovery Park Pass and admission for youth 17 and under is also free.
For more information, hours and entry fees see Parks Canada Cave And Basin Visit.
The History Of The Cave And Basin And The Start Of Banff National Park
Banff National Park was the first national park in Canada. It all started due to the discovery of steam venting from a crack in the rocks on the side of Sulphur Mountain. Indigenous Peoples had known of this site for thousands of years. The first recorded reference to it was in 1859, but it was a couple of railway workers that brought wide spread attention to the area in the 1880’s. They saw it as an opportunity to make money by bringing tourists to the area. In 1883 they descended through the skylight entrance into the cave using a felled tree. The following year they built a small cabin nearby with intention of commercializing the site. Then several conflicting claims to the site caused the Canadian goverment to get involved. In 1885 a 26 square km area around the Cave and Basin was set up and called the Banff Hot Springs Reserve. This was the birth of Canada’s National Parks.
In 1886 an artificial tunnel was put through to the Cave and Basin to allow for easy visitation. Shortly thereafter people were coming from around the world to “take the waters” as they called it. They were convinced of its healing properties due to the minerals in the water.
The protected area was eventually expanded, the town was constructed, a bridge was put over the Bow River so that the public could access the springs and a hotel was constructed. It officially became the Rocky Mountains National Park. A naturally heated swimming pool was opened to the public at the Cave and Basin site in 1914 and continued to operate until 1994.
The first park in Canada was later named Banff National Park in 1930. It set the presidence to protect natural areas and Canada now has 43 national parks and 167 historic sites, 4 marine parks and 1 urban park. Canada has the largest system of protected places in the world.
Trails Accessed From The Cave And Basin Site
Leading out from the complex are two interpretive boardwalk trails. One is an interpretative walk to the cave vent, the other is called the Marsh Loop. They explain the history and plants and animals in the area.
The Marsh Loop
The Marsh Loop is 2.3 km of fairly level and well maintained trail. There’s wide gravel and dirt pathways and some wooden boardwalk areas and foot bridges. There’s just 10 meters in elevation gain. Allow 45 minutes to complete the loop. It runs across a natural river marsh and follows the Bow River offering views of Mount Norquay and the Bourgeau Range.
During the summer the meadows are full of wildflowers. The unique warm waters of the marsh make it home to some interesting plants, small fish and amphibian species. It’s also an excellent area for birdwatching. Due to the marsh being fed by the runoff from the warm springs some of the water remains free of ice all year. You can often see birds even in the winter months. More information can be found here, Marsh Loop.
A section of boardwalk connected to the Marsh Loop leads to a fish viewing platform and a bird blind.
South of the Marsh Loop there is a band of forest designated as the Middle Springs Wildlife Corridor. It’s an area off limits to people in order to allow large mammals including bears, wolves and cougars to migrate across the valley wihout having to come into town. Use caution when hiking on the nearby Marsh Loop and Sundance Canyon trails. Watch for wildlife warnings and obey trail closures.
The Marsh Loop can be connected with the Sundance Trail.
Sundance Canyon Trail
The Sundance Canyon trail is 4.3 km’s with 145 meters of elevation gain. Allow 1.5 hours. The first part of the trail is on a paved walking/cycling path with a picnic area offered at the end. It’s a popular spot to ride a bike to.
From the picnic area it turns into a foot trail that descends through the forest to where it follows along the Bow River and its channels and then loops back up into the forest back to the picnic area. The trail beyond the picnic area can be extremely icy during the winter and other times of the year. Check the trail conditions beforehand. More information can be found here Sundance Canyon Trail.