Banff National Park


Cave and Basin

Walk through a low tunnel to reach the Cave.

At the end of Cave Avenue in the town of Banff is the CAVE AND BASIN NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE (Cave Avenue, 403/762 1566), which is the birthplace of Banff National Park and of the Canadian National Parks system.

Here in 1883, three men employed by the CPR stumbled on the hot springs now known as the Cave and Basin and were soon lounging in the hot water—a real luxury in the Wild West. They built a fence around the springs, constructed a crude cabin, and began the long process of establishing a claim to the site. But the government beat them to it, settling their claims for a few thousand dollars and acquiring the hot springs. Bathhouses were installed in 1887, and bathers paid $0.10 for a swim. The pools were eventually lined with concrete, and additions were built onto the original structures. Ironically, the soothing minerals in the water that had attracted millions of people to bathe here eventually caused the pools’ demise. The minerals, combined with chlorine, produced sediments that ate away at the concrete structure until the pools were deemed unsuitable for swimming in 1993. Although the pools are now closed for swimming, the centre is still one of Banff’s most popular attractions. Interpretive displays describe the hows and whys of the springs. A narrow tunnel winds into the dimly lit cave, and short trails lead from the centre to the cave entrance and through a unique environment created by the hot water from the springs.

A boardwalk leads to the Basin, originally used as a swimming pool.

Cave and Basin History Book

Cave and Basin by Ted Hart is a history book that tells the story of mineral springs in Banff National Park that were instrumental to the growth of Banff and formed the nucleus of Canada’s national park system.

Authored by renowned historian E.J. (Ted) Hart, Cave and Basin offers background on what is now protected as a national historic site, exploring the story of its discovery and the lives of those involved in its development as a world-famous attraction. It describes these unique and fascinating hot springs and how they became the catalyst for important developments in Canadian history and culture. The book details the story of the springs’ first discovery, their critical place in a government decision to create a reserve to protect them for public use and their development into a tourist location where generations of Canadians and those from around the world came to enjoy their soothing balm. In the process, the springs, and the Cave and Basin particularly, became the epicentre for both the creation and the commemoration of Canada’s national parks.

The Cave and Basin is available directly from the publisher: Cave and Basin by Ted Hart. The book is also available at the Cave and Basin, as well as the Whyte Museum Bookshop in the town of Banff.