Preserving History & Natural Wonders: Unveiling Cave and Basin National Historic Site

MuskaanAnanya Sreen
Muskaan Ananya Sreen Places to Visit
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image by kaosnoff /pixabay/2019

Who doesn’t love visiting new places and learning about other people? Traveling is a great way to explore unknown areas, experience different cultures, and take a break from your daily routine.

If you plan to visit Banff in Alberta, Canada, you should check out the Cave and Basin National Historic Site.

The Cave and Basin National Historic Site is a popular tourist destination, with many visitors coming to the park to see the hot springs, go hiking, and learn about the area’s history.

There is an on-site visitor center that offers a variety of educational programs and activities for visitors.

3 Things to Know About the Cave and Basin National Historic Site

This site includes the historic Cave, the Basin, the interior pool, and the trail leading to the original steam vent. It also includes the ruins of the original hotel, the bathing pavilion, and the caretaker’s cottage from the 1900s.

View of Cave and Basin National Historic Site
From DepositPhotos

1. Origins

1.1. The People Who Found It

In 1883, three railway workers came across thermal springs in Banff. This discovery led to the creation of what we now know as the Cave and Basin National Historic Site.

These three were Canadian Pacific railway workers William, Tom McCardell, and Frank McCabe. They recognized the area’s potential, so they set up the first boundary around it.

However, it should be clarified that before the railway workers discovered the Cave and Basin National Historic Site, the Indigenous Peoples had known of this land for over ten thousand years.

1.2. The Place

The railway workers found a cave on the Sulphur Mountain in Banff, which was in the Bow Valley in Banff, and realized it contained hot springs.

They noticed steam rising from the ground, and upon further investigation, they found a steam vent leading into what we now know as the Cave and Basin.

1.3. Ownership Dispute

The three railway workers tried to claim the land, arguing that it should belong to them as they had found it. However, several other parties tried to lay their claims on the land, leading to a legal dispute.

The Government realized that these hot springs would be useful in tourism and revenue generation and decided to take over the area.

1.4. The First National Park In Canada

In 1885, the Government turned the land into a Hot Spring Reserve, covering over 20 square kilometers. Settlement and sale were prohibited.

In 1887, the Reserve was expanded to over 650 square kilometers and was named the Rocky Mountains National Park, the first national park in Canada.

This action was done under the new Rocky Mountain Park Act. Later, the entire area was finally given the name Banff National Park.

1.5. A National Historic Site

In 1981, the Historic Sites and Monument Board of Canada advised that the Cave and Basin National Historic Site be designated as a National Historic Site, partly due to its significance in the lives of the Indigenous peoples and partly due to the important role it played as the birthplace of Canada’s national parks.

2. What to Expect?

2.1. The Activities

There are many things to do at the Cave and Basin National Historic Site. There are hiking trails near the area to enjoy scenic views.

There are breathtaking scenic points and great places to plan a picnic. Interactive theatre exhibits and tours are also available.

2.2. The Cave and Basin Hot Springs

The Cave and Basin Hot Spring can be reached through a short tunnel. It is a small but beautiful thermal spring located inside a cave.

While you cannot dip in these waters, and the smell of sulfur (a rotten egg smell) may be overpowering, the history surrounding this basin will surely enthrall you.

Among the nine hot springs on Sulphur Mountain, the Cave and Basin is the only one with a large cave accommodating groups of people. Be careful, though, and this might result in overcrowding in the cave.

2.3. The Trails

There are several scenic trails in the area:

2.3.1. The Discovery Boardwalk – 
The Discovery Boardwalk l Cave and Basin, Banff, Alberta

This short and interpretive hike gives you a quick history lesson about discovering the hot springs by the three railway workers. This will lead to the original steam vent found in 1883 and the Cave and Basin.

2.3.2. The Marsh and the Marsh Loop Trail –

Another easy hike, a little over 3 kilometers, follows the natural hot springs and ends at the Bow River, and you can view the mountains and meadows, teeming with flora and fauna.

There is also a platform for fish and bird watching. If you continue down the path, you will end up on the Marsh Loop, extended from the Marsh Trail.

Fun Fact: The Marsh Loop Trail is Also used by Horse Riders!

MarshLoop in Cave & Basin Banff adventure #canada #wildlife #greatexperience
2.3.3. The Sundance Canyon Trail –

This trail is over 4 kilometers long and has more elevation than the other two. It also has a great view of a waterfall. It’s a great place to go biking, but you should check the conditions of the trail before planning to walk or bike down it.

2.4. The Wildlife

The endangered Banff Springs Snails are the most important species at the Cave and Basin National Historic Site.

These snails, with a shell length of up to 11 millimeters, can be found in the waters of the Cave and Basin, floating on the water where the hot spring bubbles. Other endangered wildlife species are also present in the area.

At the fish blind on the Sundance Trail, you’ll have the opportunity to marvel at all the waterfowl hanging around. If you look closely at the fish viewing platform, you’ll see lots of bright fish.

Beyond the Marsh Loop is an area of the forest restricted from visitors. This is for the benefit of larger wild animals, such as wolves and bears, to move across the land. Who knows, maybe you’ll catch a glimpse? But follow all the protocols and don’t stray from the path.

3. Some Venturesome Things to Do Nearby!

3.1. Hiking

As mentioned, you can enjoy hiking along the trails. The Discovery Trail is also called the Upper Boardwalk Trail, and the Marsh Trail is called the Lower Boardwalk Trail.

There are great picnic spots along the routes and much wildlife to enjoy, including waterfowl (ducks), fish, the endangered Banff snail, and six varieties of orchids.

Sundance Creek and its waterfall and rapids are great scenic points on the Sundance Canyon Trail.

3.2. The Cave and Basin Building

This Cave and Basin National Historic Site building is a must-see attraction. This interpretive museum gives those visiting Banff interesting information about the Banff National Park and the discovery that led to the creation of the Cave and Basin National Historic Site.

A short walk to the Cave from the inside, separate from the Discovery Boardwalk above, takes you to the steam vent.

It also has a Story Hall, with large screens and display boards, telling you about thermal springs, the endangered Banff Snail, and the area’s history.

3.3. The Hot Springs

Hot Springs at Cave and Basin - Banff | National Historic Site | Canada

While the Cave and Basin Hot Springs are the main attractions here, there are several other springs in the larger Banff National Park area, such as the Banff Upper Hot Springs.

3.4. Taking Tours

Several tours are available for visitors, and most are free with an admission fee. Parks Canada offers these tours. The first four are free, but the next 2 require advance purchasing.

  1. The Cave and Basics Tour – You will be taken on a tour of the pool and the cave and will learn about the importance of the site for the Indigenous peoples.
  2. The Discovery Tour – As you tour the boardwalks and the hot springs, you will have the opportunity to learn how the discovery of the Cave and Basin led to the creation of the whole national park system through the past years.
  3. Billy’s Railway Camp – This will allow you to meet one of the three railway workers who found the springs in 1883.
  4. Hope Springs Internal Tour – For all the nerds out there, this tour will detail how the thermal springs work and the science behind why people thought that the warm spring waters contained healing properties.
  5. Forest Sense Walking Tour – A walk where you can experience the practice of forest bathing, which is guaranteed to be meditative and relaxing.
  6. Lantern Tours – This is a unique, after-dark experience. You’ll be told tales from the past and even meet a ghost, all illuminated only by lanterns.

You can check the details, timings, and availability of these tours and other activities here.

3.5. Other Activities and Exhibits

Other fun activities and exhibits offered here include:

  1. The Banff Winter Carnival – This carnival happens yearly and has various snow-filled activities!
  2. The Xplorers Club – This activity is a must-do for young people who love exploring and solving puzzles and mysteries!
  3. Art-making for Rejuvenation and Resilience – These art activities will bring out your creativity through the influence of the serene Banff nature and will relax you.
  4. Imagine a Country – An interactive exhibit and activity encouraging you to share your thoughts about what makes an ideal country.
  5. The Internment Exhibit – This interactive exhibit does not shy away from showcasing some of Banff’s darker history and the role it played during World War II.
Cave and Basin Banff/National Historic Site/Cave and Basin National Historic Site - Parks Canada

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What Exactly Is the Cave and Basin National Historic Site?

Cave and Basin National Historic Site is a national park and the birthplace of Canada’s national parks system. It is open year-round, although some facilities and activities may be closed during winter due to the cold weather.

The park is located in the town of Banff, which is in the Rocky Mountains of Alberta and is easily accessible by car or by bus.

2. Can You Swim at The Cave and Basin National Historic Site?

You cannot dip or swim in the Cave and Basin Hot Spring at the Cave and Basin National Historic Site. This prohibition protects the endangered Banff Snail found in those waters, as they are a very fragile species.

3. How long Does It Take to See the Cave and Basin National Historic Site?

The suggested duration for visiting the Cave and Basin National Historic Site is one to two hours. You can visit the museum, watch the films and walk through the displays, visit the Cave and Basin through the tunnel, and look at the scenic views from the upper decks within this time.

4. Is the Cave and Basin National Historic Site Free to Visit?

Admission to the Cave and Basin National Historic Site is free for people aged 17 years or younger and those who have obtained a valid Annual Discovery Park Pass.

If you would also like to visit the Banff Upper Hot Springs, you must purchase a Thermal Springs Pass. You can take a look at the details here.

5. What Are the Different Ways to Enjoy the Cave and Basin National Historic Site?

There are many ways to enjoy the Cave and Basin National Historic Site sites and the Banff National Park. You can opt for walking or biking tours, or you can opt for longer bus tours as well.

You can also enjoy multi-day and extended tours, taking you through the historic Banff sights.

Closing Notes

The Cave and Basin National Historic Site shaped Canada’s national parks. Moreover, the place is beautiful, and you must visit it at least once to capture natural wonder through your own eyes.

From its thermal springs and adventurous opportunities to its historical significance, the site offers a lot to its visitors. Various tours are also available to make your visit more convenient and insightful.

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Last Updated on by Ananya Sreen

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