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Pool, Banff Hot Springs
Photo: Courtesy of the CTC

Pool, Banff Hot Springs

After outdoor adventures like mountain climbing or skiing, visitors luxuriate in the warm mineral waters of the Banff Hot Springs while drinking in the views of the surrounding jagged mountain peaks.


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Skiing in Banff National Park

Banff Hot Springs Scenery
Photo: Courtesy of the CTC

River Bow Valley, Banff

In Banff National Park, River Bow Valley is typical of the stunning scenery.


Getting There
From the U.S., the most convenient flight destination is Calgary.

Banff is 72 miles (120 km) west of Calgary. The town itself is small and best seen on foot, but a car is essential to explore nearby attractions.

The Upper Hot Springs are 15 miles (25 km) east of the Castle Mountain Junction (Trans-Canada Highway), on Mountain Avenue, 2.5 miles (4 km) south of the Town of Banff. Follow Banff Avenue over the Bow River and turn left (east) at the last set of traffic lights. Follow the signs for 2.5 miles (4 km) to the Hot Springs parking lot.

Banff Hot Springs

"There is a feeling of having caught Nature unawares at her work of creation. Here was purity and dignity and measureless peace." - Renowned 19th century Canadian geologist A.P. Coleman on Banff, Alberta, and its mountain surroundings.

In 1884 as the railway that would join Canada from coast to coast was pushing steadily ahead, Canadian Pacific Railway workers William McCardell and Frank McCabe made the special discovery of the Upper Hot Springs, waters that were until then only known about and used by the Stoney Indians. These were sacred waters of the Stoney, infused with what they believed were healing properties.

When the railway laborers looked into the waters nearly 120 years ago, they saw opportunity reflected back. They wished to develop the hot springs as a tourist activity and destination, knowing that the much sought-after European market would especially appreciate the warm mineral waters that would soak away their aches and pains.

It was a dispute over the ownership of these hot springs that prompted the creation of Banff National Park - Canada's first national park - in 1885. The springs are still rumored to have healing properties. Today visitors enjoy various activities in and around Banff before making their way to the springs - an outdoor adventure like mountain climbing or skiing, or, more seriously, a corporate meeting, educational program or wheeling and dealing at an area film, television or book festival.

Modern day explorers experience the same benefits as their counterparts of the past, though it may be difficult to determine what has the biggest role to play in the rumored healing - the warm mineral water or the scenery. The stress relief gained by simply slowing down and spending time in the pool, surrounded by jagged mountain peaks is invaluable.

It is simply difficult to be preoccupied with the pressures of life when in a setting like Banff, soaking in the view as you soak in the water. To be sure, you would have to go a long way to find anything like the restorative qualities one experiences in the hot springs, exposed to the environment and the elements there.

The Banff Upper Hot Springs is open year-round and if you enjoy one season, chances are good that you'll be captivated by the next. The passing seasons provide a palate of colours in the Banff panorama, of which visitors to the springs become a small part. Perhaps the most incredible season to experience these springs is winter - the cool air and gently falling flakes of snow that melt on your face as you sit enveloped by warm waters adds yet another degree of charm.

When you visit Banff today, you'll discover that reverence and respect for this rich history is indeed one of current-day Banff's most attractive qualities. If you set off on a trip to the Banff Hot Springs, you'll find out that one of the most interesting aspects of the experience doesn't even happen at the current hot springs, but on the original Cave and Basin Hot Springs site. To have the full hot springs experience that puts it all into perspective, visit the original site before you visit the new one.

The Cave and Basin Hot Springs have been preserved and opened up as an interpretive centre. Here, a short walk through a rocky tunnel leads into the earliest developed hot springs site. You can't soak in this water, and even dipping a finger into it is strongly discouraged. That is to protect and preserve the remaining habitat of the rare and threatened Banff Springs Snail (Physella johnsoni) which lives in five of Banff National Park's Hot Springs, clinging to algae at the water's surface.

Found no-where else in the world, the largest of the species is about the size of an average small fingernail. The Cave and Basin Hot Springs contains a protected pool for the snail because if people bathe in the springs, or merely dip their hands in the water, they create waves that disturb the algae mats where the snails feed and lay their eggs.

Outside of the exhibit building history comes alive. Step into the area of the reflecting pool and fountain in what was once the Bathing Pavilion and you might think you'd stepped back in time. The well-protected open-roof structure featuring stone arches and surrounding walls with glass windows (placed so visitors could better appreciate the scenery) makes you yearn for the days of such beautiful architecture. If you stare at the photos in the exhibit you might find yourself straining your ears to hear gleeful laughs from the past.

It is a short trip from the Cave and Basin to the more recent springs location, where the main building on the site was renovated in 1995 in homage to its original 1932 appearance.Today the heritage bathhouse offers a range of services that modern-day visitors have come to expect and appreciate. Features include interpretive exhibits, a restaurant and boutique, and the recently renovated Pleiades Massage and Spa. Staff at Pleaides use only delicious hand-made all-natural products in their body treatments like massages, facials and salt scrubs.

When you finally immerse yourself in to the water, you'll discover thatthough the modern world is fast-paced, the mountains surrounding the hot springs site are ages old, and the experience of the waters is timeless.

A.P. Coleman's words still ring true in this little corner of the world. In large and traffic-heavy cities it might seem impossible, but betweenthe 19th and 21st centuries Parks Canada (who developed Banff Hot Springs) have found a way to ensure that the purity, dignity and measureless peace he spoke of almost 120 years ago still exist today.

About The Author...
Tamara Nowakowsky

Source: Canadian Tourism Commission


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