If you want to go for a dip in the Hot Springs in Banff, you cannot do it at Cave and Basin National Historic Site.
I know this, because I tried. A few winters ago, I promised the boys a little hot springs dip. Instead of following the signs to the Upper Hot Springs, we went down to Cave and Basin. We sauntered up to the desk, towels around our neck, flip flops on our feet, pool bags in hand. The desk clerk smirked as she informed us there is no swimming at the Cave and Basin National Historic Site.
Cave and Basin is the birthplace of Canada’s National Park system. It’s a stunning cave and outdoor basin that were discovered by some rail workers. To create a demand for rail tourism across the country, the government seized upon this hot spring idea and created a National Park.
Except for the part where the spring was a hot spring. It’s more of a lukewarm spring. It reeks of sulphur as you go in the tunnel to the cave, but the water there isn’t particularly warm.
There was a time when you could go swimming at The Cave and Basin National Historic Site, but no longer.
In fact, swimming at the Cave and Basin is dangerous – for snails. The Banff Springs snail (Physella johnsoni) is only found in this one specific spot on earth and are, therefore, very fragile and endangered. Swimming in the water disturbs their eggs and pollutes the environment, so it’s punishable by fines up to $75 000 and a year in jail.
If you want a sample of hot springs magic in the Rocky Mountains, you need to head to the Upper Hot Springs near the gondola up Sulphr Mountain, or out to Radium Hot Springs on the western side of the mountains.
The Cave and Basin started it all, but now it’s just a place to look at once was rather than go for a dip yourself.