Details of the rock inside the Cave and Basin National Historic Site, Sulphur Mountain, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

Getty Images/All Canada Photos

Cave & Basin National Historic Site

Banff Town

The Canadian National Park system was effectively born at these hot springs, discovered accidentally by three Canadian Pacific Railway employees on their day off in 1883 (though known to indigenous peoples for 10,000 years). The springs quickly spurred a flurry of private businesses offering facilities for bathers to enjoy the then-trendy thermal treatments. To avert an environmental catastrophe, the government stepped in, declaring Banff Canada's first national park in order to preserve the springs.

There's no swimming here anymore, but the site reopened as an impressive museum in May 2013 after a two-year restoration. Visitors can see the original cave, then stroll out onto a terrace that covers the former lower mineral springs pool. From here, a boardwalk with interpretive signage leads uphill to additional springs and the cave's upper vent.

Signposted just behind the complex are two more walking trails: the 2.3km Marsh Loop Trail across the park's only natural river marsh, and the Sundance Canyon Trail, leading along the Bow River to a beautiful side canyon.

Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

Nearby Banff Town attractions

1. Marsh Loop

0.08 MILES

This 2.3km loop trail begins near the Cave & Basin National Historic Site and meanders through one of Banff’s most important areas of natural marshland…

2. Buffalo Nations Luxton Museum

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The Luxton Museum recounts the story of Alberta's indigenous people, with a strong emphasis on the Cree, Blackfoot, Blood and Stoney nations. The displays…

3. Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies

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Founded by local artists Catharine and Peter Whyte, the century-old Whyte Museum is more than just a rainy-day option. It boasts a beautiful, ever…

4. Banff Park Museum

0.76 MILES

Occupying the oldest surviving federal building in a Canadian National Park and dating from 1903, this museum is a national historic site. Its exhibits –…

5. Banff Avenue

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A little over a century ago, Banff Ave was Banff. Initially, the central street was home to little more than a handful of hotels, homesteads and trail…

6. Vermilion Lakes

0.92 MILES

West of town, this trio of tranquil lakes is a great place for wildlife spotting: elk, beavers, owls, bald eagles and ospreys can often be seen around the…

7. Forty Mile Creek Picnic Area

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This popular picnic area sits just outside Banff's city limits off Mt Norquay Rd and is a good spot to crack open a hamper if you're short on time or…

8. Old Banff Cemetery

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Banff’s shaded cemetery is worth a visit, especially if you’re interested in the town’s history. Some of the gravestones date back to the 1890s; among the…