Banff – The cave where the Canadian National Parks system was born

Canada is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year. The year is full of interesting activities (especially when you live in the National Capital Region!), but what delights me the most is the fact that access to national parks across the country is free. All year. EVERY NATIONAL PARK!

When my brother suggested a trip of a few days, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to explore my own country, so we headed for what is arguably the best-known national park in Canada: Banff.

Located just over an hour from Calgary, Alberta, Banff National Park is easily accessible and arguably one of the most popular national park for exploring the Canadian Rockies. Beyond its postcard landscapes and countless hiking trails, Banff also has a special historical significance: it is the birthplace of the entire national park system in Canada.

Cave and Basin National Historic Site
A bit of history in Banff

And the best place to learn more about the history of Banff and of Canadian national parks is at the Cave and Basin National Historic Site, which we visited on our first morning in Banff.


Cave and Basin demonstrates how the discovery of a cave filled with hot water led to the creation of the first national park in Canada. In 1883, railroad workers noticed steam coming from a crack, and while descending into a hole, discovered a cave filled with mineral water. They quickly realized that they could make a fortune by selling access to these waters considered to have therapeutic virtues.

Cave and Basin National Historic Site
Inside the cave

But when the railroad workers filed a land title application, the Canadian government refused, deciding instead to protect the hot springs and the surrounding area. This is how Canada’s first national park was created.

This story is well explained at Cave and Basin National Historic Site. You can visit the famous cavern, see an interactive exhibition on the history of Banff and stroll around the old mineral water pool where generations of bathers have enjoyed the benefits of water (it is not possible anymore to bathe at Cave and Basin).

Cave and Basin Historic National Site
The old mineral pool

Add to this a small network of trails in the mountains, which allows to observe closely the impact of the hot spring on the fauna and flora of the place and which offers a breathtaking view of the mountains.

My brother and I went to visit Cave and Basin National Historic Site only to have something to do while we were waiting for our horseback ride through the mountains. In the end, Cave and Basin was one of our favourite visit of our stay. It’s interactive and interesting, and the surroundings are beautiful. We went early in the morning, it was sunny, and we had the trails to ourselves.

In addition, admission is free until the end of 2017. This is the ideal year to discover Canada, its history and its majestic landscapes!

Perfect morning in the Rockies


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