The Cave and Basin National Historic Site of Canada commemorates the birthplace of Canada’s National Park system. The growth and development of Canada’s national parks are celebrated in interactive displays and exhibits. Naturally occurring, warm mineral springs can be found inside the cave, and outside in an emerald coloured basin.
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, but known to Aboriginals for 10,000 years.
To avert an environmental catastrophe, the government stepped in, deciding to declare Banff Canada’s first national park in order to preserve the springs. You can’t swim here any more, but the site reopened as an impressive museum in May 2013 after a two-year restoration.
The original cave and the old outdoor springs and bathhouse (closed in 1971) can be viewed, alongside a lovingly curated cinematic exhibition of Parks Canada’s cache of 44 national parks. Leading out from the complex are two trails: an interpretive walk along boardwalks to the cave vent; and the 2.3km (1.4 mile) Marsh Loop Trail across the park’s only natural river marsh.