photo: Parks Canada/Banff Photography

Underground Origins: Cave and Basin National Historic Site

By AMA Staff

Arguably the most storied place in the Rockies is not any one mountain, but something that lies far below their peaks. Cave and Basin National Historic Site, on the flank of Sulphur Mountain, is regarded as the birthplace of Canada’s national parks. Though known to Indigenous Peoples for millennia, the group of thermal mineral springs was brought to national attention in 1883 by three Canadian Pacific Railway workers. Four years later it became a main attraction for both nature lovers and bathers looking to “take the waters” at the new Rocky Mountains Park (now Banff National Park). Taking a dip today is strictly prohibited, as doing so damages the habitat of the endangered Banff Springs snail (in all the world, the mollusk is only found here). Instead, interpretive walks—including a stroll through the underground cavern—and interactive exhibits in the Story Hall are designed to show guests how a hole in the ground helped to foster conservation efforts across the country.

Admission to Cave and Basin is free with a Parks Canada Discovery Pass. AMA members save $10 on passes purchased at AMA centres.