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Author: Joanne Elves

Her grade school report card said Joanne asks a lot of questions. She took that as a compliment and with family in tow, continues to ask as she travels the province in search of exciting adventures and interesting destinations.

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The steam from the hot pool swirled around while fat snowflakes risked landing on our wet hair. For a five-year-old visiting the Banff Upper Hot Springs for the first time, it was mesmerizing.  I looked up to see my grandma on the observation deck watching family and friends as we soaked in the naturally hot waters.

I thought my grandma was waving but the mist hid what she was doing. Suddenly a snowball splashed into the pool! We all laughed...but the lifeguard didn’t. The mist parted and he looked up, frowned and wagged his finger at grandma. Whoa…grandma getting caught doing something wrong…best day ever!

That was fifty years ago and to this day, I follow in my grandparents footsteps (except the part about throwing snowballs into the hot pool). Guests from out of town are treated to at least a day in Banff National Park. I love showing off the park, the mountains, the town and of course the birthplace of the national parks system in Canada.

How a Hot Pool Started Canada’s National Parks

Summer visits are full of hikes and lunch on the trail where I watch our friends stare in amazement at the stunning snow crusted mountains. They can’t believe snow can last all year long and usually insist on hiking high enough to touch a drift hidden in the shade of a rocky peak. Then we’ll wander along Banff Avenue, where my feet habitually turn into the candy shop before heading to the Cave and Basin National Historic Site for the history lesson.

As we walk the promenade to the Cave and Basin, I love setting the stage. I tell our guests my rendition of how the new railway was inching its way through the mountains in 1882 and how a few workers lowered themselves through a crack in the mountain side to discover the mineral rich warm water. That discovery led to the creation of Banff National Park in 1885 and started the ball rolling for more national parks across the country.

It’s fun to see people enter the cave for the first time. The tunnel, with its rough rocky walls opens to the shallow pool of emerald coloured water. Everyone marvels at the water and then looks up to see the small opening so far above our heads and almost on cue say, “They crawled through that hole?”

Heated by Mother Nature

A day on the slopes or snowshoe trails in winter is always followed by a most deserving soak at the Upper Hot Springs. The Cave and Basin isn’t open in the winter so my geology lesson of how naturally heated water seeps through the cracks and faults in Sulphur Mountain replaces that story. The water is rich in minerals – sulfate, calcium, bicarbonate, magnesium and sodium – enticing visitors for over 130 years to “take the waters.”

Rent a Retro Swimsuit

The Banff Upper Hot Springs offers heritage bathing suits for rent (think tank top and shorts all in one piece). Taking photos of friends clad in these old-fashioned suits with Mount Rundle in the background is priceless. Such hilarious poses!

And it doesn’t matter what season, as we soak in the 38˚C (100˚F) water, I wait for a pause in the conversation and then say, “Did I ever tell you about the day my grandma got caught throwing snowballs in the pool? Best day ever!”

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