Is The Cave and Basin National Historic Site Worth Visiting?

The Cave and Basin National Historic Site is an icon in Banff National Park. It is located near downtown Banff and is easily walkable if you don’t have access to a vehicle. Its beginnings date back to 1883, and it is one of the most cost-friendly activities in this area. You do not want to miss out on this attraction for those reasons!

We have visited the Cave and Basin multiple times and have never run out of things to read, learn, and see. We hold this site near and dear to our hearts, as it is the foundation upon which Banff National Park was built. Whether you’re a local who wants to deepen your knowledge of the beautiful area you live in or a visitor excited to learn more about Banff’s rich history, the Cave and Basin Museum will not disappoint!

About Cave and Basin’s Rich Local History

The Sign of Cave & Basin
Parks Canada sign overlooking Cascade Mountain

The Cave and Basin is a natural hot spring known to First Nations people for over 10,000 years. It was “discovered ” in 1883 by William McCardell, Tom McCardell, and Frank McCabe, three Canadian Pacific Railway workers. It was the first of many natural hot springs discovered in the area, leading to Banff National Park’s creation in 1885, ultimately becoming Canada’s first national park.

The Hot Springs Cave At Cave & Basin
A look at the cave

The Cave and Basin is located on the edge of Sulphur Mountain. In its beginnings, it quickly became popular because of its hot springs. Four years after it was discovered, this natural hot spring became a spot where visitors could enjoy a dip.

The hot spring was eventually closed for bathing. It was being overused, and the Banff Springs snail (unique to this area) needed to be protected. You can still view the natural hot spring and various tours, movies, and exhibits during your visit to the Cave and Basin.

Things to do at Cave and Basin

Inside Cave & Basin
Cave and Basin

The Cave and Basin is important in Banff’s and Park Canada’s heritage. It can be enjoyed by both tourists and locals to gain knowledge about such an important part of Banff National Park’s beginning stages. It is in a lovely quiet part of Banff and surrounded by some of its most iconic mountains.

There are countless things to learn and do while visiting Cave and Basin. It is suited for all ages and doesn’t require any previous knowledge. You could plan to attend various scheduled events or show up whenever your heart desires, in true vacay fashion. If it’s a rainy day in Banff, heading to this museum is a great option. Pick up a self-guided map at the front desk to maximize your experience. The map is offered both in English and French.

Here are some of the top things to do during your visit:

  • Exhibits
  • Tours
  • Movies
  • Discovery Hall
  • Observation decks
  • Outdoor changing activities
  • Walking Trails
  • Picnic tables

There’s an Exhibit for Everyone

Museum Car At Cave & Basin
Story Hall Cave and Basin Exhibit

There are many exhibits that are displayed at the Cave and Basin National Historic Site. The exhibits change over time, in order to stay relevant and offer up as much much variety in information as possible. Here are some of the exhibits that are being shown at the moment.

Imagine a Country

Vistor Exhibit At Cave & Basin Museum
Story Hall Exhibit

In this exhibit, you are invited to brainstorm what an ideal country would look like. This thought-provoking exhibit pushes you to consider conservation and what it means for future generations. What’s even cooler? If you can’t make it to Banff National Park during the timeframe of this exhibit, you can participate in it from home!

First World War Internment Exhibit

Story Hall Exhibit At Cave & Basin
Story Hall Exhibit

This exhibit was made to increase awareness of Canada’s First World War internment operations. These internment operations were enforced from 1914 to 1920. This 1,000 sq. ft. exhibit has interactive touchscreens, mixed media, and two-dimensional displays to provide an option for all learners. Seeing as this exhibit is adjacent to the Cave and Basin, it is free with your Banff Park Pass!

Interesting and Diverse Tours

Outdoor Display For Cave & Basin
Outdoor display at the Cave and Basin

One thing not to be missed is the tours offered on-site. Join Parks Canada interpreters for one tour, or join all four. These tours are a great way to extend your trip to Cave and Basin.

Cave and Basics Tour

  • A quick introduction to the highlights of the Cave and Basin
  • Tour of the 1914 Bathing Pavilion and its many hidden wonders
  • 30-minute indoor/ outdoor tour
  • Meet at South Belvedere
  • Time: 1:30pm

Discovery Tour

  • Learn why the Cave and Basin is the birthplace of national parks in Canada
  • Returning May 2023
  • 45 minutes / accessible options
  • Meet at flagpole
  • Time: Unknown

Billy’s Railway Camp

  • Go back in time to meet one of the historic railway workers
  • Learn about the exploration at Cave and Basin that led to the establishment of the first national park in Canada in 1885
  • Returning May 2023
  • Time: Unknown

Hope Springs Internal

  • Learn about Banff’s mineral hot springs, their “healing waters”, and the science behind the hype that drove early medical tourism in Banff National Park
  • Meet at Basin
  • Daily Drop-in Times: Enquire at admission.
The Story Hall At Cave & Basin
Story Hall

Movies Galore

One Of The Historic Movies At Cave & Basin
A look at one of the movies playing at the Cave and Basin

Watching one of their movies is another great activity to enjoy while visiting the Cave and Basin National Historic Site. These informative movies are short, making them a great addition to your experience and meaning that you won’t need to wait long to catch the next one if you miss the movie’s start. We love popping in to see the movies as they are a fun and easy way to learn in a relaxing atmosphere.

4-Screen HD Movie

Description – National and cultural treasures Parks Canada administered places across Canada.

Location & Length – Story Hall / 11 minutes

Get an up-close look at the endangered Banff Springs Snail

Description – Get an up-close look at the endangered Banff Springs Snail

Location & Length – Basin / 10 minutes

Wellspring: A Journey of Water

Description – Cave and Basin National Historic Site, using only images and sound.

Location & Length – Galletly Building, 2nd floor Theater / 11 minutes

Story Stations

Description – The story of natural and cultural treasures administered by Parks Canada from 1885 to today.

Location & Length – Story Hall / 10 different cartoons, 2 mins each

Wait, There’s More?

Observation Deck At Cave & Basin
Observation deck

If the awesome activities mentioned above weren’t enough, rest assured- there are even more options at Cave and Basin. This site has evolving activities and displays indoors and outdoors, a Discovery Hall packed with history, observation decks, various books to look through, and more.

Inside The Cave Basin Viewpoint
Observation decks at Cave and Basin

What to Know About Location and Transportation

Map Of Cave Basin
Google Maps instructions from downtown Banff to Cave and Basin

The Cave and Basin National Historic Site is located at 311 Cave Ave,
Banff, Alberta, T1L 1K2
. There are different ways to get to Cave and Basin, based on your preferences. We love to walk there and enjoy the beauty this area has to offer along the way!

It is approximately a 9-minute drive from Downtown Banff (3.1 km). If you do not have a car on your trip, you could consider renting a car in Banff. Rentals aren’t always easy, so we recommend booking one in advance during summer.

Cave & Basin Inside
Walking up to the basin

Another fun option would be a bike rental. This would make for a beautiful ride over the Nancy Pauw Pedestrian Bridge, crossing through the Banff Recreation Grounds and breathing in the fresh air amongst the foliage on your way. Consider packing a picnic at the Banff Recreation Grounds in one of their many enclosures!

As mentioned, our favorite way to get to the Cave and Basin is to walk from downtown Banff. It is a bit of a walk (27 minutes), so bear that in mind and schedule it into your Banff itinerary! We recommend packing water, dressing in layers (the weather changes surprisingly quickly in Banff), and bringing your bear spray to be bear-safe!

Route 4 on the Roam Bus is a transportation option to the Cave and Basin. In our experience, the bus has always been clean, not overcrowded and has very friendly and helpful drivers. This is a low-cost and eco-friendly option. We recommend checking it out for any other adventures you add to your itinerary here!

Cave and Basin Admission Fee

Main Entrance To Cave & Basin
Main entrance – Cave and Basin

Visiting the Cave and Basin National Historic Site is one of the best budget-friendly activities to do in Banff. The entry fees are super priced, and it can be just as enjoyable as a family activity as it can be as a solo traveler.

One thing to remember is that the Cave and Basin experience isn’t a super long one. We recommend planning to spend between 1-2 hours onsite before hitting up one of the nearby trails mentioned below or enjoying a picnic that you’ve packed. Don’t forget: Don’t leave behind anything that will attract wildlife!


Cave & Basin Entry Fees
Pass TypeRate
Youth (up to 17)Free

Don’t forget that this site is part of the Parks Canada Discovery Pass, which includes unlimited admission to over 80 destinations. So if you have a Parks Canada Discovery Pass, admission is free. There is also an option to purchase a combined entry with the Banff Upper Hot Springs. The Thermal Waters Pass is a great option for those who plan to visit both, which we recommend.

Thermal Waters Pass Fees
Pass TypeRate
Youth (3-17)$15.25
Child (Under 3)Free

Hours of Operation

Walkway In Cave & Basin
Walking out of the basin

The hours of operation vary based on the time of the year. That said, we love this spot as it is open year-round! The only exception is Christmas Day.

May 15 – October 15Open daily: 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m.
October 16 – May 14Wednesday to Sunday/ Holiday Mondays: 11 a.m.-5 p.m.
December 25Closed

Parking at Cave and Basin

Parking Lot At Cave & Basin Historic Site
Cave and Basin parking lot

From our experience, we have never had a parking issue. That said, the parking lot fills up faster in the summer months. The parking lot is well-maintained and is just steps from the entrance to the building. Seeing as this site is slightly removed from any other Banff attractions, the parking lot tells what to expect in terms of crowds when you get inside. There are accessible parking spots available as well as charging stations.

Accessible Parking At Cave & Basin Historic Site
Accessible parking at Cave and Basin
EV Charging Stations At Cave & Basin Parking Lot
Charging Stations

Parking is included in your admission fee.

Fun fact: Do you notice a rotten egg smell as you walk up to the front entrance? That is because of the sulphur-bearing minerals being broken down. 

What is the Best Time to Visit the Cave and Basin?

Outdoor Activites - Curling - At Cave & Basin
Many outdoor activities to choose from

The Cave and Basin National Historic Site is open year-round, so there is no bad time to visit. That said, this location will be significantly busier in the summer months. In fact, the number of visitors in Banff National Park more than doubles from winter to summer.

Ice Sculptures At Cave & Basin
One of the many activities offered

We enjoy visiting the Cave and Basin during the shoulder season (spring and fall). Since it is open year-round, we like to save this activity for the months between the ski and camping seasons. As this is an indoor/outdoor experience, we recommend visiting on a fair weather day and dressing for the weather!

Snow Activities At Cave & Basin Historic Site
Many outdoor activities to choose from

A Guide to Nearby Walking Trails

Direction Sign At Cave & Basin Historic Site
Walking toward the main entrance / Overlooking Cascade Mountain

Once you have finished enjoying your time at this historical site, consider enjoying one of the many nearby walking trails. These trails range in level of difficulty and length, giving you quite a few options to choose from.

Cave and Basin Trail – Upper Boardwalk

Length: 0.4km boardwalk
Elevation gain: Minimal
Walking time: 15 minutes

On this walk, you will get to see the cave vent and the location of the former Hotel. In addition, you can spot two smaller springs bubbling from the mountainside and the pools filled with pink bacteria, white and green algae, small fish, and insects.

Cave and Basin Trail – Lower Boardwalk

Length: 0.5km boardwalk
Elevation gain: Minimal
Walking time: 20 minutes

The Lower Boardwalk, located below the building, will allow you to learn more about the natural history of its surroundings. You may even spot some fish and birds that live in the wetlands below.

Marsh Loop Trail

Length: 2.8 km loop
Elevation gain: Minimal
Walking time: 1-hour round trip
Trailhead: Cave and Basin National Historic Site

This loop encircles the wetland filled with water from hot springs flowing out of the lower slopes of Sulphur Mountain.

Sundance Trail/ Sundance Canyon

horseback riding banff

Length: 3.7 km one way from trailhead plus 1.6 km moderate loop
Elevation gain: 155 m, elevation loss 60 m
Walking time: 3-hour round trip
Trailhead: Cave and Basin National Historic Site

Following the paved path behind the Cave and Basin main building, this trailhead can be easily found. The Sundance Trail/ Canyon is by far our favorite option out of these four trails and is a great family-friendly Banff hike. From our experience, it has never been overcrowded and has stunning views of the Rockies along the way. This trail has been super enjoyable both in the heat of the summer months and the snowy winter months.

What we like most is that you can turn around anytime and still feel satisfied with your adventure. Once on this trail, if you choose to go to the end, you will be greeted by the beautiful Sundance Canyon, which is definitely picture-worthy! Don’t forget to pack water, wear comfortable shoes/ boots, dress in layers, and bring your bear spray.

ULTIMATE Banff Packing List (Covering Winter and Summer)

Is the Cave and Basin Worth Visiting?

Outdoor Hot Spring At Cave & Basin
Outdoor hot spring

The Cave and Basin National Historic Site is a great thing to do while in Banff. It is close to downtown and doesn’t take up too much of your day. It plays an important part in the national park system and Canada’s rich history. Visitors can learn through exhibits, sites, and interactive displays.

Considering how inexpensive the experience is, interesting, and history-rich, we recommend you visit once on your trip. It can easily be combined with a visit to Bow Falls, Cascade Gardens, and the Banff Gondola for one epic day around Downtown Banff.

Whether you are interested in history, geology, or just enjoying the beauty of the great outdoors, the Cave and Basin is worth visiting.

Plan Your Trip to the Canadian Rockies

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About Michelle Brown

Hi! My name is Michelle and I have been living in the iconic Canadian Rockies for the past 7 years. Over the years, I have had the chance to explore countless gems in Alberta and British Columbia. I am stoked to be sharing them with you to help you build an unforgettable adventure itinerary. When I'm not blogging, I am out paddleboarding, golfing, disc golfing, checking out farmer's markets, and trying out new cafes. Happy reading!

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