Whenever I visit national parks, I always think how amazing it would be to be the first person who rounded that corner, or walked through that pass, or climbed over that hill and saw the beauty in front of them. No roads, no buildings, no noise, no people… However, I am also so grateful that people have seen the benefit in preserving such places so that I can stand there and pretend I am that first person.
The Rocky Mountains are on the west side of Canada, extending from northern BC and Alberta, down into New Mexico in the United States. They form the continental divide, where the rivers flow east on one side and west on the other.There are several parks in the Rocky Mountains today, but in Canada, it all started here at Banff in a steaming pool of water.
Although the hot springs were known of by the local natives, and visited by explorers or traders earlier, it wasn’t until the Canadian government was building a railroad to connect eastern Canada with the west that it was possible to make them available to the public. They were discovered by three railroad men (Frank McCabe and William and Thomas McCardell) who noticed the rising steam and investigated. Sir William Cornelius Van Horne, the construction manager of the railroad first spoke to William Pearce, the Superintendent of Mines, of the fear that selfish interests would destroy the beauty of the area and maybe something should be done about it. Then William Pearce visited the area in 1884, and Sir Sandford Fleming suggested the idea of a national park, and Thomas White (Minister of the Interior) was sympathetic to the idea, and in November 1885 the Banff Hot Springs Reserve came into being: ten square miles around the three Banff hot springs.
The Park gradually grew as people visited the area and became convinced that more and more of the beautiful landscape should be protected. Today it is 6,641 km²!
A visit to the Hot SpringsWhat are hot springs? A spring is where water that has seeped down deep underground rises and comes to the surface. The water in hot springs has been heated by hot rock deep beneath the surface. It is forced to rise to the surface through a fault or crack by the pressure created by descending water. If it rises quickly, the water retains the heat and gushes out of the ground warm. The water, in its travels through the rock, picks up a load of minerals such as sulphate, calcium, bicarbonate, magnesium and sodium. So, soaking in the water is thought to help reduce stress, relieve pain, boost blood circulation and solve skin problems. Unfortunately, hot springs usually also have an aroma of sulphur.
Today, you can visit the cave and basin, and for less than $15, you can rent a swimsuit and a towel and go for a dip in the upper springs pool.
Stay in the Banff Springs Hotel
At $600 or so a night, I will most likely never book a room at the Banff Springs Hotel, but what an amazing building to have a peek at. Known as the Castle of the Rockies, it was built way back in 1888 by the Canadian Pacific Railway, then completely rebuilt during the early 1900’s. The building faces Mount Rundle and it is clad itself in “rundle” stone quarried from the mountains close by. It has 768 bedrooms, several ballrooms and halls, numerous restaurants, bars or lounges, and a lovely salt water pool.
Of course, being a very old building, it also has a ghost story of a woman who dances in the ballroom. The legend is that she tragically died after falling down the staircase when her wedding dress caught fire from the lighted candles placed along the ballustrade…
Go for a tour of this amazing building here.
There are many other sights to see and things to do such as standing on the shores of the beautiful turquoise glacier lakes, riding the gondola from Sulphur Mountain, walking the Tunnel Mountain trail, skiing down the side of one of those amazing mountains… Maybe next time.