In 1883, three rail workers stumbled across hot water and steam flowing out of a cave on the lower slopes of what is now known as Sulphur Mountain. The hot spring was discovered to be one of nine sulphurous hot springs on the mountain’s northeast flank. In the midst of the late 19th century craze for the “water cure”, commercial operations were soon established and people flocked to Banff to “take the waters” and enjoy the soothing and reputedly healing properties of the mineral-rich springs. The Banff Upper Hot Springs are the last remaining springs open to the public for bathing.
The Banff Hot Springs are still a favourite today amongst visitors and locals. It’s magical to sit in the pools in the wintertime, watching snow fall on the surrounding peaks. Sunrise and sunset at any time of the year is also a wonderful time to visit, as the mountain air cools down during these times of day. The springs are open until late in the evening year-round.
The facilities at the Banff Hot Springs are universally accessible and includes a large pool and café. Swimsuits, towels, and lockers are available to rent.
The natural history of the Banff Upper Hot Springs
The water in the Banff Upper Hot Springs is heated geothermally, bubbling up to the surface from three kilometres (1.8 miles) into the earth’s crust. The water that reaches the surface has not seen daylight for hundreds of years. It began as precipitation (rain and snow) which very slowly seeped through the sedimentary rock layers, getting hotter and absorbing dissolved minerals as it descended. The water then flows up to the surface along the Sulphur Mountain Thrust Fault, a large fracture in the mountain where rock layers have slid on top of each other.
The natural temperature of the water that emerges at the Upper Hot Springs outlet varies depending on the season. During the winter, the temperature is as hot as 47°C (116°F). In the spring, the flow increases and the temperature cools off, to a minimum of 27°C (81°F). Heated municipal water is used to top up the pool during winter when the spring’s natural volume is lower.
How to get there
The Banff Upper Hot Springs are located at the end of Mountain Avenue, four kilometres (2.5 miles) south of the town of Banff.