A trip to Banff isn’t complete without a visit to the Banff Upper Hot Springs. No matter when you go or how long you are in Banff, adding this slice of history to your itinerary is worth it.
For 200 years, this iconic geothermal wonder has been attracting visitors to its mineral waters. Over 300,000 people visit every year – an average of 800 people a day – which can make it a busy place. With a pool capacity of 200, when is the best time to visit this historical marvel?
The Best Time to Visit
The hot springs are a delight to visit any time. Each season provides a unique experience so consider what other activities you would like to do in the area to help determine the optimal time for you. The summer and winter months are prime tourist seasons – this is when the 800 people a day will be showing up. If you’re not fussy about specific seasonal activities and are just looking to beat the crowds fall and spring are quieter; May and mid-September
Regardless of when you visit, expect crowds. So follow this magic formula for the best experience:
- avoid weekends, aim to visit during the week; and,
- arrive early (before noon) or late (after 8 p.m.).
The busiest times are when people have completed their daily adventures and are looking to relax.
The Banff Upper Hot Springs is open daily from 10 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., including all Canadian Holidays, with the last entry at 9:30 p.m.
How to Get to the Banff Upper Hot Springs
At 5,200 feet, the Banff Upper Hot Springs are the highest in Canada which means spectacular views. It also means getting there is uphill. Not to worry, a few options exist to make the 3.6 km trek up Mountain Avenue.
- Drive. Parking is limited so arrive early or later in the day. You will have a 200m walk up to the bathhouse. There is a passenger drop-off at the bathhouse, as well as handicap parking.
- Public transit. Alas, carriage service is no longer provided to the hot springs – it ended somewhere in the early 1900s – however, you can take ROAM bus #1 for $2. The bus will drop you off at a paved path, with a small punchy climb, that will take you right to the bathhouse. This is the easiest and most efficient option.
- Bike. There is bike parking outside the bathhouse if you have the time and are up for some extra physical activity. Mountain Avenue, the road to the hot springs, has large shoulders that can safely accommodate cyclists. The road is fairly steep, with 300m of climbing. An e-bike, which can be rented in Banff, is a good option. Prepare for a fast ride back to town. Not recommended in the winter.
- Walk. Definitely the longest option. Walking will take you at least an hour. The most direct route is up Mountain Avenue. There is a footpath along the road, but it doesn’t go all the way to the hot springs, so you’ll end up on the road. There is a trail you can take off Kootenay Avenue that will bring you to Mountain Avenue near the Rimrock Hotel. This option is not recommended in the winter.
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What to Expect at the Banff Upper Hot Springs
The Banff Upper Hot Springs bathhouse is a charming brick and gable building built in the early 1930’s. It’s not the original building, which burnt down in 1931 but it retains the same charm. The building and pools have undergone renovations so it feels historical but it is modernized.
Along with the pool, the bathhouse has a gift shop, café, and spa services. A cozy nook to the left of the elevators across from the gift shop contains wooden benches, a water fountain, and a photo display of the history of the hot springs. This cozy space is a perfect place to wait for members of your party or escape for quiet time.
The pool is kidney-shaped and ranges in depth from 2 ft to 4.7 ft so there are options if you want to sit or stand partially or fully submerged. The pool is a place for quiet relaxation. No pool toys or floaties are allowed in the hot springs nor is splashing, diving, or disruptive water play.
The pool temperature is between 98 and 104 F (37 and 40 C); however, it can change for various reasons. The temperature is posted at the admission desk so you will know the water temperature before entering. It will not exceed 104 F, but if that’s a bit too hot, there’s a shallow pool kept at a cooler temperature. This is a great space for babies and toddlers.
My favorite feature of the Banff Upper Hot Springs pool is the enclosed water ramp entrance from the change room to the pool. You enter the pool already in the water so unless you have personal items to put on the deck shelves, need to grab a drink from the water fountain, or use the on-deck showers you never have to get out of the water.
- Visiting Banff and need a game plan? Check out our itinerary.
What to Wear
If you find yourself at the bathhouse only to realize you’ve forgotten your swimsuit, no problem, you can rent one – from the 1920’s. The swimsuits aren’t actually from the 1920s they just look like it. These navy polyester replications won’t turn you into a fashion diva, but they will transport you to the past giving you an authentic historical experience. They also provide a high giggle factor which makes renting a suit a fun $2 option even if you didn’t forget yours. You can also rent towels for $2.
If renting a swimsuit is not for you, any swimwear is acceptable as long as it’s different from the clothing you arrived in, is clean, and does not impair your ability to swim or a lifeguard to perform a rescue in an emergency. No underwear, please. Swim diapers are required for toddlers under 3 years of age.
Are the Banff Hot Springs Expensive?
The base price of visiting the hot springs is similar to a night at the movies.
- A single adult entry is ~$16.50
- Seniors and youth are ~$14.25
- Three and under are free
- Family pass is ~$53
- Other options also exist like group rates, 10 pass booklets, and punch cards for 3, 4, or 5 days.
If you’re planning to visit the Cave and Basin National Historic Site, consider a Thermal Waters Pass which will get you entrance to both sites at a lower price.
Tickets are purchased at the hot springs on a first-come, first-serve basis. There are no online reservations or ticket sales.
You don’t have to go into the pools or pay to enjoy the Banff Hot Springs. The bathhouse entrance is a giant deck with the pool set below so the entirety of it can be viewed from above. Red patio chairs allow you to sit and enjoy the same view as the bathers. There are even stationary telescopes if you want to try and spot hikers trekking Rundle Mountain.
To the left of the bathhouse is a waterfall of hot mineral water – you might have to plug your nose, sometimes it emits the ‘rotten egg’ smell of sulphur – so you can feel the water at no cost.
The surrounding area of the Banff Hot Springs is full of forest pathways that are great for quick little hikes. For a longer hike pair a visit to the hot springs with a trip up Sulphur Mountain on the Banff Gondola for a ‘hike and soak’. The two sites are adjacent, and the parking lots connect via pathways.
How Much Time Should I Spend at the Banff Upper Hot Springs?
For a fulsome trip to the Banff Upper Hot Springs plan for 2 to 3 hours. This will allow for the recommended time of an hour in the pool, a bit of shopping, a drink or snack at the café, and exploring the natural surroundings. For the time-crunched, the best of the hot springs can be experienced in 1.5 hours.
Regardless of how much time you have, the Banff Upper Hot Springs is a historical treat not to be missed.
So, Are the Banff Hot Springs Worth it?
In general, yes! It’s beautiful, historic, and adds variety to your trip to Banff. If you are visiting during peak tourist season or times of the day, you may find the crowds and line to enter not worth it. If Jasper is part of your travel plans or if you want to escape the crowds, you may want to consider Miette Hot Springs.
Is There Anything Else I Should Know?
Yes! Are you traveling to Banff and need a game plan so you don’t miss out on the best things to do? Check out our itinerary.
Most travelers want to visit the most popular sites and still avoid the crowds. We have a detailed itinerary that gives you a step-by-step game plan so you can get to the best places at the right times!
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