Hot springs aren’t for everyone. First, they can be a bit of a hassle in all honesty, especially when the temperature is negative some ungodly number and you arrive bundled in at least thirty layers of clothing. Then there’s the unpleasant experience of changing alongside dozens of strangers. In spite of the possible annoyance and immodesty, the natural hot springs at Banff were well worth the awkwardness of mooning a group of tourists.
In 1882, Canadian Pacific Railway workers discovered the Banff hot springs, which led to the creation of Canada’s first national park in 1885, Banff National Park. After several fits and starts (and fires) the Upper Hot Springs bathhouse was finished in the 1930s in a style meant to rival the famous spas of Europe. That same style and spirit persists today in spite of several refurbishments, plunging the guest back into the heyday of taking the waters like a well-heeled member of the fin de siècle elite.
As I so delicately alluded to, the process of visiting a hot springs, or spa for you Europeans, can be a little daunting. Having been to several in the past year though, I feel as if I have a handle on the ins and outs of the mostly therapeutic, sometimes traumatizing experience.
Timing is everything; the first thing to do is ask around to figure out when the spa isn’t as busy. It’s always going to be busy, so just find the time when the numbers are on your side. If at all possible, bring your own towel. While the Banff Upper Hot Springs does have them for rent, they’re of a painfully poor quality, so just borrow one from your hotel for the afternoon. The third and most important tip is to leave all feelings of inadequacy and embarrassment at home; or at least the hotel. A spa is not the place for them and they will dampen your experience. Instead, go into the spa confident in the knowledge that you will never see any of your fellow bathers again and just enjoy yourself.
When I visited it was cold, but not the subarctic chill that can sometimes blast the region. The slap of cold air is what hit me first as I emerged from the locker room and showers, it felt as though a thin layer of ice formed on my body almost instantaneously. Before I could fully register the shocking cold, I fell into the warm embrace of the murky, steaming waters and was instantly at peace.
I immediately understood the draw of ‘taking the waters.’ As I relaxed in the steamy water, I leaned back and admired the scenery. The Canadian Rockies soar through the air immediately in front of the Banff Upper Hot Springs, creating one of those postcard-perfect moments after which you have to struggle to believe was real. Looking around, some others were lost in the same thoughts of amazement; amazement that an activity that could amuse vacationers in 1912 can still do so in 2012. That’s not an easy feat to achieve.
After a while, I shook out the ice that had formed in my hair, prematurely aging me in frost and left the calming waters. I looked back over my shoulder not wanting to leave the scenery behind and reversed the annoying procedure in front of a new group of naked tourists.
I decided that the hassle really wasn’t a hassle, not when the reward is so very sweet as the healing waters at the Banff Upper Hot Springs.
Have you been to a hot springs? What did you think?