Soak without getting soaked

BANFF, Alberta, Canada–With good reason, the Willow Stream Spa at the castle-like Fairmont Banff Springs hotel gets most of the ink when it comes to spa talk (I dished about that one previously), but for anyone seeking a soothing soak in an outdoor mineral pool with the Canadian Rockies as a backdrop, the historic Banff Hot Springs lets you soak without getting soaked (ditto for the concessioned spa at the same location).

First a little history: Although long known to native peoples, Banff’s hot spring was “discovered” in 1883 by railway workers building the trans-Canada line. They discovered the lower springs while prospecting on a day off, knew a good thing and filed a claim. A few months later, the upper springs were found. In those times, doctors often recommended visiting a mineral pool, so a big effort was made by the railway to attract tourists. When the government was faced with rival claims, it created the country’s first national park in 1885.

Okay, so much for history. Let me tell you what’s here, now. The current bath house dates from 1932 and is a federal heritage building crafted from rundlestone (from nearby Mt. Rundle) and hand-hewn logs. It houses a small gift shop, a restaurant, locker/changing rooms and an independent spa. Entry fee for the hot springs is $7.30 for adults; $6.30 for ages 3–17 or 65 and older; or $22.50 for a family of four, plus $3.40 for each additional family member. Towel or bathing suit rental is $1.90 (and you can rent a cool-looking, vintage 1920s-styled “heritage” suit). A locker is $1.

Given these prices, don’t expect fancy. The locker room is just that, a place to change. Don’t even plan on taking a leisurely shower afterward–the timed showers are too short to do much other than rinse.

Ahh, but step into the large hot mineral pool, gaze over at the mountains, or close your eyes and dream, and you could be in a frou-frou spa. It’s large enough for a leisurely paddle across. And if you work your way around the edges, you’ll find a few jets. In winter, there’s usually enough snow on the deck to permit a Nordic-spa type roll, if you want to shock your system.

Now here’s a hint: During ski season, go before 2 p.m. to avoid the apres-ski crowds.

Another plus: The hot springs are on a public bus route. About that spa: Pleiades Massage and Spa (1-866-760-2502) is another find for the budget conscious. A half -hour massage, reflexology or Reiki is $55, full hour is $85, 1.5 hours is $115; one-hour facial is $80, one-hour body treatment is $95, one-hour wrapture–aromatic steam, brief massage and wrap–is $80. All kinds of packages are available, too. I didn’t get a chance to indulge, but if I’d had the time, it would have made for a lovely way to spend an afternoon.

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