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Banff Upper Hot Springs, Alberta, Canada
Julie Register visited this destination spa at 108 Mile Ranch, British Columbia, Canada in October 2001

It doesn't get much better than this - soaking in a pool filled with hot spring water overlooking some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. The Banff Upper Hot Springs pool had lots of people in it on the day of my visit, many of them families with children. However, I didn't notice the crowd when I got in the water. This isn't a swimming pool with lots of motion and splashing. People tend to pick out their spots to just soak and talk or appreciate the view of Mount Rundle. It's a social experience (as were the original Roman spas), but you can be alone with your thoughts. This priceless treat has an incredibly low price and convenient hours of operation. The entrance fee ranges from $4.50CAD (senior or child, low season) to $7.50CAD (adult, high season). At the time of my visit, that was $2.70US - $4.50US! Discounts are given for families and groups. The bathhouse provides rental of 1930's-style swimsuits which are a tad more modest than today's bikinis, covering the body from upper chest to upper thigh ($1.50CAD), towel ($1.25CAD), and locker ($.50CAD). It's open daily at 9 or 10am and closes at 10 or 11pm, depending on the day and season. Soaking in the hot pool is a popular after-ski activity in the winter.

The facility, part of Banff National Park, underwent a $4.5-million renovation in the mid-90's to combine the look and feel of the original 1930s bathhouse with the amenities expected by visitors today. It offers a redesigned pool, changing rooms, restaurants, boutiques, and the Pleiades Spa. There is an interpretive exhibit in the lobby that uses pictures and anecdotes to tell the story of the hot springs from the discovery of the nearby Cave and Basin Hot Springs by Canadian Pacific Railway workers in 1882 (which led to the creation of Canada's first national park) - to the first government facility opening in 1904 with two cement plunge basins, several bath tubs and a 7.2 m x 7.2 m swimming basin - to the bathhouse and pool opening in 1932 - to the most recent renovation in 1996. 

Pleiades Massage Therapy & Spa

OK, it does get better than just the soak in the pool. The Pleiades Spa (pronounced Play-a-deez), located in the bathhouse, offers massage, reflexology, reiki, shiatsu, body treatment, facial, aromatherapy wrap and packages combining treatments. The spa is located on two floors but is compact and only takes seven guests at a time. It's best to make reservations in advance. I had an aromatherapy wrap and 1/2 hour massage ($70CAD/$42US). I started with the massage which was fabulous. The therapist, Scott, had magic hands with a wonderful healing touch. I highly recommend scheduling an hour and a half with him. I am sure it would be well worth the $95CAD/$57US. After the massage, I had an aromatherapy wrap. I spent the first half hour alternating between a plunge pool filled with hot springs water and an aroma steam room. The hot mineral water stimulates circulation, promotes relaxation and detoxifies and re-mineralizes the body. After I was warmed up, therapist Tony Neves escorted me to the adjacent room which was filled with a number of treatment tables. He selected a blend of essential oils and sprayed it all over my body while I was standing. I then got on the table and and he wrapped flannel sheets around me. He dimmed the lights and I enjoyed the aroma, listened to the soft music, and relaxed for a half hour. This treatment is simple and unique. I haven't seen anything quite like it at other spas. There was a wedding party of seven coming in to have aromatherapy wraps after me. Many weddings are held in the gardens near the park administration building.

Tony is an aromatherapy enthusiast. On the benefits of aromatherapy, Tony says, "Since ancient times, people have used extracts from plants for therapeutic use to improve one's health and well-being.  Aromatherapy is the modern name for the educated and controlled practice of these techniques using aromatic extracts called essential oils. 
     "Current scientific research has helped to confirm the healing properties of essential oils.  One way they can help the body is by increasing its ability to efficiently transport oxygen and nutrients into cells.  This enhances our ability to deal with stress-related problems, improve our circulation as well as relax our muscles and nervous system.
I've been working in the spa for several years doing aromatherapy wraps.  Our customers' response to this experience has been wonderful!  Often people mention feeling relief from stress, sore muscles and respiratory complaints, to name a few."

Tony was willing to share a few aromatherapy recipes with us. He cautions that essential oils are powerful. Keep away from children and avoid during pregnancy. The following recipes are for external use only. Diffuse or add 2 drops of these recipes to 1 tablespoon of massage oil.

Aromatherapy Recipes

Directions: Combine the following amounts of essential oils to create the desired blend. Add each recipe into a 120ml spray bottle filled with distilled water to create a spray or use 4 or 5 drops directly in a bathtub or steam room.

  • Nerve Relaxant: 9 drops Orange, 5 drops Rosewood, 4 drops Lavender, 2 drops Ylang-ylang

  • Divine Relaxation: 9 Neroli, 9 Rose, 2 Chamomile

  • Muscle Relaxant 1: 8 drops Lavender, 8 drops Rosemary, 3 drops Sweet Birch

  • Muscle Relaxant 2: 10 Lemon, 5 Eucalyptus, 5 Rosemary

  • Respiratory Aid: 8 Lemon, 4 Lemongrass, 4 Eucalyptus, 4 Peppermint

  • Nerve Blend: 10 Orange, 4 Rosewood, 3 Sandalwood, 3 Rose        

Future Plans

The way the spa is currently configured, after checking into the spa on the lower level, you need to exit the spa and use the main bathhouse stairway to get to the treatment rooms on the upper floor. Spa Director, Blake Johnson, says the spa will be remodeled starting November 5, 2001 to add an internal staircase for spa use only. A new treatment room downstairs will also be added to make a total of 6 private treatment rooms on both floors. The renovations should be completed by the end of the year. There will be a new and improved aromatherapy treatment introduced at that time. 


The Upper Hot Springs are on Mountain Avenue, four kilometres south of the Town of Banff. It is a day-use facility and offers no accommodations. However, there are plenty of places to stay in Banff from ranging from hostels to the ultra-deluxe. If you come to Banff to take advantage of all the national park has to offer - skiing, canoeing, biking, etc., be sure not to miss one of its most unique offerings, the Banff Upper Hot Springs.



Photos copyright 2001, Julie Register
except those marked * which are courtesy of Banff Upper Hot Springs



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In The Grand Spas of Central Europe, historian David Clay Large follows the grand spa story from Greco-Roman antiquity to the present, focusing especially on the years between the French Revolution and World War II, a period in which the major Central European Kurorte (literally, “cure-towns”) reached their peak of influence and then slipped into decline.

Featured Spa Event

Mnaitou Springs, Colorado

in Manitou Springs, CO
September 30 through October 1, 2016

Waterfest will bring together, educators, practitioners, water enthusiasts and local residents for three days to explore the geology, hydrology, health benefits, business, culture and history of mineral water. The recently opened SunWater Spa and Wellness Center offers guests the opportunity to soak in the heated mineral springs water that has made the town a health seekers retreat for more than 150 years.

Presentations and discussions at the Manitou Springs City Hall on Saturday, October 1st

- 10am: Geology & Hydrology: Understanding and Protecting our Mineral Springs Aquifers: vulnerabilities, dangers, and creative approaches
- 11:15am: Culture & History: Explore the history of Manitou Springs and the development of global spa cultures
- 1:45pm: A New Frontier in Medicine: Balneology and a new system of natural therapeutics, evidence and applications.
- 3:00pm: Business & Economics: Interactive Roundtable for Mineral Springs Owners & Operators: Challenges & Opportunities for the 21st Century


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