If you've just crossed the bridge from downtown and are staring at this building, come on in, it's free - let's go for a journey back in time together through Cascade Gardens!

Cascade Gardens sits at the base of Sulfur Mountain in Banff, Alberta

Having worked here for four seasons, I'm going to share with you all the insider tips on how to have the best experience in Banff, Alberta's hidden rainbow. I've strolled through these grounds with many visitors, locals and employees, and I'm confident that I can answer all your questions!

looking towards the administration building and cambrian section of cascade gardens in banff, Alberta

Whether you're a Nature lover, history buff, or just in need of a peaceful refuge, read on for the exclusive lowdown on how to make the most of your time in Banff Gardens!

A Tapestry of Colour in Cascade Gardens

As we walk together through Cascade gardens, you'll be transported back to the 1930's. The vibrant flowers, beautiful landscape, and tranquil water features are set at the base of impressive architecture and majestic mountains such as Cascade Mountain and Mount Rundle.

Cascade Mountain views from Cascade Gardens.

Located past the main street bridge on the south end of town, Cascade Gardens are recognized as Treaty 7 lands in Southern Alberta, Canada. With its ornamental wrought iron fence and stone entrance, Banff Gardens is shrouded in mystery, inspiring wonder and curiosity in all who behold it for the first time.

looking north at main street and cascade mountain from cascade gardens in banff, alberta

Overlooking the gardens is the majestic Cascade Mountain, creating a perfect backdrop for those wishing to capture some of their best pictures of Banff. Surrounded by a postcard-perfect landscape, you'll find yourself questioning if it's all too good to be true!


Dating back to 1934, Cascade Gardens, formally known as Cascades of Time Garden, is a beloved and significant cultural landmark in Canada.

Walking in through the main gate, we first see this impressive, authoritative brick building. Designed by Harold C. Beckett and completed in 1937, it is Parks Canada's first formal administration building. Standing as a testament to the growth and evolution of Banff National Park, it continues to be a symbol of cultural heritage for the Canadian National Park system.

Parks Canada administration building.

In addition to being a landscape and building architect, Harold Beckett was also a passionate geologist. The majestic and historically-rich backdrop that Banff provides, inspired him to showcase all of his talents and interests into one innovative project.

Beckett's goal was to create a geological garden that would educate visitors about the rich history of the park, while providing a peaceful escape from the busyness of downtown Banff. He envisioned winding flagstone paths, colourful flower beds, shaded pavilions, and a series of pools that represented each major geological period of Banff National Park.

The pools would be connected by trickling streams referred to as "Cascades of Time".


Reveal for a Moment at the Reflecting Pool

Let's stop here at the front of the admin building. Imagine sitting here on this bench, catching fish on a beautiful, sunny morning in the Rockies!

Cascade Gardens Reflecting Pool.

In the early days of a National Park experience, fishing was a popular activity in the pools throughout Banff Gardens. In fact, sport fish were stocked into about 20 percent of the National Park's lakes. Unfortunately, due to the negative impact on natural ecosystems, this practice was discontinued in 1988 when the National Park Fish Hatchery closed.

While the trout have long disappeared, the Reflecting pool remains one of solace and peace in the morning. The usually bustling town of Banff remains sleepy and still, and the soundscape is one of tranquility and calmness. Birds are chirping, waterfalls are bubbling, and in the fall, you'll even hear an occasional elk bugle from the Banff recreational grounds.

Insider Tip: To be enjoyed in all its' splendor, you have to be at Cascade Gardens early in the morning.

You'll be rewarded with the best picture taking opportunities and will essentially have grounds to yourself. Bundle up, grab a coffee, set up your camera, and bask in this breathtaking scenery.

Sit and reset in Banff Gardens.
Insider Tip - This is my absolute favourite bench in the garden! Sipping on a morning coffee and watching the sun crest over Tunnel Mountain, makes you feel incredibly fortunate for that moment in time.
Sun peaks through after cresting Tunnel Mountain.

Cozy up in the Cambrian Pavilion & Pool

Continuing on our journey, let's take a moment to appreciate this incredible sunrise emanating over Mount Rundle, shining first light onto the Cambrian Pavilion! Fittingly, this area of Cascade Gardens depicts the dawn of life, the Cambrian Era (the geological era dating 570-505 million years ago).

Sunrises over Mount Rundle provides for spectacular mornings in Cascade Gardens.

This federal heritage building is an integral part of the picturesque Cascade Gardens, and showcases the unique character and natural beauty of the surrounding mountains.

Views of the Cambrian Pavilion overlook Cascade Mountain.

Covered and cozy, the Cambrian pavilion is ideal for intimate wedding ceremonies with less than 10 people. Guests can watch the beautiful bride from the comfort of the pavilion's small seating area.


Discover the Devonian Gazebo & Pool

Nestled directly behind the tranquil Cambrian Pool, is the Devonian gazebo and pool which represents the Age of Fishes, or Devonian Period (408-360 million years ago).


With each step, you'll feel the flagstone path winding gently upwards, leading you to higher pools, lush gardens, and magnificent rock terraces. Here, you have another opportunity to have a seat in a covered gazebo and take in the gorgeous surroundings.

Devonian Pavillion behind yellow globeflowers.

Picnic in the Midsection & Summit

Strolling onwards through burled pine bridges, we'll pass along Phallus Palace (look up!), before eventually arriving at the Cretaceous pool, or more commonly known by Parks Canada staff as 'the Summit'. Representing the period from 144-66 million years ago, Beckett had designed this section to display creatures from that era, including mammoths, saber-tooth tigers, dinosaurs, and even cavemen!

Phallus Palace - look up!

Insider Tip - The summit tends to be the quietest part of Cascade Gardens on a busy day. Large trees like spruce, pine, and poplars offer private, shady areas on a hot, summer day.
Burled pine trees are used for the archways.
Insider Tip - Banff Gardens is a treasure trove of hidden secrets, just waiting to be uncovered. As we stroll around, make sure to look up and look around the perimeter - you may discover a secret innuendo or a moveable stone.

If you're lucky enough to discover something truly unique, please be discrete and keep it to yourself. In this way, we can preserve the magic of the garden for future visitors to enjoy!

Cascade Gardens Operation

In Banff National Park, the threat of frost typically subsides in May or June. Despite this late start to the planting season, Banff Gardens boasts around 50,000 annual flowers and an abundance of perennials, all tended to annually by a team of Parks Canada staff. If you visit Banff between July and the September long weekend, chances are, you'll be able to see the garden in full bloom.

Parks Canada staff, Liam & Mykenzie, work together to deadhead and plant begonias in early June.

We often are asked why we are removing blooms from the flowers. The act of deadheading optimizes continued blooming, resulting in a longer flowering period and a more attractive garden. Deadheading also helps to prevent self-seeding and the spread of invasive plants.

Mykenzie deadheads marigolds to support further blooms.

All the annuals were historically grown on site but are now sourced from a private nursery and transported to the Parks Canada greenhouse to climitize before planting.

Parks Canada greenhouse where annuals are stored in early Spring.
Insider Info: Banff Gardens hardiness zone number is 2 and its cooler climate and short growing season provide the perfect conditions for flowers such as columbines, dahlias, delphiniums, salpiglossis, poppies, pansies, dianthus, rudbeckia, calendula, and snapdragons to flourish.
Stargazer Lilies

Maintaining a garden of this significant scale, is a time-consuming and labor-intensive process.


Interestingly enough, things occasionally get uncovered like shards of china, old bottles, and even animal bones!

The end result, however, is a beautiful and thriving garden that inspires relaxation and the best picture taking opportunities.

All the Facts about Cascade Gardens

Cascade Gardens is free to visitors but a National Parks pass is required to be anywhere in Banff.

1. Parking at Banff Gardens

The small parking lot at Cascade Gardens.

When it comes to parking at Cascade Gardens, options are limited and primarily intended for staff and short-term use. It's important to note that the parking lot is closely monitored by park wardens and any vehicles deemed to be taking advantage of the space may be towed. If you drive around the grounds and there is no parking available, come back when it is less busy or find alternate parking.

Additionally, there are only a three parking spots designated for buses and trailers, which are often filled by tour buses. So, if you're planning on visiting with your home on wheels, it's best to plan accordingly and look for alternative parking options.

Insider Tip - Park in one of the downtown parking lots and walk to Banff Gardens. Not only is parking limited here, but it is extremely hard to exit out of the premises during peak season.

2. Not Wheelchair Accessible

While the grounds are family-friendly, the narrow, flagstone walkways and stairs make it non-accessible for strollers and wheelchairs.

Insider Tip: While the back sections of the gardens are inaccessible, you can access the front of the reflecting pool area from the parking lot.

3. Washroom Facilities

Public washrooms (women's, men's, and accessible) are open to visitors after May long weekend to mid September. A baby change table is available in the accessible washroom.

4. Slip, Trip & Fall Hazards

Many of the stairways do not have hand railings and there are many uneven, unstable stones on the walkways. The stones do become very slippery when they are wet.

The wet walkways can be slippery, creating a slip hazard for visitors.

5. Unguarded Waterways

There are no railings around the pools and they approximately 1-2 meters deep. You MUST keep an eye on your children at all times. They are not allowed to climb on the walls, especially around the pools and over waterways. Stones on the walls are unstable and they often, unexpectedly move.

The walls are not safe for children to walk on.

6. Mindfulness Matters

While picnics, playing ball, and yoga on the grass, are completely acceptable activities on the grounds of Banff Gardens, be considerate of the peaceful environment that you're in. Anything that impedes on others like playing music and being obnoxiously loud, is annoying for everyone and takes away from the overall experience.

7. Respect the Gardeners

When interacting with gardeners, please respect their personal space and boundaries. Banff Gardens gets extremely busy during peak times (11am - 4pm) in the summer months. So, if you notice them with headphones in, it may indicate they need a break from all the noise and interactions and prefer some introspective time.


While it's okay to ask them questions about the garden itself, be cognizant that they are busy keeping the gardens beautiful and may not have the time or energy to answer all your tourist inquiries.

For more comprehensive information, I would recommend visiting the Banff Visitor Centre in downtown.

Banff Visitor Centre located on main street.

8. Respect the Work

Please respect the beauty and integrity of Banff Gardens. Picking flowers, walking on walls, and stepping in flower beds is prohibited and damaging to the park's delicate ecosystem. It is illegal to take anything, including flowers, seeds, and acorns, from National parks. You can capture your best pictures without disturbing the natural surroundings!

9. Be a Conscientious Explorer

Littering in any National park is a serious violation of park regulations and carries a hefty fine. There are numerous garbage and recycling bins at Banff Gardens, so make sure you throw your garbage in a bin. Yes, cigarette butts are considered trash (there are astrays alongside the garbage bins)!

Picking up your trash is not the job that the Parks Canada team are here to do.

Garbage bin, recycling bin and an astray are located by Cambrian.

10. No Pets Allowed

Your furry friends are not allowed on the premises. You may see others walking their dogs through the grounds but be aware that there is a neighbourhood behind Banff Gardens and locals use the walkways as a shortcut to downtown.

11. Lack of AED on site

First aid supplies are available during working hours at the staff building (adjacent to the washroom facilities), but the staff are not obliged to supply first aid. If you get injured, you need to call 911 or Banff dispatch, depending on the severity of your injury.

There is one AED located on site but it is locked inside the administration building. With the ongoing traffic issues that Banff deals with, especially during peak season, an ambulance may be very far away.

12. Stay Hydrated

There are no water refill stations on site within Banff Gardens and you are not advised to drink water from the bathroom taps.

Staying hydrated during the smoke season is essential.

Cascade Gardens History: From Indigenous Lands to Tourist Haven

The Town of Banff, located in Banff National Park, is one of the world's most significant protected areas and a popular tourist destination. It is governed by Parks Canada, and millions of visitors from around the world come to experience the unique landscape and connect with Nature.

A Shady History on Prime Real Estate in Banff

Since time immemorial, the Town of Banff has been a place of significance for Indigenous Peoples, who have lived and visited the area for thousands of years. Nestled at the base of Sacred Buffalo Guardian Mountain (also known as Tunnel Mountain), Banff is situated alongside the Bow River, which has served as a vital source of transportation, sustenance, and recreation for Indigenous communities for centuries.

Sacred Buffalo Guardian Mountain overlooks Banff Gardens.

The narrative of Europeans discovering the Banff Hot Springs overlooks the fact that Indigenous Peoples had been utilizing the thermal waters for millennia.

In 1883, three railway workers stumbled across the hot springs (located at the Cave & Basin) while they were constructing the Canadian Pacific Railway through the Rocky Mountains. They saw the land as an opportunity for economic gain and claimed it as their own. The site quickly became a tourist attraction, which naturally garnered attention from the Canadian government.

Cementing their control over the area, the federal government designated 20 acres surrounding the Cave and Basin hot springs as a federal reserve in 1885. This was the first protected area in Canada, leading to the establishment of Banff National Park and eventually, the entire national park system in Canada. Historical accounts claim that the designation was due to concerns about the potential overuse and destruction of the hot springs.

The Coveted Bretton Land

The grounds surrounding Banff Gardens were once home to the Banff Hot Springs Sanitarium Hotel, or Banff Sanitarium.

Banff Sanitarium, 1890, image courtesy of Whyte Museum archives.

Dr. R.G. Brett, a physician for the Canadian Pacific Railway, obtained the rights to the 5 acre site in 1886, for the construction of a hotel and hospital complex. It was not Brett's first foray into entrepreneurship in Banff, previously operating a bath house at the Cave & Basin hot springs. An essential part of Brett's business strategy for the new location included using 8000 ft of insulated piping to transport hot springs water to the hotel baths.

In 1909, Brett built a second hospital, the Grand View Villa, to dissociate the original hotel and sanitarium from sickness.

The Sanitarium Hotel was renamed Bretton Hall Hotel in 1922.

Bretton Hall Hotel in the coveted location just across Banff bridge, image courtesy of Whyte Museum archives.

Somewhat convenient for the government, this hotel burned down in 1933, along with the Grand View Villa, which had previously burned down in 1931.

Fire wipes out Bretton Hall Hotel in 1933, image courtesy of Whyte Museum archives.

According to legends, Brett was a charismatic conman who touted the healing powers of the hot springs waters, claiming they could cure various ailments. He would invite guests to bathe in the hot springs and follow it up with generous amounts of liquor, leaving visitors feeling rejuvenated and refreshed!

In an attempt to amplify the healing properties of the hot springs, Brett displayed a room full of crutches that guests would see upon entering Banff Sanitarium. He claimed that the crutches were left behind by those who were cured by the hot springs, adding to the allure and mystique of the location.

Further adding fuel to the myth, Brett capitalized on the mineral water from the Banff hot springs and established Sanitarium Bottling on the same property as the hotel. The bottled water, known as "Banff Lithia Water," was marketed as a mood stabilizer. One of the minerals in the hot springs water is lithium, which of course we know in modern society as an pharmaceutical ingredient used to help with mental illness.

Parks Canada Acquires Bretton Land

As the 20th century began, Banff National Park gained popularity and attracted a growing throng of visitors, creating a significant administrative burden for Parks Canada. To manage the park's growth and associated challenges, acquiring a new location became a priority, culminating in the acquisition of the coveted Bretton Land.

George A. Stewart, the first park superintendent, started his journey in Banff with a tent stationed at the base of Cascade Mountain and a shared log building in the town.

In the 1920s, Stewart began his search for a larger administration building that would house offices, a customs house, and a post office. After the devastating fires, the Department of Public Works purchased Dr. Brett's prime parcel for $150,000 and began construction on the Parks Canada administration building.

Following this acquisition, Parks Canada enlisted the services of Harold Beckett to design a structure that would seamlessly blend with the mountain environment while radiating a sense of tradition, authority, and permanence.

Banff Gardens administration building, image courtesy of Whyte Museum archives.
Smoke-filled skies above the administration building and Mount Rundle.

Beckett's Vision Doesn't Align with Parks Canada's Evolving Goals

Work on the the grounds began in early October 1934, and by the end of 1935, upwards of 33,000 hours of labour were devoted to the creation of Cascade Gardens. Construction of pools, flagstone paths, and walls was mostly done by hand, and horses were used to haul heavier loads of rocks destined for the various levels of the gardens.

Beckett's goal of captivating the public with an impressive display of prehistoric creatures and ancient civilizations, proved to be more expensive than initially estimated. Despite substantial investments being made by fall 1935, the project faced mounting opposition and was forced to downsize its scope. Unfortunately, the highly anticipated appearance of dinosaurs and cavemen never materialized, and it was later uncovered that the pools used in the exhibit were pieced together from different geological eras.

This historical recap showcases an era when Parks Canada's goals were transitioning from a perspective of enhancing and civilizing the wilderness, to preserving and protecting it. And while Beckett's proposed geological garden may never have been realized, Parks Canada continues to carefully cultivate this idyllic haven to preserve its cultural significance.

FAQ's about Cascade Gardens

  • Where does the water come from? The water is circulated from the Bow River. There are times when you will visit and the water is not running. There are many reasons for that but the most common are issues with the levels or runoff from the river.
  • Are the ponds stocked with fish? In order to improve the visitor experience, Banff Gardens had previously stocked trout. However, this practice came to an end in 1988 with the closure of the National Park Fish Hatchery, marking the end of that era.
  • Can you swim in the ponds? No.
  • Type of wood used in archways? Burled pine trees.
  • What are things to do near by? This is a question better suited for the visitor experience liaisons at the visitor centre located downtown. If you like nature-based activities, there is plenty to do in the Rockies.
  • Is this the hot springs? How far to the hot springs? Is it walkable? No, Banff Gardens is not the location of the hot springs. The hot springs facility is a nice walk away but is up hill and not walkable for most visitors.
  • Where’s the gondola? Is it walkable? As like the hot springs facility, the Banff gondola is located up hill from Banff Gardens and not a walkable distance.
  • Where's the Banff Springs Hotel/Bow Falls? Is it walkable? Bow Falls is located to the east of Banff Gardens and would be considered a walkable distance for most.

Special Thanks

This Cascade Gardens article would not be what it is without the input of one of my closest friends, Mykenzie. You've been my trusted comrade, my guiding light in the wilderness of wordplay and editing. Your reading and editing suggestions made my narrative come to life and helped rescue my post from mediocrity.

Amidst the confines of our garden purgatory, we made it out alive into the real world. I will forever treasure our time together during Sylas's entry into this world and the steadfast support that you've provided through my life's toughest chapters.

Missus, you possesses a rare combination of beauty, wit, and a dash of wickedness that keeps me on my toes! You are my youngest bestie, my confidant, and the person I turn to for a dose of unfiltered honesty. I can't imagine navigating this journey without your sass and judgmental, yet hilarious commentary. Love you bbg!

Forever in Our Hearts

Liam, our beloved 'cowboy daddy' of the garden, was a ray of sunshine, always spreading laughter and joy with his humour and kind heart. We will never forget all the days we spent at work with him, laughing and chatting, and remembering how his positive energy lifted everyone's spirits, even on the coldest, wettest days.

He was always up for any task - whether it was an extra set of hands, singing you a song, or simply working along side of ya because you didn’t want to work alone. We spent countless hours under the umbrella tree, playing games and sharing silly stories. Our bonds with him were built on laughter and shared experiences, but also on the deep, personal conversations we had on long days in the petunia pit.

We offer our sincerest condolences to his loving folks and sister. We are grateful to have known such a wonderful person, and are happy to hear about his plans for the future.

Goodbye, our dear friend, you are deeply missed.

One tin soldier rides away
💛 your Cascade Garden girls, Soph & Mykenzie

This article is in memory of our co-worker, Liam Gilles - Forever in our Hearts 💛