The high point of the trip was rough around the edges

A dream about a longed-for travel destination can take on a life of its own. We visited Glacier National Park in northern Montana many years ago and hadn’t realized in our planning that the park extended north across the border to Canada’s Waterton Lakes National Park.

Whenever we read anything about Waterton Lakes National Park, a photo of the Prince of Wales Hotel always popped up.

The iconic hotel sits on a high hill looking out to Upper Waterton Lake and snowy peaks encircling the lake.

We didn’t need to know anything more. We dreamed of someday staying in this very hotel and exploring the park while staying in a magnificent and comfortable setting.

The hotel was built in the 1920’s by a U.S. company, the Great Northern Railway. The hotel offered rustic charm, high tea, and unrivaled views.

Many years later we planned our long-awaited trip to Waterton Lakes National Park and, naturally, planned to stay in the fabled Prince of Wales Hotel. When we discovered the price of staying at the hotel, we were aghast. The simplest room was almost $240 US. We looked at other options but the dream of staying at the Prince of Wales kept pulling us back. In our many years of travel we had never stayed at a national park lodge, and our usual accommodation was a 2-person tent. Just this one time, if we used our travel “slush fund”, we could stay at the Prince of Wales Hotel…and we did.

After driving into a rough gravel parking lot, we walked up to the hotel’s unremarkable entrance. The great room within looked out to a spectacular view of the mountains and lake. We’d arrived!

After check-in, we started to understand the meaning of “rustic.” There is one very small and old elevator that requires staff to run. So, to get to our 4th floor room, we either had to ring for staff assistance each time or walk up the stairs. No problem. “Rustic” continued in our room. The dark wood paneling gave the feel of an on old-school dormitory. A little tartan-plaid throw at the end of the bed was the only bit of color in the room. The double bed faced a little sink. The toilet and shower were in a tiny room separated by a door that had to be closed with some force. The view from our window was woods and mountains. (Lakeside views cost a good deal more.) No TV, but the bellhop pointed out the one convenience: an old phone attached to the wall. Clearly we had paid for the grand hotel itself and not a luxurious room!

We decided to take a walk to explore the area near the hotel. As soon as we stepped outside, a frigid wind forced us to throw on an extra layer. (We only later discovered that the high winds at the hilltop hotel caused one former manager to joke about whitecaps in the toilets.)

Standing outside the hotel, we took in panoramic view of the lake and mountains. How did Joe notice this little jigsaw puzzle piece, half hidden on the great lawn?

A path took off down the hillside, and we stopped every few feet to photograph the wildflowers, most new to us, like the pale vetchling (Lathyrus ochroleucus).

When we walked further on the path to the village of Waterton, we looked back to see the Prince of Wales, our home for the next few days.

That night we discovered perhaps the most difficult aspect of being a guest at an historic old hotel: the lack of any sound insulation. Our neighbors in the adjoining rooms had lots to say, needed to clear their throats a lot, and are heavy breathers at night. Our mantra as we tried to fall asleep was “beware what you wish for.” Waterton National Park is a true gem and worth a visit, and our advice would be to stop at the Prince of Wales Hotel for tea or a drink, but find another place to spend the night.


June 2017


About simpletravelourway

Beth and Joe enjoy simple travel.
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10 Responses to The high point of the trip was rough around the edges

  1. David Mog says:

    Sorry your slush funds were expended on a disappointment. We had better luck at our “once in a lifetime” stay in the Chateau Lake Louise just a bit further North.

  2. Chuckling… I have often wondered why national parks lodges are so expensive. As we plan (think about at this stage) a national park tour of our own, I keep wanting to include some stays at the lodges, but keep wondering why. I think you’ve convinced me 🙂

  3. It’s one of those once in a lifetime things, but now you’ve shared it with us we don’t need to stay. The building is very picturesque.

  4. We often wonder what the addijtional cost of some accommodation actually buys. that for test driving that and confirming our suspicions. Hope the rest of the stay was not too pinful

    • You’re welcome. All we can say is that, in our experience, your suspicions were confirmed. Maybe another lodge would be different. We’ll wait for others to “test drive” those.

  5. plaidcamper says:

    Thanks for the heads up – we’ll camp! Lovely location…

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