Situated at the foot of Upper Waterton Lake is a bluff. From this bluff, one can look basically down the length of the lake all the way back to Glacier Park. It was designed as a luxury hotel for tourists stopping along the Canadian transcontinental railway way back at the start of the 20th century. And indeed, it is a hotel with luxury levels worthy of a prince. Elizabeth and I had to pay just to park at the parking lot (this trip occurred so long ago that I can no longer recall with any certainty whether or not the hotel offered 1-hour free parking, but I remember it was a bit of a hassle that required dealing with the hotel’s parking attendant).
Before heading inside the hotel, we took the walking path that goes past the hotel to the lakeshore. Let me tell you: yes, the view from up at the top of the Bear’s Hump was better, but there may not be a better place that I’ve ever seen to be able to walk just 100 yards from where you slept and get an incredible view.
And yes, if you take a look, you can see the next boat cruise on its way back into the Waterton townsite.
But enough about the natural view. This was one of the rare cases where a manmade structure actually enhanced the view. The hotel was beautiful.
That’s currently my laptop background, if you were curious.
Elizabeth and I had originally had reservations inside the Prince of Wales for dinner. Their menu has such fares as bison stroganoff, trout nicoise, and macchiato cheesecake. Unfortunately, on the way in we discovered that US customs has a hard closing time of 6:00. So even though it was only 3:15, this was our final hoorah inside our first Canadian national park. We ambled over to the front doors and walked inside.
Wow. If you thought the Prince of Wales had a posh exterior, then you would not have believed the inside. The foyer was all elaborately carved dark wood – rustic like the Old Faithful Inn, but where the Old Faithful Inn relies on its rustic-ness for its ambience, the Prince of Wales makes no bones about being fancy. Maybe I didn’t take a picture of the interior because I was too busy being in awe. So take this google picture and pretend I took it:
And that dadgum view:
It would have been a fantastic place to eat dinner (and thank you to Elizabeth for setting it up as a thesis-finishing congratulations to me), but part of me wasn’t sad to save my now-almost-nonexistent money and get back to Oklahoma with a little bit left in my bank account. I sat in the foyer while Elizabeth used “the most fancy bathroom she’d ever seen”, and then we checked out the hotel’s gift shop for our much-needed souvenirs, and then our one hour of free (???) parking was up. I know Elizabeth was feeling it; I was feeling it too: I didn’t want to leave Canada, and I didn’t want to leave Waterton.
Despite what we did or didn’t want to do, the sun was still shining brightly above us, so there was plenty of time left to enjoy our evening once we made the long drive back to St. Mary. Elizabeth took over in the driver’s seat and we started retracing our steps.
One thing neither of us had seen: a national park sign. Maybe the Canadians don’t believe in flashy national park signs like us Americans do; if that’s the case, then they’re definitely wrong. There was one back out on the prairie a ways that had maybe the best backdrop I’d ever seen for a park sign, but imagine what an NPS welcome would look like here.
Parks Canada, get your shit together.
The rest of the drive was an awesome one for me to stare out the window. There were the Canadian Rockies, extending north as far as I could see, and then south into Glacier country. The further away we got, the bluer the peaks seemed. And then, when I thought this little slice of heaven couldn’t get any more picturesque, we started driving past bright yellow canola fields. Why didn’t I take a picture of them??? We’ll settle for puffy cumulus against a green wheat field and a bright blue sky, all with Chief Mountain in the backdrop. I guess.
After a brief and awkward encounter with an officious asshole at US customs, we were back on domestic soil. Maybe Parks Canada can’t make a good welcome sign, but you know who can? The great state of Montana.
From there, it was less than a half hour back to the St. Mary entrance to the park. Elizabeth was adamant that she needed a shower, but the St. Mary Campground showers were out of order. So we headed on off to Rising Sun to use theirs, which is a great stopping point for this narrative.
Waterton Lakes National Park was the very first of hopefully many Canadian national parks Elizabeth and I will visit. As far as first impressions go, this one was everything you could want. The townsite was charming, the facilities were fantastic, the crowds were manageable, and the people were extremely friendly. You put all of that together with some epic views, and it’s no wonder that this was one of my favorite days of our Glacier trip, eh.