National Park Road Trip 2011: Prince of Wales Hotel and Glacier Park Lodge
Editor's note: Exploring the many lodging options in and around Glacier National Park can require an excursion into Canada for a night at the Prince of Wales Hotel, which looks south across its namesake lake into Glacier. David and Kay Scott explored that hotel, and the Glacier Park Lodge, before wrapping up their stay in Glacier.
We are departing the Glacier area after spending our last nights in the park at two very special lodges: Prince of Wales Hotel and Glacier Park Lodge. An earlier article mentioned that both lodges were built by the Great Northern Railway and are currently owned by Glacier Park, Inc., the concessionaire for lodging facilities in Glacier National Park. Even though the two lodges are not within Glacier’s borders, we always include them in our trips and in our book because of their close association with the park.
Before departing for Yellowstone, we should note that it is worth a trip to Glacier just to experience the lodges. Yosemite has the Ahwahnee, Death Valley has the Inn at Furnace Creek, Yellowstone has Old Faithful Inn, Mount Rainier has Paradise Inn, and the Grand Canyon has the El Tovar, but Glacier has multiple lodges that inspire awe. Each is sufficiently magnificent to cause a sense of excitement when travelers walk through the entrance.
We sat in the Prince of Wales lobby and watched as people entered with a combination of surprise and joy. The same happens in Many Glacier Hotel, Glacier Park Lodge, and to a lesser extent, Lake McDonald Lodge.
Just roaming through these wonderful historic buildings makes for a brighter day.
On a related note, a guest in Prince of Wales Hotel commented, “With the prices they charge here I don’t know why they don’t at least have televisions in the rooms.”
What can we say?
Following our last note from Many Glacier Hotel, we drove a short distance to a picnic area where we fixed breakfast under a beautiful Montana sky. Generally sunny skies with fast moving clouds made the surrounding mountains even more beautiful. Following breakfast we drove back to Babb and turned north toward Canada and Waterton Lakes National Park, home to the Prince of Wales Hotel.
The seven-story hotel rests on a high bluff overlooking the small village of Waterton that is perched on the shoreline of Waterton Lake. The hotel’s location makes it a landmark for miles around.
From a distance it appears as if a child left a toy building atop a hillside. Views of the lake and surrounding mountains from huge windows across the backside of the hotel lobby are quite amazing.
The hotel has 86 rooms on floors two through six. The first floor is mostly consumed by a huge a six-story lobby surrounded by three floors of balconies.
Most rooms on floors two, three, and four are classified and priced in two categories; Lakeside and Mountainside, depending on view. Rooms on the fifth floor are somewhat smaller and cost less. The sixth-floor has only four rooms, two of which each have two rooms and one bath.
An important consideration in choosing a room is the old elevator that rises only as high as the fourth floor and can be operated only by a hotel employee. Thus, higher floors nearly always mean climbing stairs. As a side note, fifth and sixth floor rooms were once occupied by hotel employees.
Surprisingly, room rates have decreased significantly since our last visit three years ago. Lakeside rooms three years ago cost $345 but now rent for $259 to $299, depending on bedding. Bedding was not considered in room prices during our last trip. Mountainside rooms that previously cost $299 now rent for $234 to $259.
We occasionally see a slight decline in the cost for a class of rooms at some lodges, but nothing like what has taken place at Prince of Wales. Remember the lodge is in Canada and rates are quoted in Canadian dollars, which, at present, trade at a slight premium to U.S. dollars.
Our next night was spent back in the United States at Glacier Park Lodge in East Glacier. This is another grand hotel of the Great Northern Railway and it has a lobby second to none.
The main building was constructed in 1912 and a large wing was added two years later. Rooms in the main lodge are on the second and third floors behind large balconies surrounding the lobby.
The adjoining wing has more rooms that are generally larger than rooms in the main building. An enclosed walkway connects the two buildings that actually appear to be one structure from the outside.
Glacier Park Lodge offers several classes of rooms, but most rent for $170 to $180 per night. Two small "Value" rooms on the third floor rent for $140 per night. With no hotel elevator, steps may be a consideration in reserving a room. In general, rooms in the West Wing are larger than rooms in the main lodge. Discounts are available here and at Prince of Wales Hotel until mid-June.
Several notes about Glacier Park Lodge: Beyond the grassy front lawn that spreads across the front of the hotel is an Amtrak station that serves many of the hotel’s guests who arrive and depart via Amtrak’s Empire Builder that connects Chicago and the West Coast.
Also, Glacier’s famous red buses are constantly entering and departing from the hotel’s front entrance. Just seeing the buses seems to bring a smile to the face of most hotel guests and visitors, including the two of us.
The “Reds” are as much a part of the park’s history as are the lodges.
We're now off for Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks. We will visit the lodges at Mammoth, Roosevelt, and Canyon, before moving south to Grant Teton for four nights. Then it is back to Yellowstone to visit the Old Faithful and Lake Yellowstone areas. Our next report will be from Yellowstone, Wi-Fi willing.