National Park Road Trip 2011: Prince of Wales Hotel and Glacier Park Lodge

The striking Prince of Wales Hotel in Waterton Lakes National Park looks south into Glacier National Park. Photo by David and Kay Scott.

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.

View from lobby at Prince of Wales Hotel
The view from the Prince of Wales Hotel is expansive. Photo by David and Kay Scott.

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.

Glacier Park Hotel, Scotts
Although outside Glacier National Park's borders, the Glacier Park Lodge is closely tied to the park. Photo by David and Kay Scott.

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.

Glacier park Hotel lobby, Scotts
The lobby of the Glacier Park Lodge is a popular gathering place at day's end. Photo by David and Kay Scott.

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.

Glacier Park Hotel room, Scotts
A room in the Great Northern wing of the Glacier Park Lodge. David and Kay Scott photo.

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.

Comments

I have enjoyed your articles but this one especially! I LOVE Glacier Park Lodge and you're right, that interior lobby is amazing!! We have stayed there numerous times, the grounds are so beautifully kept. We have driven to Belton and then ridden Amtrak back to East Glacier, which was a wonderful experience!

We stayed at Prince of Wales in 2005 and thought it was over priced but at least we can say that we stayed there! Since they've dropped the rates does that mean that they need to attract more visitors? I don't understand what you meant by, "depending on bedding"?

Can't wait to see your articles on Yellowstone, we are headed there July 29th. Normally we plan our vacations a year in advance but this year my husband was diagnosed with Prostate Cancer and our initial vacation plans had to be cancelled. He is doing great post surgery so we decided to take an impromptu trip to his happy place-Yellowstone. We ALWAYS stay at the Old Faithful Inn, (our family has made a lifetime of memories in that place) but they were booked. We'll be at Grant's Village and Lake Yellowstone Hotel for this trip.

My husband would like to know when we can expect your latest edition to be released, we have the 5th edition.
Connie Hopkins

We always try to split our time in Yellowstone between Old Faithful Inn and Lake Yellowstone Hotel. Lake Yellowstone Hotel is a wonderful place to stay. The evenings on the lake are delightful! Enjoy your trip.

As the article notes, it's worth the time to just walk into the lobby of the Prince of Wales and enjoy the view down the lake! You can enjoy that same view from the dining room; if you're on a budget, you get the same view and a similar menu at lunch for a lot less.

Both of these lodges/hotels are classics, and worth a stroll around the lobby, even if you don't opt for an overnight stay.

How long does it take to drive from Prince of Wales Hotel to East Glacier? We'll be doing the reverse and we want to be able to take the lake cruise at Waterton. I know is about 70 miles, but how long wouldyou think it would take to get to Waterton? We'll do sightseeing on the way back from Waterton to St Mary.

It's been a couple years, anonymous, but I'm thinking it's probably close to two hours.

Kurt is right. There generally isn't much traffic and the road is good. Don't forget your passport.

Thanks, I was wondering and thought it would be more than an hour or so. By the way, I'm using my name now. Didn't know I should.