Visit Waterton Lakes in the summer, and the best place to stay (and likely, the most expensive) is the Prince of Wales Hotel. This grand old railroad hotel was constructed in 1926-27, to lure tourists to the area. Other Canadian towns received similar hotels — like the Banff Springs and Chateau Lake Louise — but the Prince of Wales Hotel was the only Canadian property to be built by an American railroad (the Great Northern Railroad).
If you visit in the wintertime, you won’t be staying at the Prince of Wales Hotel. In fact, you won’t stay there in spring or fall either. In 2012, the hotel only planned to be open from June 8 to September 18 — a very short season, to match the very brief appearance of warm weather at Waterton Lakes.
Even though the hotel is closed, you can still visit the prime real estate it occupies, on a bluff overlooking Upper and Middle Waterton Lakes. The road might be too snowy for your car, but that’s okay…
… because it’s just a short walk up the hill to the grand hotel.
You’ll find the front doors boarded shut…
… and if you peer through the boards, you’ll see a room that appears ready for a Scooby-Doo adventure. When the hotel shuts down, its furniture gets draped in bed sheets, just like in the movies.
You’ll find several good places to peer through the cracks and take pictures.
The Prince Of Wales Hotel’s architecture is fun to photograph. Originally, the plans called for a lower, longer building, but constant revisions ended with a 7-story, 86-room hotel, capped with a 30-foot bell tower. The closest stop on the railroad was 25 miles from the hotel, and building materials had to be hauled the rest of the distance by mule team.†
But of course, the main attraction up here is the view. This panorama shows Upper Waterton Lake, with the United States in the distance. On the right is Bertha Peak and Mount Richards, and on the left is Vimy Peak. In the foreground on the left, you can see the Bosporus — the small channel that separates Upper and Middle Waterton Lakes.
Looking almost straight down, you’ll get an all-encompassing view of the town of Waterton. Along the edge of the water (or in this case, ice), you can see the Waterton Marina, where boats depart for tours of the lake in summer.
Back at the Lake…
Evening doesn’t arrive early at the Prince of Wales Hotel, up on its high perch, but the shadows of sunset do arrive quickly in town. I drove back to the lakeshore — the same place where I started my day — to see if the setting sun would yield any interesting pictures.
I found plenty of rocks, protruding through the frozen surface of the lake.
In other places, the rocks didn’t quite make it to the surface.
And in some spots, it looked as if the surface of the lake had melted and re-froze, repeatedly. It certainly didn’t feel like summer was coming, but I suppose the lake doesn’t lie.
I located a few strategically-positioned breaks in the ice to provide reflections of Vimy Peak, elevation 2,363 meters (7,552 feet).
As the sun slipped behind the mountains to the west, I realized just how much warmth it was providing. As soon as the shadows crossed over me, the temperature must have dropped 10 degrees. I found myself running down the shore, just to get back into the sun.
One spot that still had a few minutes of sunshine, also had some spooky tree skeletons lining the shore.
Eventually I gave up on this spot, and headed for sunnier ground. I drove back towards the Prince of Wales Hotel…
… and along the way, I had to stop for a herd of deer.
Back at the Prince of Wales…
The hotel’s bluff is a great place to end the day in Waterton, since it remains sunny for hours after darkness has fallen on the town. You’ll still enjoy a beautiful view of Mt. Remy and the Bosporus, late into the evening.
The view up the lake, towards the U.S., was somewhat hazy, and the shadows had already covered most of the icy surface.
Makes you wonder what it looks like in summer, doesn’t it?
Once I was satisfied with the photo opportunities, and chilled to the bone by the howling wind that sweeps up over the Prince of Wales’ bluff, I said goodbye to Waterton. But the day wasn’t over yet.