Driving from Pennsylvania to Banff … Stop Five: Waterton Lakes National Park

From Billings, Montana, we turned W/NW and drove backroads toward the Canadian border. I had initially hoped to bring Mrs Bear back to Glacier National Park … We had visited last about 50 years ago on our very first transcontinental drive. But there were no vacancies at the Park lodges, and I couldn’t even get a permit to drive the Going-to-the-Sun Road. A half century ago, I don’t even recall driving through an entrance booth. So looking for alternatives, I discovered the Prince of Wales Hotel at Waterton Lakes. I knew that Waterton bordered Glacier, and I had always assumed it was the Canadian extension of Glacier. Even the Prince of Wales Hotel reminded me of the Many Glacier Lodge.

There were a few significant differences between Glacier and Waterton. One of the most noticeable was the crowds. Many of the USA parks have attracted crowds that have required methods of controlling the numbers. As mentioned, driving Glacier’s primary road required a preassigned appointment time for entrance. At Waterton, we waited behind one vehicle at the ranger station, paid our fee, and off we went. We saw many people on our hikes, but nothing near the crowds of Yosemite or Zion. We needed a reservation for dinner at the Inn, but it wasn’t hard to arrange.

The other main difference between the Parks was the terrain. Going to the Sun Road in Glacier traverses the Continental Divide. The mountains, cliffs, and the glaciers are the features. Waterton Lakes is just that … Many bodies of beautiful water. The pic above is the view from the rear of the Prince of Wales Hotel. Most of the hikes wander along lakeshores or follow streams up mountain gorges to waterfalls or smaller alpine lakes.

Finally, there is much less human build-up around Waterton. There is a small village along the shore with a full time population of about 200, which falls below 100 in winter. Within the town were about four lodges and a few eateries. Canadian parks often have small towns within their boundaries that provide basic traveler services. The build-up at Glacier is primarily on the boundary edges.

We stayed and hiked for a couple days. We were told that there were drives that cut into the surrounding mountains for higher elevation vistas and hiking. But we decided to walk to our destinations from our magnificently – placed lodge and let our car have a well deserved rest. It was also nice to abstain from our normal 400 mile drives for a couple days.

I guess the best thing to say about Waterton was that it provided a great rest and break from the multitudes of summer travelers. We didn’t have to fight for a pass just to enter the American counterpart … We had great views out our lodge’s back door … And we could walk along the alpine lakes to our heart’s content. Refreshed, we got back in our car, headed N/NW.

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