How To Create A Memorable Experience At The Prince Of Wales Hotel

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Prince of Wales Hotel overlooking Upper Waterton Lake.
Prince of Wales Hotel overlooking Upper Waterton Lake. Photo credit: Julie Diebolt Price

Imagine rounding a curve in the road and setting your eyes on a magnificent Swiss chalet – the Prince of Wales Hotel. Perched on the top of a bluff overlooking Upper Waterton Lake, commanding stunning views of the Canadian Rockies, this century-old property exudes historic grandeur and charm.

In 1995, the Prince of Wales Hotel was designated a National Historic Site of Canada, commemorated for its architectural and historical significance.

Built as a luxury destination by the Great Northern Railway in 1927 to lure thirsty Americans during Prohibition, the Prince of Wales Hotel is managed by Pursuit. Pursuit hosted my husband and me, but all opinions are mine.

Arriving at the Prince of Wales Hotel

When we arrived, strong winds were buffeting the bluff. The gentleman greeting us at the entrance shelter had a distinctive Irish brogue and a delightful smile but was wearing long pants. We had an extended discussion about him not wearing a kilt that might reveal too much with the gusty winds. This discussion was a lively way to begin our stay at the Prince of Wales Hotel.

A monument on the front grounds, established by Rotary International, displays a plaque that reads: Waterton – Glacier International Peace Park, “permanently commemorating the relationship of peace and goodwill long existing between the peoples and governments of the United States and Canada. Dedicated July 4, 1936.”

Location of the Prince of Wales Hotel

Waterton Lakes National Park surrounds the Prince of Wales Hotel in southern Alberta, Canada. Completed in 1927, the Prince of Wales Hotel created a gateway to the park.

Glacier National Park in Montana borders Waterton Lakes National Park on the south.

How the Great Northern Railway Developed the West

The Great Northern Railway was created in 1889 by James Jeremy Hill. The tracks ran from St. Paul, Minnesota, to Seattle, Washington.

A key innovation to the railway’s success was using steel rails instead of iron, which other railroads used. The steel rails allowed trains to travel faster and carry heavier loads, making the Great Northern Railway more efficient and profitable.

The Great Northern Railway transported troops and supplies during World War I.

During the Depression in the 1930s, the Great Northern Railway introduced new technologies like streamlined trains and diesel locomotives to improve the speed and efficiency of the railroad.

During World War II, again, the Great Northern Railway transported troops, supplies, and equipment across the country, and it received commendations and awards from the government.

In the 1960s, the Great Northern Railway merged with other railroads and faced challenges with competition from automobiles and airplanes.

Today, the Great Northern Railway is remembered in numerous museums and historical sites dedicated to railroad history.

Architecture and Construction

Lewis Barnhill built the Prince of Wales Hotel and changed his mind seven times and the structure four times during construction. The Hotel bears little resemblance to the first set of blueprints.

This single building has 90 guest rooms under a steeply sloped roof capped by a 30-foot tower with a blend of Swiss and Tudor architectural styles, steep gabled roofs, ornamental balconies, and intricate stonework. The interior boasts carved wooden beams, stone fireplaces, and elegant period furnishings.

How the Hotel Got Its Name

The Hotel got its name to curry favor and a visit from Edward, the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII), who came to the area in 1919. The Prince never visited the Hotel, but the owner kept the name anyway.

The best view of Waterton, and Upper Waterton Lake, the lobby and chandelier at the Prince of Wales Hotel.
The best view of Waterton, and Upper Waterton Lake, the lobby and chandelier. Photo credit: Julie Diebolt Price

The Lobby at the Prince of Wales Hotel

If you can take your eyes away from the spectacular view of Upper Waterton Lake from the floor-to-ceiling windows in the lobby and look towards the ceiling, you’ll see a three-story chandelier. This original chandelier weighs 1,000 pounds.

Looking at the ceiling directly, you’ll discover a small rectangle in the ceiling boards, slightly darker than the surrounding wood. This rectangle is a trap door that opens to let a swing down to the floor. Maintenance staff uses this swing to clean the chandelier.

The oldest elevator in North America, manned and operated by hotel bell staff at the Prince of Wales Hotel.
The oldest elevator in North America, manned and operated by hotel bell staff. Photo credit: Julie Diebolt Price

The original elevator, manned and operated only by the hotel bell staff, holds a luggage cart and three people–a tight fit. Ring the call button once, and the staff appears promptly to carry you to other floors. The elevator is considered the oldest working elevator in North America.

Guest room at the Prince of Wales Hotel.
Prince of Wales guest room. Photo credit: Julie Diebolt Price

Guest Rooms and Amenities at Prince of Wales Hotel

Our corner room included a twin and double bed with a Tartan plaid sash to accent the white covers. Our private bathroom’s modern and stylish shower had toiletries conveniently mounted on the wall. The sink was open in the room, with a shelf and an old-fashioned medicine cabinet above. Bring your own hairdryer.

Other amenities include paid on-site parking, an interpretive hotel tour, free wifi, bell service decked out in Tartan plaid, and a gift shop where you can get coffee and pastries to-go. The Front Desk staff was friendly throughout the check in process and our overnight stay, and they are available 24/7.

BC Sablefish dinner in the Royal Stewart Dining Room at the Prince of Wales Hotel.
BC Sablefish dinner in the Royal Stewart Dining Room. Photo credit: Julie Diebolt Price

Dining at Prince of Wales Hotel

The Royal Stewart Dining Room is one of the finest restaurants in Waterton Lakes National Park. They serve locally sourced meats and fresh seafood.

I arrived just in time for the Victorian Afternoon Tea that ended at 4 pm. Complete with tea sandwiches, savory and sweet pastries, and my choice of tea; I took it with milk, cream, sugar, and honey (in two different tastings).

She Buys Travel Tip: Afternoon Tea is served from 12 pm to 4 pm. Go early as the tea sandwiches dry out nearing the end of service and the staff is energetically preparing for dinner.

Because my husband doesn’t care for tea, he enjoyed a local draft brew in the Windsor Lounge across from the Dining Room. We met up after our afternoon treats in the lobby with the best views of Upper Waterton Lake.

For dinner, my husband and I both selected the BC Sablefish Chowder. We’d never had sablefish before and found the deep-sea North Pacific Ocean white fish moist and rich in natural oil. The chef prepared it with Jolenes Smoked Lapsoung Tea Cream with mussels, clams, green peas, potato leek ragu, Old Bay, and dill. Much to our delight, the waitress poured the cream sauce around the fish at our table.

Ghost Stories at the Prince of Wales Hotel

Our hotel tour included the requisite ghost stories, and I was most impressed with the one about the maintenance staffer who was working one summer. When he walked into the lobby area, with no one else around because it was a month before the season opening, he could hear thousands of children running around and children’s laughter. He ran out quickly and returned a few days later when more people were there. He still works at the Hotel today.

Reservations at the Prince of Wales Hotel

Because of the national parks’ popularity during the summer, you will lose your entire deposit if you cancel within 72 hours of your scheduled reservation. Your deposit, equal to one night’s lodging, is charged to your credit card when you book.

Deposits are fully refundable for 30 days after making the reservation. For cancellations between 31 days and three days before arrival, there is a $15 fee per reservation.

For reservations made 45 days or less before arrival, there is no 30-day grace period.

Things To Do in Waterton

The Hotel makes a great starting point for exploring the park’s hiking trails, waterfalls, and wildlife.

You can go horseback riding through the prairies of Waterton National Park on an hour-long trail ride to a full-day excursion.

Paddleboarding and windsurfing on Upper Waterton Lake, as well as kayak and canoe rentals, are available. We witnessed a windsurfer battling the ferocious winds from the best view in the lobby of the Prince of Wales Hotel.

The public golf course, Waterton Lakes Golf Course, is one of Canada’s oldest. The 18-hole course, constructed between 1929 and 1939, is open from May until October. The mountain view scenery will take your breath away.

While exploring the beach facing the Hotel, we were delighted to see two black bears making their way down to the water. I learned that all black bears are not black, which explained why one was honey-colored. Under the watchful eye of park rangers, we stayed in our vehicle to maintain our safety.

Final Thoughts

The Prince of Wales Hotel is a grand survivor of the golden age of railways, Prohibition, flooding, torrential rain, raging forest fires, hurricane-force winds, and driving snow. Don’t miss the opportunity to see this magnificent property in Alberta, Canada.


Julie Diebolt Price is an award-winning professional photographer, educator, author, and travel writer. She writes about two things – photography and travel (along with a little food and beverage). Julie educates and mentors aspiring photographers. As a journalist who loves to travel, she creates memorable experiences and shares them with words and pictures.
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