In this two-part article, we continue our exploration of those far-flung wilderness regions of the United States whose rustic lodges have inspired some of Disney’s grandest hotels, from the Wilderness Lodge in Florida to the Grand Californian Hotel in Anaheim to the Sequoia Lodge in Paris. If you are catching us in the middle, you can find Part One HERE.
Yesterday, Tomorrow, and Fantasy is an unofficial guide to the world beyond Disney, exploring the original stories and sources of beloved films and attractions. – Cory
In 1914, a private businessman named John Lewis built his own hotel on the shores of Lake McDonald on the western side of Glacier National Park. Aping the Swiss Alpine style affected by Great Northern, his hotel was smaller in size and cozier in atmosphere. Its lobby was adorned with countless hunting trophies and its lanterns inscribed with Blackfoot motifs. The only access to the hotel was by boat from Apgar, the town lying inside the western gate of the park (just outside the western gate is the town of West Glacier, which grew up around the train station there). Today’s visitors arriving via the Going-to-the-Sun road actually enter the Lake McDonald Lodge from the back door: technically and architecturally, the front door is the one facing the lake. Directly across the lake, the famed Western painter Charlie Russell maintained a summer home until his passing in 1926. It is claimed that his hand etched some of the pictographs adorning the lobby’s great fireplace. Great Northern eventually purchased the hotel in 1930.
A stone’s throw from the headwaters of Lake Macdonald is the Trail of the Cedars. One of the most accessible of Glacier’s excursions, this boardwalk rolls through the sort of cedar-hemlock forests that one would more likely expect to find in the Pacific Northwest. The shade and humidity of the gorge carved by Avalanche Creek have created a microclimate perfect for the flourishing of giant cedar trees, hemlock, and a verdant understory of ferns and mosses. The largest of the trail’s cedars are estimated to have begun life around 1517. The Trail of the Cedars also serves as the embarkation point for hikes up to Avalanche Lake, Sperry Glacier and the rustic Sperry Chalet high in the park’s backcountry.
For us, returning home means travelling back north through Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada. This park is significantly smaller than Glacier, but in its compact size has many wonders. Some require a short drive from the townsite of Waterton Lakes, like Red Rock Canyon. The geology of Waterton-Glacier has some of the oldest rock in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, recognizable by its oxidized red hue. Approximately 1.5 billion years ago, this area was on the shore of an inland sea in the supercontinent of Rodinia. Over countless eons, those muddy, iron-rich deposits solidified and metamorphosed under intense pressure into the vivid argilite rocks for which Red Rock Canyon is named. The Red Rock Parkway is also a good place for seeing black bears during the sunset hours of late summer, though be sure not to clog up the roads in a “bear jam.” These rubbernecking traffic jams are a danger to both humans and wildlife. Right in the townsite is the impressive Cameron Falls, emptying water from Cameron Lake. There is much to be said for simply enjoying the rocky shore of Upper Waterton Lake as well.
The last of Great Northern’s hotels to be built was the Prince of Wales Hotel in Waterton Lakes National Park. Originally intended to be constructed along with Glacier Park Lodge and Many Glacier Hotel, delays set the opening of the Prince of Wales Hotel back to 1927. Architecturally distinct from its kin, the hotel was still built in a vernacular Swiss style high atop a bluff with stunning views of Upper Waterton Lake. The hotel’s name was a crafty, if failed, bid for celebrity: in 1927, Edward the Prince of Wales was touring Canada and Great Northern hoped that by naming the hotel in his honour, he would be enticed to stay there and give it a certain cachet among tourists. He was a dashing prince renowned for being a playboy, which would haunt him when he ascended to the throne as King Edward VIII only to abdicate in less than a year to marry the American socialite Wallis Simpson. Edward opted to stay at the well-respected Bar U Ranch instead, which so intrigued him that he later purchased the neighbouring ranch. Portraits of the prince still adorn the walls of the hotel, lending a royal air to the British-style afternoon tea enjoyed by visitors in the lobby.
The wilderness lodges of Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park are significant examples of the National Parks Rustic style, situated in one of the most beautiful corners of North America. Just as I began the first part of this article with a quote by a pioneering naturalist, I would like to end the second part with a quote by another. From John Muir, on the wonders of Glacier National Park: “Give a month at least to this precious reserve. The time will not be taken from the sum of your life. Instead of shortening, it will indefinitely lengthen it and make you truly immortal. Nevermore will time seem short or long, and cares will never again fall heavily on you, but gently and kindly as gifts from heaven.”
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