Yesterday, Tomorrow, and Fantasy: The Wilderness Lodges of Glacier National Park – Part II

Written by Cory Gross. Posted in Yesterday Tomorrow and Fantasy

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Published on July 10, 2014 at 1:00 am with 3 Comments

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.  

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The view up Lake McDonald from Apgar

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The view down Lake McDonald from the Lake McDonald Lodge’s shoreline

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The shoreline side of the Lake McDonald Lodge

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First view of the lobby when entering from the shoreline side

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Each lamp is decorated with Blackfoot motifs

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Animal heads ornament each of the lobby’s pillars

 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.

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The Trail of the Cedars

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Once more, Ashley gives us a sense of scale

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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.

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Red Rock Canyon. The red rocks are argilite, a metamorphic rock formed of muds and oozes. The white bands are marble, another metamorphic rock formed of ancient coral reefs and lime-rich ocean sediments.

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Cameron Falls

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Upper Waterton Lake


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.

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Ashley enjoying the view of Upper Waterton Lake

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The Prince of Wales Hotel

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Lobby of the Prince of Wales Hotel, with its huge picture windows

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Time for tea?

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Why yes!

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.”

It has been a while since my last post, but you can stay up to date with Yesterday, Tomorrow, and Fantasy on Facebook! Please like me (won’t somebody please like me?!) at http://www.facebook.com/YesterdayTomorrowandFantasy for updates on articles, and other fun photos, trivia, and things of that sort. And stay tuned next time when I try to untangle the story of Rapunzel!

About Cory Gross

Cory Gross is a professional educator in the museums and heritage field, sharing his passion for history, science and art in his home of Calgary, Canada. He is also the creator of Voyages Extraordinaires, a blog dedicated to Victorian-Edwardian Scientific Romances and Retro-Futurism, which can be found at http://voyagesextraordinaires.blogspot.com.

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3 Comments

Comments for Yesterday, Tomorrow, and Fantasy: The Wilderness Lodges of Glacier National Park – Part II are now closed.

  1. Great stuff Cory!

    Some of these photos scream “Theme park” to me. That red rock canyon sure does look like a great raft ride. And those hotels remind me of Disney’s Wilderness Lodge and Grand Californian. It’s clear to see that there is a lot of inspiration in these places for the theme park industry.

    I’ve never been a national parks kind of guy, but I think I need to give it a try.

    • Give the National Parks a shot! You don’t even need to rough it… The price of a room at one of the great historic lodges is favourably comparable to the price of a room at the Wilderness Lodge or Grand Californian. With a “woods” view you can get a GC room for $380/night or WL for $318. Meanwhile, you can get a modern room with a geyser view at Yellowstone’s Old Faithful Inn for $260 or an historic room for $159, or a room at Yosemite’s Ahwahnee Hotel for $497, or a standard queen at Grand Canyon’s El Tovar Hotel for $226 or a cabin with a fireplace right on the rim at the Bright Angel Lodge for $186, or Glacier’s Lake McDonald Lodge for $191 or Many Glaciers Hotel for up to $336. Now granted you don’t get theme parks and rides and stuff, but you’d be going for a different type of experience :) Without having to go hiking off the beaten path, there are many very accessible roadside stops, walkways, and rides by horseback, helicopter, and boat. Or if you really don’t want to get TOO risky, you can always book the Adventures by Disney tours to Wyoming, Arizona/Utah, or Montana/Alberta (we actually passed their tour bus one time while down in Glacier). Though if you take the Montana/Alberta one, you’d be flying out of Calgary and would simply have to let me know you’re here! :)

      P.S.: I am not being paid by Adventures by Disney or Xanterra Lodging, but I am hoping to go to the Grand Canyon again in 2016 and would gladly take a discount!

  2. Staying at the El Tovar, eating in its superb restaurant and visiting the Grand Canyon is one of life’s greatest pleasures.
    Did I mention that, at the El Tovar, you’re sleeping 50-feet from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon :)

    By comparison, Disney’s WDW resort pricing is obscene.
    I live in Florida; two hours from WDW.
    I can drive to the Grand Canyon and stay and eat at El Tovar for less — far less — than driving to WDW, staying at a “deluxe” resort and being fleeced for “dining plan” quality food at Manhattan prices.

    BTW, Xanterra does a superb job operating El Tovar!
    When traveling the national parks, Xanterra is one of the better, more reliable operators.

    http://www.grandcanyonlodges.com/lodging/el-tovar/