We only had one night at the Many Glacier Hotel in Glacier National Park. The hotel tends to book up way in advance and we were lucky to be able to get even one night. When I called them to check on availability several months before, there was only one room available for one night in about a week-long window. I was probably lucky enough to have called just after they had a cancellation. Staying in the old lodge was fun and the location is one of the most scenic areas in the park. It's also an excellent base for some of the best hikes in Glacier. So we took what we could get.
The day before we had hiked to Iceberg Lake. We figured that today if we got up early, we could check out of our hotel and do another hike nearby before moving on. There were several good ones that we were considering. The drive up to Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada would only take about an hour and a half. So we had time to do a hike and drive to our next destination and still arrive at a reasonable time. The weather forecast was perfect again. But as we talked about the hiking options the evening before, we both had to admit that we were tired. Usually on a long mountain trip there are bad weather days that give you a chance to rest. But our weather had been perfect so we had done hard hikes for five straight days. We both agreed that a "travel day" was in order.
That meant that we didn't have to get up early and rush the next morning. We slept in and it sure felt good to rest the old bones. We had breakfast in the hotel - Sandy's favorite meal which we never have time for on hiking days. I took my time making my three or four trips over the hill to load all of our stuff into the car (sherpas don't ever really get rest days). Then we took our time driving to Waterton. We had a good view of Chief Mountain, a very unusual peak, as we drove through the eastern edge of Glacier National Park to the Canadian border. The border crossing was in the middle of nowhere. There was only one guy there and after a couple of questions we were into Canada. Then we took the turnoff for Waterton Lakes National Park - and hit a long line of stopped cars. It turned out that they weren't actually stopped. It was the entrance fee station and the line was moving verrrrry slowly. Since it was a Sunday afternoon, and a beautiful day, just about everyone in the nearby city of Lethbridge must have had the idea to visit Waterton Lakes. It took us almost half an hour but we finally got through.
Canadian national parks are a bit different from US parks in that they actually have small towns inside of them. When visiting Grand Canyon Village or Yosemite Valley it may not seem like much of a difference but it is. Waterton townsite is a small town on the shore of Upper Waterton Lake. It has hotels, restaurants, gift shops, markets, gas stations and housing for the residents. Banff is certainly the worst offender. It doesn't seem like it belongs in a national park. Not the way I would do it but I do give Canada credit for setting aside some huge and spectacular national park areas.
We were staying at another grand old national park lodge, the Prince of Wales hotel. It is about eighty years old and is built on a hill overlooking the town, lake and surrounding area. The view from the hill is fantastic and the building itself does look impressive. Our rooms were on the third floor (again) but at least we could park close by. We had mountain view rather than lakeview rooms (again) but that kept us in the shade (again). Since we were on the corner we had windows on two sides and a great breeze would blow through to keep the room cool. Waterton is famous for being windy - the mountains funnel the wind down the lake - and the Prince of Wales hill is the windiest spot in town. Since the weather was unusually warm we were glad for the wind.
After checking in we walked to town, which was about fifteen minutes away. We were both hungry since it was well past lunch. Since the town is small it didn't take us long to find Wieners of Waterton, a place which had been recommended to us. Even though it was two in the afternoon the place was a total zoo. There was a short line (when we got there) to where you ordered your wiener. Then you had to wait till it was grilled. This was a problem since the place was tiny and they had more than ten orders queued up. That meant a lot of people were standing around waiting. When your name was finally called you went to the counter and told them what kind of toppings you wanted. Of course it was incredibly hot inside and there was no room to move or even breathe. I drew the short straw so Sandy grabbed a table and waited outside while I waited for our order. But once we got them and found a spot on one of the picnic tables outside, our lunch was great. Seating was in short supply too so we shared our picnic bench with a group of four little old ladies. They obviously enjoyed their lunches too. One of them loudly declared "You cannot believe how long it has been since I have had a wiener!" Sandy and I looked at each other but kept straight faces.
After lunch we took a long walk along the lakeshore to the end of town and farther to the end of the road. Most of the Sunday afternoon visitors to the park seemed to be focused on the lake. Sandy said it reminded her of McCall, only with much more impressive mountains. On the way back to the hotel we noticed that there were signs for bears in the area - on Prince of Wales hill! Our friends from one of our Glacier National Park hikes, Randy and Nancy, had told us that the week before when they were in Waterton a black bear and two cubs came right into town and they had to close a street off for them. But we didn't see any signs of bears as we walked back up the hill to the hotel. We even made jokes about not being attacked by bears in the parking lot. But later that evening while we were in our room we heard the guy in the next room calling to us from the balcony. We went out and there was mama bear and two young bears in the field just past the cars parked outside. They were about a hundred yards from the parking lot. Mama spent all her time focused on chomping berries while the kids spent about half their time chasing each other and playing around. We watched them for about half an hour before they headed off into the trees. It was quite a show.
Intestingly enough, the guy in the next room who spotted the bears and called our attention to them was the same guy who had been in the Many Glacier Hotel the evening before expounding on grizzly bears when we had been watching the bear there. We seemed to be on the same tour of the park lodges that he was on. Just like the evening before he seemed to talk a lot but didn't really seem to know anything. Still we were glad that he had let us know that the bears were there. It was cool to sit and watch them right from the balcony of our hotel room.