Tag Archives: Bucket List

Masters Golf Tournament Tips

DSC08732Here is a follow-up to our original post on our Masters Experience (you can read HERE).   While we were planning our trip, some of these tips would have been helpful, so we thought we would share what we learned in 2014 and hope it helps anyone planning a future trip to this amazing place.

Ok, so you finally got tickets to the Masters, or are at least thinking about going. If you have been granted the luck and have a ticket, celebrate, you are in the minority! This is one of the hardest tickets in all of sports to come by, and if you have them, you are a lucky Patron for sure. If you do not have tickets, then this is what you can expect. When we started looking about 8 months in advance, we determined what the market value was, and at that time was about $1,500 per tournament day or $5,500 for a 4-day badge. (There are two different types of tickets; “paper tickets” for daily entry, or badges, which are for all four days of the event. The badges are highly regarded, and more difficult to come by, and the person that was granted the badge will most likely want it back after the event.) By the time the tournament week arrived, the prices had dropped a bit, but according to those in the business, it was because Tiger had dropped out. When he decided not to come, tickets fell by at least 20% overnight. Then, the other event for us during our trip was the price changes after the cut. Many of the other big names were out, Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson missed the cut, and this dropped weekend prices again by another 20% or so. This could have gone completely the other way if all mentioned would have been in contention, so there is certainly a roll of the dice here when it comes to pricing and when to buy. You just have to accept the fact that you will not be getting a deal and know that you will be paying a lot for a ticket. (But it is so worth it!) As for getting a hold of tickets, there are a few different options:

  1. National ticket vendors. (Stub-hub, Golden Ticket, etc.) This route is the safest, you know you are not buying a fraudulent ticket, and if it is a fake, you have some recourse for the cash you shelled out (They also take credit cards which was nice.) We used these two mentioned above and both were great. You have to pick up your tickets from their local offices, and sometimes return them to them at the end of the day. There is no will-call at the course. Augusta National has a 2,700-foot city law that does not allow for ticket sales within that zone, although we did see a few transaction inside the area, but very few.
  2. Street Vendors. Many vendors are there year after year on Washington Road located on the north side of the course, and the majority have connections to buy and sell tickets. There can be a tiny bit of risk as they may buy a ticket from someone to resell to you, and not know for sure if it is a valid ticket, but fairly safe here again.
  3. Craigslist. This is a total hit or miss, and there are a lot of people out there that are fraudulent, and a few that are legitimate. We did post an ad here needing tickets, and were contacted, you just have to get a feel for who you are dealing with and how much confidence you have in that person. This is the place that some stolen or forged tickets trade hands and we did hear of people being denied entry with faked or stolen tickets. (There is a bar code that is scanned for verification by the entrance staff, just like any other event. But, if a member who purchased the original has had the ticket stolen, they can report it to the staff at Augusta, and they can deny entry to that ticket, so be careful.) Our rule here is that if the person will not meet you face to face, then you are taking a huge risk. Or if the price seems to be ridiculously low, it is most likely too good to be true.

It is free right across the street, but remember there are a limited number of spaces and those will fill up by 9:00AM or so. If you are later, and lots are closed, there are several smaller pay lots off Washington Road on the north side of the course, expect to pay about $20 or so. Many of these sites are fairly close to Gate #9, the main gate. This gate will bring you into the main practice range, concessions and shopping facility.

Entrance to the Course
There are two gates Patrons use, gate 9 and gate 6. Gate 9 is the main gate on the northwestern side of the course, right near the intersection of Washington Road and Berckmans Road. This gate brings you in past the practice area, into the main store for retail shopping, and right out onto the #1 fairway. It can be busy, especially on weekend days, but people are very courteous and mill about getting their business done as they prepare for the days golf. The other entrance is gate 6, on the southwestern corner again off Berckmans Road. (If you are collecting a ticket from Stub Hub, this is the gate you will want to enter through as their pickup house is on Heath Rd right across from the gate.) This gate also has a retail shop, although a bit smaller, and full concessions. You drop down out of the entrance area onto the course via several paths or stairs, onto holes #15 or #14. Easier access to Amen Corner here, and the back nine is more prevalent. We actually preferred this entrance.

Practice Rounds/Pictures
So now you are in, having secured your ticket, congratulations. There are a lot of places to get to, so be sure to get there early and plan on staying late. For those who are attending a practice round, you can take in your camera, but that is it. Banned items include anything else electronic: NO cell phones, no pedometers, pocketknives, cigar cutters, etc. (Check masters.com for a more complete list.) Some people think the practice rounds are the best, as you get to be much closer to the players, there are seats or standing room that is accessible, and the players are a bit more interactive with the fans, lot less stress. If you are there for a practice round, here are a few areas you might want to get a photo:

  1. Right side of #6 green, just to see how sloped it really is.
  2. #8 fairway crossing, how uphill and blind is that second shot?
  3. Amen Corner, #11 green, and #12 green.
  4. #13 Fairway, and Rae’s creek.
  5. #15 pond in front of the green, either from fairway crossing or grandstand.
  6. #16 green.
  7. #18 crossway looking up fairway just below the tee box.
  8. The huge leaderboard on side of #1 fairway, showing all the players names.
  9. There are also several different “street sign posts” with arrows pointing towards specific holes on the course.

Obviously there are a ton of other areas you can shoot pictures, these are just a few we liked. The next thing to think about is do you want to walk around and follow a player or group, or stay at one hole for a while as the groups come through, or just hang out at the practice area? We did a little of everything and moved around all day, shooting lots of pictures, getting the lay of the land, and taking it all in. And on Wednesday, you can take in the Par-3 contest, which is in the NE corner of the course, and is super-busy because it has grown in popularity over the years. (Most every day there is a pairings sheet you can get when you arrive, and we saw that Arnie, Jack, and Gary were teamed up to play the Par-3 tourney at 3:02PM – and did they have a following!)

Tournament Day Guidelines
First and foremost, get there early! Thursday and Friday rounds will start at about 7:45-8:00AM, and there are some 100 golfers going out those days. You need to see your favorites, so no sleeping in or playing too hard the night before. Saturday and Sunday rounds will start about 10:00AM, but if you are planning on placing a chair at a specific hole, you better be in line to be on the course no later than 7:30AM. The gates will allow you in prior to that, but the course is not open till 8:00AM, and that is when the mad rush, (remember walking only), will occur for prime viewing locations.

Viewing Spots
Below is a list of our favorites, not to say that there aren’t many other great locations, these are just the ones we really liked.
1. #16 green. This was our favorite and we would go back here again if we return. We chose the seated area just up from the pond, with views back to the tee box on #16, across the lake to #15 green, and over towards #6 green. (Some people chose to sit up on the hillside, above the walkway, we felt it was a bit steep and over a long time might not be all that comfortable, but it does help with elevation for better viewing angles up there.) Many will rush in to get their chairs set up just in front on the pond, but we liked up on the high side against the ropes just in front of the walkway.
2. Amen Corner. Everyone wants to sit here and it will be crowded all day as long as there are golfers coming through. We sat 5 rows up parallel to the tee box, but would have preferred to be directly behind the tee box a bit more for better angles of the tee shots, and the approach shots to #11 green. You have to get there early to get a seat set, or just wander in anytime for standing on the hill directly behind the tee box is good too.
3. #2 fairway. On the lower side of the fairway, you can stand or sit and watch the tee shots come down over the hill for the big hitters. Then there is a great angle to watch the approach shots to the green.
4. #18 green. If you can get a seat in the first 18-20 rows directly behind the green, it will offer great views. If you are on the sides, be sure to think about what your angles are when the area is full of patrons, and you have to peer through the “heads” to the green. Also, when the Patrons do stand, how will your sight line change?
5. #13 fairway. You get a great view of the ball coming off the tee. From there, you can see just how sloped the fairway is and what happens if the players do not hit a perfect drive. Then there is the approach; do they go for it in two, or lay up in front of Rae’s Creek tributary? You can see all the way to the green, but you may need some binoculars. Added bonus is that this area is shaded a lot of the day.
6. If you have time, go down to the #10 fairway right side and see if you can find the place Bubba Watson hit the miracle 90-degree hook out of the trees off the pine straw; you will be even more amazed he pulled that shot off when you stand down there and see it for yourself!

Lastly, when you do set up a chair, you can leave it all day and nobody will move it. There is an unwritten rule, and security to enforce it, that your chair is your space and you could be gone elsewhere on the course, to return and have a seat wherever you set it. If you buy the chair from the course, we do recommend it, there is a slot on the back for a business card to signify it is yours. We took it a step further, placing a pink ribbon on the edge of the back, so it was recognizable from the others. We did see a ton of people endlessly searching for their seats after having set them early in the day and not memorizing the exact spot or row they set the chair.

You have to get something right? Well you can spend as little or as much as you want, and that is up to you. What we will discuss is the timing. If you are going on a practice round, you can go shopping anytime and do your spending whenever. If it is a tournament round, it is always better early on Thursday and Friday, fewer golfers on the course, less people in the stores. Over the weekend, if you get in early before the golfers tee off, it will be crowded in the shops, but better then than during the play. Later in the day, many times it gets crowded, and later in the tournament some things do start to run out of stock, so if you see something, buy it. Here is the best thing of all; you can ship it home directly from the course, or check it like a coat check and pick it up when you leave, no need to tote it around all day with you, we did this a lot.

What to Bring
We actually bought our own chairs ahead of time at a local store, but in hindsight should have just bought the Master’s chair (only $30 and they are much sturdier and a great souvenir). Sunscreen is a must, but it is also sold at the course and very reasonable. In fact, everything is priced very reasonably at the course. Make sure to wear comfy walking shoes, as you’ll do a lot of it; remember that you may be walking some 6-10 miles on uneven ground. Additionally, we opted for golf attire and hats everyday. Bright colors are a good option so you can spot each other while on the course and maybe even on TV! We were fortunate to have great weather, so we didn’t need a lot of layers. Remember, you can always buy what you didn’t bring in!

Since cell phones aren’t allowed in, we had to get creative about meeting up with friends since we couldn’t just text each other. There are complimentary phones to use to call people outside the course, but in-person is the only way to communicate with friends inside. Most of the time, our group arrived at different times of the day and we also split up at times to explore in smaller groups. A great meeting spot for us was under the scoreboard behind the #7 green. This was a pretty central spot to meet, not too crowded and you could still watch golf as you waited for your friends to arrive.

We hope this helps for anyone planning on making a trip to the Masters. For some, as it was for us, this is one of the biggest bucket list in sports you can do, and it can be done by everyone, just a bit pricey. We were fortunate to have been there for the whole week and attended 5 days. We met a mother and son who actually sold us a ticket for the Wed. round who had flown in from Coeur d’Alene, ID to Atlanta on Tues, drove to the course on Wed. for the practice round, and then drove back to Atlanta and flew home on Thursday, bucket list trip for sure!

The Masters! 4/4/14 – 4/14/14

Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus & Gary Player at the Par 3 Contest

Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus & Gary Player at the Par 3 Contest

If you are not a golf fan, this post may or may not be all that exciting for you. But, for the golf fans out there, I will do my best to give you as much as you can handle describing Augusta National and our trip to the Masters Golf Tournament.

Traci and I left Columbia, SC and headed to Augusta, just a short 90-minute drive SW down Hwy 20 into Georgia. We arrived at the Heritage RV Park, about 10 minutes west of town, and the owner Don was there to guide us to our site. We had made reservations with him back in September, as there are very few places to park your RV in or around Augusta. This former mobile home park is being completely renovated and turned into an RV park, and there were lots of areas that had been updated, and others they are working towards getting completed. Don and his staff were working hard to get the park looking good for their busiest time of the year, Masters Week as the locals refer to it. (This whole area had suffered a major hit from an ice storm about 6 weeks prior and many places were still trying to repair the damage to trees.) The site we stayed in was perfect, great satellite reception, a very nice little concrete patio outside, and quiet. After getting set up, Don came by on his evening rounds and sat down and visited with us for what must have been two hours, what a really nice man, can’t say enough great things about him and the park.

Our spot at the Heritage RV Park

Our spot at the Heritage RV Park

When we left Columbia, we hurriedly made a “Need 2 Masters Tickets” sign, hoping to display it in the back of the car for the drive, only to find out it was too big to fit anywhere. We decided to place it in the windshield of the MoHo when we arrived, so that anyone arriving in the park would know we were looking for extra tickets. (We actually got a few ticket offers from the sign, surprisingly.) We had been watching the ticket broker sites for quite some time, and really understood the market, but the prices were just way up there, and basically unreasonable for what was being offered. (A huge thanks to Tiger for not coming, dropped prices by at least 20% immediately, and probably another 25-40% over the week.) The tickets are one of sports most difficult to get, you have to know someone, of someone, of someone, to get one from the Masters directly, or take a chance with a broker or street scalper. We had our work cut out for us, and it was a bit stressful at times not knowing what we were going to have to spend to get in.

Mitch, Sunny, Ann, Jerry, Traci and Me

Mitch, Sunny, Ann, Jerry, Traci and Me

The first couple days in Augusta, we ran some errands and got the lay of the land where everything was located, in anticipation of the arrival of friends, Sunny and Mitch, her parents Ann and Jerry, and Matt and Nicole. Part of our reason for putting this on our list of stops on the trip was the fact that Sunny and Mitch had been able to get 4 tickets for the tournament through mutual friend connections, so we knew they would be there if we could make it to Augusta ourselves. They all flew into Atlanta, and arrived at Augusta on Monday, the first practice round day. The day was a total wash out, as there were heavy rains, thunder and lightning in the area and eventually a total of 3.5 inches of rain fell by days end. They actually closed the course around noon. We gathered at a house they had rented, and caught up on time spent apart. (Matt and Nicole were not in town yet; they planned on staying west of Augusta for a couple days and golfing before they arrived to the area.)

The main scoreboard - everything is manual

The main scoreboard – everything is manual

We woke Tuesday to cool but clear skies, and the excitement was starting to build, but Traci and I still needed to find tickets. The practice round tickets were much more reasonable and we had contacted several brokers, but it was still a bitter pill to swallow, so we held out. We did venture to the course and waited around outside to see if anyone leaving would give us a pass to go back in later in the day (along with about 150 other people) to no avail. Bummed that we could not get in, we headed to Hooters for a beer and to wait for a call (no cell phones allowed in the grounds at the Augusta National) from the group to meet up for dinner.  John Daly, a great golfer who was not in the tournament this year, and who is sponsored by Hooters, had his motorhome parked just outside selling his merchandise and posing for pictures for those who purchased his wares. We headed out for dinner that night, to my new favorite, Carolina Ale House (see one of our previous posts about the wings here!) and waited for Matt and Nicole to arrive after a day of golfing themselves.

Nicole, Traci & Sunny in front of the 13th green

Nicole, Traci & Sunny in front of the 13th green – the pink ladies!

Wednesday was here, the final practice round and the famous Par-3 contest. (During our ticketing search, I had placed an advertisement needing tickets on Craigslist, and we were super lucky to get a reply from a very wonderful lady from Coeur d’Alene, ID who was flying in with her son and had an extra she was willing to sell to us for a great price, thanks Susie!) Eventually we had all secured a ticket for Wednesday, and in we went around 8:45AM. The Masters welcoming committee was in full force. We heard “welcome to the Masters” over and over from the staff and everyone was so friendly. We grabbed a couple of beers and headed out to the course, and on the first hole we came to one of Traci’s all time favorite players, Sergio Garcia right there finishing up on the 13th green, and about to tee off on #14. As we wandered around, everything we had heard about was true. Not a blade of grass out of place, no weeds, fairways that looked and felt like carpet, greens that were so fast you could not believe anyone could actually get a putt or approach to stop, etc. It was amazing how the place lived up to its billing, and even surpassed our expectations in beauty. We were also lucky that due to the cold winter everywhere, the Azaleas and Dogwoods were just starting to bloom; some years they have already finished blooming, but not so for us. We took tons of pictures, many of the golfers themselves and their groups. (Only during the practice rounds are you allowed to bring in a camera, so we took some 400 pictures that day, wishing we would have taken more – see below for link to more pics.) As the day wore on we finally ended up at the Par-3 course and tournament, a huge draw due to the closeness of the patrons and the participants. This is a “fun” event, with many of the player’s kids acting as their caddies, or some celebrities taking the bag for the participants. This was also the time that the big three had a chance to still knock it around a little; Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, and Jack Nicklaus. We watched this group, along with about 15,000 others, for a hole and they were entertaining as always. We left the course that evening, and met another group of friends for dinner after securing our tickets for Thursday’s round, all very tired from the days’ excitement of actually walking the hallowed grounds of Augusta National Golf Club! Tomorrow was the Tournament and we had tickets and were going, this was really finally happening!!!

Looking up the 18th fairway

Looking down the 18th fairway

Raking a bunker

Raking a bunker : )

As we mentioned above, Sunny, Mitch, Ann and Jerry had four tickets for the week. As luck would have it for Traci and I, there were some days that not everyone in their group would attend, so they graciously offered those extra tickets to us. We so appreciate their generosity and a huge thank you to these amazing lifelong friends whom we consider family! And, we got to spend a week with them, and take in the tournament with friends, icing on the cake!

Thursday morning Traci and I got up early and got to the course by 7:45AM, to meet Matt and Nicole and set our chairs for the day. (When you go to Augusta, there are a few decent places to view from grandstands, but most of the “patrons” bring in collapsible chairs, without armrests, and sit at their favorite locations to watch the golfers coming by.) After scouting out the course the day before, we thought it would be fun to try for Amen Corner, an area that is probably the most recognizable 3-hole stretch in all of golf. I figured Thursday being the start of the tournament would be the quietest day here; we scurried down to the 12th hole and set up just 5 rows off the tee box! We could look back over the tee box to #11 green, and see the #13th tee box along with #12 green as well. The #12th hole is the hole that every Masters golf fan knows well, and is said to be the most photographed golf hole in the world, and here we were just 5 rows up, wow! We set our chairs down, and headed out to the course to find some golfers on the early holes. (When you place your chair, it stays there, nobody takes it, or moves it, it is your spot for the day. An unwritten rule that all patrons follow.) We ventured around and watched from several different vantage points, walking UP and DOWN the hills of Augusta National. If you have watched the Masters on TV, you have probably heard the commentary of how hilly this place is, and it is no joke. Every hole has some sort of slope, and there is not a flat lie for the golfers out there. You really have too see it in person to understand just how hilly the course is, making it that much more of a challenge to hit a crisp shot with your feet at all sorts of angles at impact. We returned to our chairs on #12 tee box around 1:30PM, right were we had left them some 5 hours before. Upon arrival, we found one of our chairs was broken; someone had used it while we were away and it was not repairable. (We had bought chairs prior to coming, but in hindsight, we should have just bought the chairs there, they are only $30 and worth it for ease, quality, and you get to keep the souvenir.) I ran up to one of the on-course merchandise stands, and they had one for sale, issue solved, that other hunk of junk was going back to where we bought it. We sat there for the next 4-5 hours, watching all the groups come through, in the heat of the day, staying well hydrated. This area was so busy and fortunately there was a concession stand and restroom facility just behind the grandstand so no issue with getting anything we needed throughout the day. Every concession stand and restroom was busy almost all the time, but Augusta National has created what everyone would call the most well oiled machine ever. No matter how long a line might have looked, concessions, restroom or merchandise sales, it moved incredibly fast, and what would take 30 minutes or more at any other venue, was completed in just 5 minutes, simply amazing. We finally headed out that afternoon after the last group came through and felt like we had done the unthinkable, spent a better part of a day at the most famous golf hole in the world!
A side note about the restrooms: They do not use port-a-potties, but rather nice tiled, spacious restroom buildings all staffed with 4 or 5 employees (some of them took their job in stride and had a great running commentary as you entered.) directing “traffic” and making sure they were stocked and clean. The men’s line was always much longer than women’s; something that Traci loved!

This is the menu - check out the reasonable prices!

This is the menu – check out the reasonable prices!

Friday brought the second round, and Traci and I arrived early again. We decided that this day would be fun to set up on #18 green, and watch many of our favorites finish their round. We hurried in and set up about 15 rows from the green, with a very good view of the hole. Again we left our chairs and headed out to the course to take in some different views of the course and golfers. We spent a lot of time in the corner of #1 green, #2 tee box, #8 green and #9 tee box. Some good views, a concession area that was somewhat hidden, and just a nice place to take it all in. We also did some shopping. There are two main buildings for buying souvenirs, with one huge one at the main gate 6, and a second smaller one near the gate 9 entrance. One of the great things is they have figured it out again, that many people here are from out of town, and buying a lot of stuff for friends and family. (We met one guy buying for all his men’s club friends at Harbor Point in Mukilteo!) After you are done buying all your stuff, you can ship it home directly from the course and not have to deal with it, or you can check it like a coat check, and pick it up on your way out, very convenient. We returned to #18 green for the afternoon and were there sitting right off the place that so many greats have won a Green Jacket, again this is a moment soon not to be forgotten! Unfortunately a few of our favorites missed the cut, so we would not be seeing them on the weekend (Phil, Serg and Ernie to name a few).

Amen Corner

Amen Corner, Hogan Bridge in the background

Throughout the week, we were able to see certain views that we wanted to try and return to, and asked many of the volunteers and security about timing for access to the right seat set up locations. So, Saturday we got to the course at 7:00AM, knowing the gates did not open till 8:00AM, but as they say only the early bird gets the worm. At precisely 8:00AM, the course opened and it was a mad rush of speed walkers (no running allowed!) to get to the prime seating locations. We had decided the day before to go for a view of the #16 green, with look-in views of both the #15 green and the #6 green. Many others had the same idea, and it was quite busy. Everyone around us had a plan, and the front rows filled immediately. Fortunately, we had decided to go for the back row, up against a walkway used for patrons to move between the holes. We had learned from the day before that this walkway was to remain open at all times, no stopping and standing. We set up our chairs with the perfect angle to see everything we had scouted out the day prior. Within 10 minutes, the entire area, designated as a seating only section, was completely filled and the guards were standing by to make sure nobody else tried to reshuffle seats to get one more chair in. (It was amazing how few patrons did try to squirm their way in, if the seating only areas were full, they understood and had to go elsewhere – another unwritten rule.) Seeing’s how it was only 8:15AM, and the first tee time for the day was 10:15AM we headed to the concession stand for a snack and did a little more shopping, why not? As the golf began, we followed a few golfers around, and made it to some of our favorite viewing sites, along the fairway of hole #2, and behind hole #7. We returned to our seats about 2:00PM or so, just in time to see the first group arrive, and proceeded to stay there for the next 5 hours and watched every group come through. I think this was our best day at the tournament. We were situated perfectly and could really see a lot, and take it all in without having to move a great deal. We finally left that evening about 6:30PM, two tired patrons, but oh-so happy!

On the 15th fairway with green behind

On the 15th fairway with green behind

Sunday arrived and because we had gone in so early the day before, we slept in an extra 30 minutes, and got to the course about 7:40AM. We hustled to gate 6, the main gate with the intension of setting our chairs at #18 green, along with the rest of the world. By the time we got there, the place was packed, and we had to settle for an area a bit just below the #18 green. I had figured if we were going to do this once, we had to be at #18 green on the last day of the tournament, right? Again, chairs set up, and about 2 hours to kill, so we headed in for our last shopping trip, some breakfast snacks, and wandered back down to #2 green. I think this was our second favorite viewing sight, a small hill off the left side of the green, you could see many of the approach shots down the hill, and we had a good look at the green and all the putting. We stayed down there for about 8-9 groups, and then moved around to later holes, only to hear that Seattle’s own Fred Couples was making a charge early. We followed him for 5-6 holes and the excitement was building, shot by shot. By this time, the course was alive with cheers and roars heard from all over, “who did what on which hole,” everyone was excited! Eventually we returned back to #18 green by 4:00PM as many of the final groups were starting to finish. #18 green was still somewhat quiet, but by the time the last 5-6 groups were arriving, it was packed, so much that we could not see through the heads in front of us and our view was not very good. (Sleeping that last 30 minutes might have hurt us.) We stayed to the end, and watched Bubba Watson win his second Green Jacket, and then walked all the way back down the course to our exit point at gate 9. I was giddy all week, and still am shocked that we got to partake in all of this, 5 straight days at the Masters, one huge bucket list item checked off! And it was so special to be able to spend time and share this experience with our good friends.

Stay tuned for a follow-up post about tips for attending The Masters.  It is now posted HERE!

Click HERE for many more pics with detailed captions

(Allow time for them to load in, then click on first one and you can scroll through the album)


The much anticipated Canadian Rockies!!! 8/7/13 to 8/15/13

Moraine Lake

Moraine Lake

Warning – this is a long one!
I have been waiting for this part of the trip!  Working at Holland America and Princess, I have always known about the Canadian Rockies and have had it on my bucket list for a long time.  I have seen many a photo and written/edited many itineraries, but now I actually have a personal experience to attach to these places I have always seen in a brochure.  Mike has been through this area, but back in the 90’s and it was a quick trip, so he was also looking forward to exploring the region in depth.

First stop, Jasper
We arrived to Jasper National Park in a pouring rainstorm.  There are no commercial RV Parks in the national parks, only campgrounds, so we checked in at Whistlers Campground.   We were excited that we weren’t as packed in as some of the RV parks and it had a more ‘wildernessy’ feel.  But, what comes with that is no power, no water, no sewer and no wi-fi.  We were boondocking!  It was a nice change for us to really be disconnected (except for the occasional wi-fi connection at restaurants in town).  We played a lot of Backgammon in the evenings!

The next day, we were ready to explore!  Headed into town and the Jasper Visitor Center to get our maps, literature, etc.  Made a quick stop at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge to check out the property and see what golf would cost.  Too expensive, but what a great, serene setting for this hotel.  Decided on a hike up to Maligne Canyon which is a steep, narrow canyon, with a flowing river rushing through.  We ended up on a side trail and my imagination was running wild.  Everywhere, there were warnings about bears and I was convinced we were going to run into Smokey.   We had our Bear Spray at the ready, but nothing to worry about.   We left and decided to explore a bit by car.  The scenery was just amazing.  Craggy mountains capped with glaciers, rushing rivers and crystal clear blue lakes around every corner.  We stopped at Pyramid Lake for a short walk and just enjoyed the killer views.  Headed back into Jasper and the Jasper Brewery for dinner and a couple of ice cold beers (and free wi-fi).  A great day!

View from Jasper Park Lodge

View from Jasper Park Lodge

Maligne Canyon Hike

Maligne Canyon

The next morning we decided to drive toward Banff along the Icefields Parkway.  We would be heading this way the next day, but we are not able to stop at many of the sights when we are in the MoHo and towing the car.  So, we would be backtracking a bit, but we are much more flexible when we have the Acura only  while the MoHo is back at the campground.  We stopped at Athabasca Falls, which was pretty impressive.  I would not want to be caught on the topside of the river with that thing in front of me.  POWERFUL!  We continued down the Parkway to Athabasca Glacier and the Columbia Icefields. This is one of those sites I have read about so many times, but until you see it, it just doesn’t even compute.  It is the world’s most accessible glacier.   This is where you can pay to ride on those Ice-Coaches with the huge wheels that drive right onto the glacier.  We decided against that and instead hiked the trail and like everyone else, walked under the rope and onto the front of the glacier.  Me being the worry-wart didn’t want to do it, but Mike really did, so off we went.  He said, “What happened to the girl that jumped out of an airplane years ago?”  I am more cautious in my older age, but that comment got my attention!  They say the ice is thicker than the Eiffel Tower is tall, so I decided we were probably safe.  Once we were on the glacier it was amazing how cold it got.  The glacier itself was HUGE.  There were signs showing how much it has receded every 10 years.  Mike was here back in the 90’s, so we took a picture at the 1992 sign and it must have been at least 100 yards from where the glacier is now.  This was a very cool stop.

Athabasca Falls

Athabasca Falls

Columbia Glacier - this is where it was in 1992

Athabasca Glacier/Columbia Icefields – this is where the glacier came to in 1992

Standing on Athabasca Glacier

Standing on Athabasca Glacier

We headed back toward Jasper and decided on one last stop.  There was a mountain that I had been intrigued by from the moment we arrived – Mount Edith Cavell.  It appears to have horizontal stripes across it from the snow/glacier.  So, we decided to go get a closer look.  We took a 12km, very windy, steep drive up to the trailhead.  We then walked the trail up to a viewpoint, which showcased the mountain, angel glacier and an amazing glacier-fed lake surrounded by thick glacier walls.  So worth the trip – a hidden gem! Apparently last year a large portion of the glacier broke off into the lake and caused an immediate flash flood due to the lake overflowing into the valley to another lake below and caused it to raise 6 feet.  Fortunately it happened at night and no one was there as it washed out most of the parking lot and much of the trail system.  The power of nature!  We retired to the MoHo exhausted from our full day.

Mt. Edith Cavell - glacier fed lake

Mt. Edith Cavell – glacier fed lake

Travel Day – Icefields Parkway
Not much to do this morning to get ready to leave, since we were boondocking.  Not the usual chores that we are used to. We did stop at the “sani-dump” in the park to take care of our tanks and fill up with water for the days to come.  Nice that they offer this service.   This drive was one of the prettiest I have ever been on.  It connects Jasper to Lake Louise (Jasper National Park to Banff National Park).  One amazing landscape and view after another!  If it weren’t for this, today could have been classified as the ultimate cluster.  Turns out that we needed to get fuel.  We mistakenly passed the only gas station on the Parkway, so we took the next exit as we thought there would be a pullout or turnaround no problem.  About 15 minutes down the road we realized this was not the case.  We had to pull over and unhook the car since we are not able to maneuver/backup/u-turn with the car in tow.  All of this logistics stuff with the vehicles makes me extremely anxious.  We successfully unhooked, I got in the Acura, Mike in the MoHo and we turned around and made it back to the gas station where we proceeded to pay $6.50/gallon for diesel.  Needless to say we only put in the bare minimum.  Have we said how expensive Canada is?!  Found a place to hook back up and we were on the road again.  Along the way we decided to stop at Peyto Lake.  This is another place I had read about and wanted to visit.  Most of these larger sites have had ample parking for large rigs, so we thought no problem.  We drove up to where buses park as we thought that would be best, but instead got stuck again.  Had to ask a large bus to move for us so we could get through.  Again, this all makes me extremely anxious.   The guy did it reluctantly and we hightailed it out of there without being able to stop and sightsee.  At this point. I think both of us were ready to get to Banff.

The last ‘incident’ was both good and bad.  We approached what seemed like a traffic jam on the Parkway.  This can mean only two things – construction or wildlife.  A black bear was near the roadside munching on some foliage.  People lose all sensibility (we also saw this over and over in Yellowstone).  Cars parked in the middle of the road and people standing less than 10 yards from this animal taking photos.  I thought Mike was going to come undone.  He honked our big MoHo bullhorn hoping these idiots would move their cars to the shoulder, but no one seemed to care.  We were stuck and could not get by and traffic stacked up behind us.  This actually worked out ok as we were able to get some good pics and being up so high, we had a great view.   Finally we moved on, but at this point, we were ready to get the rig parked and be done with the drive.  We pulled into Tunnel Mountain Campground in Banff (we had power here, but no water or sewer) to a killer thunder/lightning show and headed into town for dinner.  Granted it was a Saturday night, but town was a complete circus.  So crowded, but really fun.  This place is the ultimate little tourist town with a fun ave (Banff Avenue) with tons of shops and restaurants.  We continued with our Brewery theme and settled into the Banff Brewery for a bite.  The Sounders were playing Toronto on the big screen so it was a treat since we had been without TV for awhile.

Black Bear

Black Bear

Banff and Lake Louise
We had a much needed leisurely morning and decided today would be a good day for golf.  Something completely relaxing in a beautiful setting.   Golf at the Banff Springs resort was way too expensive so we drove west toward Calgary and the town of Canmore.  We golfed at Stewart Creek and got paired up with a single, Shawn, a local kid.  This always makes me nervous to play with someone I don’t know, but he was so easygoing and it really made for a great round.  This area, which is very close to Calgary, was really hit hard by the big flood in June.  Much of the golf course was washed out, but all but one hole was completely repaired.  We had heard about this flood, but seeing the devastation first-hand was pretty eye-opening.  We got off the course around 8 and headed back to the MoHo to watch the PGA tourney that we had recorded earlier.  We both fell asleep early.

Woke up the next morning and finished watching the golf tourney.  Drove to Lake Louise.   Wow, there were a lot of people there!  We walked down the hill and there it was.  That picture I have had in my head: Chateau Lake Louise, the piercing blue colored lake with the mountain/glacier framed in the background.  It was spectacular.  We did a hike up to the Teahouse, 3.5km straight up, but well worth it.  Once on top, there was a little restaurant serving coffee, tea and snacks.  Very cool.  A huge rainstorm started up, so we thought we better make our way down.  It was a pretty strenuous hike for us.  On our way down, we chatted about how glad we were to be doing this trip now vs. 20 years from now…20 years from now we wouldn’t be able to do this hike.  This is a pretty regular conversation for us and confirmation on why it makes so much sense that we are doing this trip now!  We drove back to Banff and decided to go to the Banff Springs Hotel for dinner/drinks.  This hotel is the one we have all seen photos of – it looks like a castle in the trees.  It was a splurge for us, but the atmosphere and setting just couldn’t be beat.  We sat out on their patio and took it all in!  Today was a banner day!


Lake Louise

The next day, we headed back toward Lake Louise to Moraine Lake.  This is the other recognized lake in all the pictures.  It is a vibrant turquoise blue whereas Lake Louise is more of a milky, ice blue.  Mike thinks Moraine is more impressive than Louise. We got rained on again, but it cleared pretty quickly and we were then treated to blue skies and sunshine.  We were both a bit sore from our hike the day before, so decided to just do the easy trail along the lakeshore, 3 km roundtrip.  There are some other hikes in the area, but due to bear activity, they require hiking in groups of 4 or more.  We could have hooked up with some others, but this seemed like a good excuse for us to pass on these hikes!   We headed back to the Banff area and up to Lake Minnewanka to explore some more, but most of the area and trails were closed due to bear activity.  We decided to go back to the campground and enjoy our site and the sunshine.  Mike made a delicious Caprese Salad and we opened a bottle (or two) of Rose from the Okanagan and sat outside in the sun until the mosquitos drove us inside.  We both took showers in the campground facilities since we need to be mindful of our water usage.  Another great day.

Moraine Lake

Moraine Lake

On our last day, we had a really relaxing one.  Did some MoHo chores in the morning, then into town for lunch, strolling the ave and Starbucks for free wi-fi.  Back to the campsite for a nice long walk, watched the Mariners and a light dinner. We have been in Canada for 2 weeks now.  I absolutely loved this part of trip.  It was the perfect mix of relaxation and seeing all of the sights I have dreamed of seeing.  I also felt like we were pretty active which is always nice – 10,000+ steps every day! I would highly recommend this area for a visit – it really isn’t that far from Seattle and so worth it. The scenery really does rival Alaska.  The only bummer is that we did not see much wildlife – only the one bear.   Looking forward to getting back in the US!  Thanks for reading.

Wildlife Update – We saw a gray wolf and a deer on the way south through Kootenay National Park.  : )

More pics from Jasper/Icefields Parkway, click HERE
More pics from Banff/Lake Louise, click HERE

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