Helena, Montana GeoTour: Thar’s Gold in Them Thar Hills

Spoiler Alert! This post contains information and photos about the geocache containers hidden in Helena, Montana as part of the city’s official GeoTour. If you want to find them yourself, you may want to stop reading now.

When it comes to planning a family vacation, most people look to the tourism department, visitor’s bureau, or chamber of commerce to get them started on their itinerary. Knowing geocachers everywhere are tuned in to some of the most amazing nooks and crannies a destination has to offer, a GeoTour gives you the best of both worlds—help navigating the highlights and earning a few smilies along the way.

IMG_8984While many places already have established geotrails and geocaching challenges, GeoTours are developed in a partnership between Groundspeak and a specific destination—from the Prague Airport in the Czech Republic to the Bonneville Bigfoots Search in North Bonneville, Washington.

GeoTours typically have a “branded” look and feel, like using the same type of container or a placing a unique design (usually a sticker) on the caches linked to the GeoTour. Because the hides special to the community—and part of a bigger picture—chances are maintenance logs and DNFs are reviewed and remedied right away by a local volunteer or an employee responsible for keeping the GeoTour in good shape (or both).

IMG_8853The number of caches in each GeoTour vary, as do the terms for completing a passport that can be turned in for special prizes from commemorative geocoins to discounts on food and attractions, and sometimes even “grand prize” overnight stays at local hotels. While the ultimate goal of a GeoTour is tourism and drawing out-of-towners in to see a city, one positive side effect of a GeoTour is that local geocachers become more aware of the history and significance of unique places within their own community.

IMG_9758A handful of GeoTours have received recognition and awards for their excellence in conservation, creating memorable experience, and even technological innovation. Recently selected by Rand McNally as the best place for geocaching in the United States, the Helena, Montana GeoTour showcases the best Helena has to offer. Here is a link to the official passport (or you can pick one up at the Helena Tourism Alliance building on 105 Reeder’s Alley): http://www.helenamt.com/content//www/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/passport.pdf

Geocaching in Elkhorn, MTIntrigued by the award, and wanting to get into the Rocky Mountains anyway, our big summer vacation was spent in Helena, Montana finding many of the 38 caches that comprise the Helena, Montana GeoTour. The Helena, Montana GeoTour stretches through the scenic Helena area from the heights of MacDonald Pass, along the historic downtown gulch, and South to Boulder and the Elkhorn Ghost Town. Discover all the treasures of Montana’s Capital City.

Finding TumbleweedIn a bit of pre-trip research, reading the cache descriptions gave us a better feel for Helena’s early settlement during the gold rush, the many historic neighborhoods, hides near places our kids would love, and even took us to an old lead mining town with a stop at a geothermal hot springs along the way.

Geocaching at the Helena State CapitolTrip highlights included geocaching at the state capitol building, finding our very first tumbleweed, a trip to the top of a mountain, and one of the most eclectic artists communities we’ve ever seen. We found devious hides, beautiful places, unique containers, geoswag, and even a few travel bugs.
IMG_8793And this sentiment wasn’t just reserved for our family. Here are a few logs we encountered along the way: “This is what I love about the GeoTour. I would have never visited this little hamplet and would then not have known about the history here. Thanks for placing the cache next to an interesting marker!”  and “Thanks so much for making sure I found this place. It’s gorgeous, especially in the dusk. Looks like a great place to camp, to read, to hang out, to dream of explorers and exploring.

IMG_8814And, as it turned out, our trip coincided with a local CITO event attended by several of the geocachers responsible for the creating the Helena, Montana GeoTour—the Capital City Cachers. Welcomed to the event with open arms, it’s clear the people of Helena are proud of their city and the caches selected for the tour have a special meaning beyond just a dot on the map. And this was the best trip souvenir of all.

Julie Henning with the Capitol City GeocachersTo see the growing list of GeoTours around the globe, log in to Geocaching.com and then click on Partnering > Travel and GeoTourism. Here you can read all about GeoTours, but you’ll need to click the link for “current GeoTours” for the interactive map to appear. Each GeoTour has a link to the tour’s unique website, including the ability to download the entire GPX file to your GPS device.

For more ideas on what to do if you take your own trip to Helena, Montana, read some our family-friendly suggestions in this story: Family Vacation in Helena, Montana.

And, don’t forget to listen to my Journeys of Discovery NPR travel podcast episode.

About the Author

Julie Henning
Julie Henning is a freelance writer and journalist based out of Eugene, Oregon. She is a member of the Society of American Travel Writers and owner of the family-travel website RoadTripsForFamilies.com. She is a recent past member of the Midwest Travel Writers Association and the Association for Great Lakes Outdoor Writers. In March 2018 Julie Henning published the book "100 Things to Do in Eugene Before You Die" (Reedy Press). She is a member of the Society of American Travel Writers and recent past member of the Midwest Travel Writers Association and the Association for Great Lakes Outdoor Writers. She has been published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the Wisconsin State Journal, Travel Wisconsin, Travel Oregon, Hometown News Group, The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Illinois), the Rochester Post Bulletin, Wisconsin Natural Resources Magazine (DNR publication), Experience Michigan Magazine, the Official Oregon Wine Touring Guide, Metro Parent Milwaukee Magazine, Eugene Cascades & Coast Official Visitors Guide, Trivago, Intercom Magazine, Roadtrippers.com, Amtrak.com, Eugene Magazine, and FTF Geocacher Magazine. Julie has appeared on Wisconsin Public Radio, Ohio Public Radio, and KCBX FM Central Coast Radio. She has produced episodes for Journey of Discovery with Tom Wilmer, a National Public Radio travel podcast. Julie has also produced travel apps with Sutro Media and Bindu Media. She works full time in marketing. Julie has appeared on Wisconsin Public Radio, Ohio Public Radio, and KCBX FM Central Coast Radio and is an affiliate producer with the Journeys of Discovery with Tom Wilmer, a National Public Radio travel podcast. She has blogged for TravelWisconsin.com, Travel Oregon, and VISIT Milwaukee. Julie travels with her three kids and black lab as much as possible and lives by the motto, "Not all who wander are lost." Check out some of her best work at www.juliehenning.com.