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.
While 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).
The 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.
A 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
Intrigued 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.
In 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.
Trip 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.
And 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.”
And, 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.
To 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.