The annual SnowDays festival is underway in Banff National Park. With activities ranging from ice carving to ice climbing, snow sculpting to snow shoeing and lots more, the month-long schedule of activities is designed to encourage everyone to embrace winter.
We enjoyed a half day in and around the Banff townsite, searching for 5 geocaches hidden especially for Snow Days. Since I actually took a few minutes to do a bit of advance planning we went after the Snow Days caches in the following order (in order to minimize fuel consumption):
GC5JYP7 at Cascade Ponds – In all our years of hiking, we’ve never stopped at Cascade Ponds, assuming it would always be too crowded for our liking. We were the only visitors on a mid-week January morning, but even in winter the appeal is clear: shallow water, grassy areas, lots of picnic tables, a covered picnic shelter with a wood stove, sandy beach area, great views of Cascade Mountain and Mount Rundle, public washrooms and lots of parking. In fact, Cascade Ponds is one of the recommended parking areas for those looking to access the Legacy Trail.
Although not part of the Snow Days series, our next stop was at Johnson Lake for a short walk to hunt for one of the official locations for one of our all-time favourite geocaches: GC43F3 Brass Cap Cache. Johnson Lake is larger, deeper and colder lake than Cascade Ponds, but it’s also very popular in warmer months, thanks to easy hiking trails, a sandy beach, lots of picnic tables and public washrooms.
GC5JYNX at Lake Minnewanka – We searched for our second Snow Days geocache at a scenic spot along the shore of Lake Minnewanka, the longest lake in Banff National Park.
From there, we headed to the Cave and Basin National Historic Site. There weren’t many vehicles in the recently completed and greatly expanded parking area, but there was quite a bit of ice and I was happy to be wearing my Kahtoola MICROspikes. There are two Snow Days geocaches hidden nearby and we encountered just a few people during our short walk to each location.
Our penultimate stop to find the last Snow Days geocache was at Cascade Gardens just across the bridge from downtown Banff. The main feature when the flowers are hibernating under a think blanket of snow is a series of elaborate bridges/arches – some stone and some burled wood. Snow Days was our first time stopping at Cascade Gardens but it looks like it merits a return visit during warmer months.
Finally, we stopped at the Banff Visitor Centre located at 224 Banff Ave. As in past years, I went to the Parks Canada desk to submit all the secret words we’d collected from the five Snow Days caches, but the Parks Canada fellow reacted with a look of puzzlement. Fortunately, no one else was in the visitor centre at the time, so the person working at the Banff Lake Louise tourism desk overheard my request, waved me over and handed me a 2015 Snow Days wooden nickel in exchange for the secret words.
Snow Days runs through February 8, 2015 but the caches for this year’s challenge are scheduled to stay in place until early April, so there’s still time to get out and find those caches! We were really happy that all of the caches were in close proximity, so there was no need to burn a lot of gas to visit Norquay, Sunshine and Lake Louise as in past years. What do you think? Is it better to group the caches for an event like this relatively close together? Or spread them out so geocachers are encouraged to explore the whole region?