As those of us in the eastern part of the United States move into the 11th week on stay at home orders due to Covid 19, I wanted to share a family friendly outdoor game/hobby that has brought me great joy over the last 5 years. Geocaching – the world wide outdoor scavenger hunt!
Geocaching started when GPS was created as a way for them to test it to see if it really worked. The idea was to hide a container in the woods and then use GPS technology to see if you could find it. Fast forward 20 years and there are now over 3 million geocaches of all shapes and sizes hidden in over 190 countries! Participants navigate to a specific set of GPS coordinates and then attempt to find a geocache (container) hidden at that location. They are all managed and listed on the Geocaching.com website. For more information about how it works, watch THIS VIDEO.
How do I play?
In order to play, you need to create an account on the site and then download the Geocaching app to your smartphone to help you navigate to the caches near your current location. Once you arrive at the GPS location, you can refer to the app/website for clues as to what kind of geocache you are looking for. The cache page will give you a description telling some background information as well as the size of the geocache.
Geocaches come in all different shapes and sizes. Those marked as “large” might be an ammo box or other large container in the woods.
Others marked as a “micro” or “nano” might be a small magnetic container under a table.
What do I do when I find a container?
Success! You’ve found the geocache! Now what? Carefully open it up and see what is inside. Each geocache contains a log book that the player must sign to prove you really found it. Some bigger geocaches might also contain “swag” which includes keychains, small toys, and other treasures. Swag items are traded by replacing an item you take, with an item you brought with you of equal or greater quality. What child doesn’t love getting new trinkets? When I went geocaching with my 8 year old nephew, I would keep small items in my car that we could use to replace items he took from the geocache. After you sign the log book, mark that you “Found It” on your account, and get a smiley face for that cache on your map. I have 229 smiley faces and counting! In your geocache log, it’s also nice to tell a story about how you found the geocache and/or thank the CO (cache owner) for placing that cache. When you are finished, be sure to close it up and return the geocache to the EXACT location that you found it so it will be ready for the next player.
Geocaches also come in different categories. There is the Traditional cache which is the most straightforward. You go to the location, find the container, and sign the log. A second kind is the Mystery or Puzzle cache where you need to solve a puzzle before you know the GPS location. An Earth cache is a special geological location people can visit to learn about a unique feature of the Earth. Earth cache pages include a set of educational notes along with coordinates and players often have to answer a set of questions and submit them in order to log the find. One of my favorites is the Multi cache which includes more than one location with the final one holding the log book. As you visit each part, it will give clues to the next location. You can read more about the different kinds of geocaches on THIS PAGE.
The cream of the crop for me are the ones with the clever or creative containers. People of all ages work hard to make this game fun to play! Some geocaches have tricky compartments.
While others really try to blend in to their surroundings.
Then there are the ones that are just over the top!
What do I need to play?
The only thing you really need is a GPS device or smartphone with the app. Creating an account is free and gives you access to a certain number of caches. You can upgrade to a become a premium member with full access to all of them on the app for a fee of $30 a year or $10 for 3 months. Other tools that are good to have on hand are:
- A pen to sign the logbook
- Gloves in case you need to touch something suspicious
- Tweezers – some of the smaller logs are hard to get out.
- Toys or trinkets to trade in a cache
- A camera/phone to take fun photos
Why is this a good family activity?
- Screen free activity that is fun for all ages. – We’ve found geocaches with relatives that include my 6 year old nephew all the way up to grandma.
- Get outdoors – Take a walk in the woods and spend quality time together while getting exercise.
- Exercise your mind- Solving puzzles and trying to figure out where the cache might be takes teamwork and brain power.
- Worldwide – They are literally all over the world so you can do them whenever and wherever you want and/or have the time.
- Learn something new – Many geocaches are located near historic sites and/or others places you might never knew existed if you weren’t looking for a cache
- Lasting memories – My family and I have started a tradition of finding a special geocache together every Mother’s Day. One year as we walked in the misty woods and searched hours for a particularly difficult geocache, my daughters’ wished they had a mom who only wanted to get her nails done on Mother’s Day. Our geocaching adventure that day made for a much more special family memory!
So if you’ve been stuck indoors for a long time and the kids are getting antsy, I hope you will consider hopping in the car and looking for the nearest geocache. Many are in parks which will allow you to have a family adventure while also maintaining important social distancing rules. If you have any questions, feel free to leave me a comment. Or if you give geocaching a try, comment to share your experience, favorite memory or another tip to share with readers. Happy caching!
Tina is a teacher in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. She has done a Geocaching after school club as well as helped both Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts earn their Geocaching Badge.