Looking for a free, fun activity that will get the family outside and in adventure mode? Try geocaching. Geocaching combines the thrill of treasure hunting with the ability to find specific locations utilizing Global Positioning System (GPS).

GPS was made available to the public in 2000 and uses orbiting satellites to determine positions on the Earth’s surface. Geocaching participants quickly realized they could conceal caches in hidden storage places and post the coordinates for others to find them.

Originally, the expense of handheld GPS units was cost-prohibitive and limited the number of participants. However, with the introduction of smartphones, geocaching apps have helped put this hobby on the map.

One of the more popular apps is called simply, Geocaching. It is extremely user-friendly and features a map that shows the user’s location and the location of nearby geocaches. Scrolling the map shows other caches and users can zoom in and out to examine an area of interest more closely.

Selecting a cache will provide a player with its name, distance away, difficulty rating, terrain rating and the size of the cache. In addition, the cache’s name may provide a clue to where it is hidden or an overall theme. The app will not pinpoint the cache for a player, but it will show an aerial image of approximately where the cache is located and should get players within 16 feet. Remember, it relies on an orbiting satellite so the results may vary.

The app does have a “hint” option that may provide additional clues. Previous visitors may also post information or photos that may assist players in their searches. Some caches are easily found while others may be cleverly hidden. Popular hiding spots may include guard rails and signposts, under bushes, hanging from tree branches, or inside dead logs or artificial stones.

Caches vary in size from nano (approximately the size of a pinky fingertip), micro (a 35 mm film canister), small (sandwich-sized plastic container), regular (ammo box or shoebox), large (bucket) or other (which is explained in the cache description).

Once the cache has been located, what can a user expect to find inside? Each cache will have a log to sign and date “so remember to bring along a pen.” Depending on the size of the cache, it may contain themed items related to the cache such as trinkets, toys, stickers, erasers or geocoins. A geocoin is a token with a tracking code that allows a player to trace its progression as it is passed from person to person or cache to cache.

The rules are simple. If a player takes an item from a cache, he is expected to leave a comparable item. The player can make a note into the app that he found the item and also leave photos. Return the cache to its hiding place so that others may enjoy the thrill of the hunt.

Sometimes things go wrong and a player is not able to find the cache. Possibly it has been damaged or the log is wet. In that case, a player can use the app to send a message to the owner of the cache alerting her that it needs maintenance. Some people carry extra logs or zip-lock bags to replace damaged ones.

For many people, the thrill of finding geocaches inspires them to create and hide their own. The app makes this easy to do. Just make sure to have the property owner’s permission before placing a cache. Specially made containers are available for purchase online or may be created using a film canister or plastic container. Pretty much anything will work if the container is durable and waterproof.

The Geocaching app also allows a player to leave a description of the cache and provide a back story on why it was hidden in a particular location. The activity button lists other people’s comments and whether they found the cache or not. Attributes can also be given with information such as wheelchair accessibility if it is recommended for kids, if the site is accessible 24/7, etc.

So, if you’re looking to get the family out of the house for some inexpensive fun, give geocaching a try. The thrill of the hunt can lead to lasting memories and grand adventures.


Bart Stump is an educator, historian, writer and adventurer. He has been published in numerous magazines, writing on topics such as intriguing personalities, interesting locations, historical events and parenting.

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