Raise your hand if your kids are into nature AND treasure hunting! If so, I have the ultimate hobby (addiction) for you – geocaching! Our family gave geocaching a try for the first time last year on a rainy spring day and quickly fell in love with it. Going for long nature walks with kids can sometimes lead to boredom or frustration, but geocaching will keep them focused, entertained and begging to get back outside. It’s a really neat way to get out to explore local parks and nature trails while giving your kids a mission to focus on (finding treasure). And it’s totally FREE!
When I first looked into geocaching, I was a bit underwhelmed by the information out there on exactly how to get started and whether it was doable with little kids. The GPS and waypoints language frightened me and I was confused about whether I needed a separate GPS device or if my phone would work. I put together this “Beginner’s Guide to Geocaching with Kids” (originally published on my previous blog) and received such an overwhelming great response that I thought it would be helpful to republish here, for anyone wanting a new outdoor activity. It’s great for kids of any age, is a fun combination of outdoor exploration and technology and perfect for all you parents that want to be more outdoorsy and adventurous. My kids and I love it and had I known how easy and fun geocaching was, we would have started doing this ages ago!
So, if you’re anything like me (the me from a year ago) and are interested in geocaching with your kids, but don’t know where to begin, let me walk you through the process.
What is Geocaching?
According to the www.geocaching.com website, geocaching (pronounced GEE-o-cash-ing) is a real-world, outdoor treasure hunt using a GPS-enabled device (e.g. smart phone). Participants navigate to a specific set of coordinates and then attempt to find a geocache (container) hidden at that location. Geocaches can be found all over the world and almost anywhere you can imagine. Geocachers usually hide caches in locations that are important to them, reflecting a special interest, memory or skill of the cache owner. These locations can be quite diverse – they may be at your local park, at the end of a long hike, underwater or on the side of a city street.
There are currently over a dozen “cache types” in geocaching, with each cache type being a different variation of the game. Geocaches vary greatly in size and appearance – everything from large, clear plastic containers to film canisters to a fake rock with a secret compartment. In its simplest form, a cache always contains a logbook for you to log your name and date of discovery. Larger caches may also contain any number of items, trinkets, souvenirs, etc. According to geocaching etiquette, you can take an item from the cache if you like, so long as you leave something of equal or greater value in its place. When you are finished, put the cache back exactly as you found it, even if you think you see a better spot for it.
Step 1: Create an account and download the free app
2. Choose a cache to find
Open the app and use the map to find a cache you want to find. We picked a park in our area that has tons of geocaches hidden within. We drove to the park, parked the car, jumped out and picked the one closest to us. Your current location on the map shows up as a blue dot and all the “basic level” caches in your area will show as green dots, with the rest of them (the more difficult/Premium ones) in grey. The first time you use the app, it’ll ask you to point the phone in the direction of the cache you’re looking for, but you won’t have to do that again. If you want more information on the cache, just click on the dot and it will give you information on the difficulty, terrain and size of the cache (see middle photo above). Most of them also include a description of or story behind the cache. Some have clues/hints, if you want them.
3. Click START and begin walking
4. Find the cache
5. Check out the contents & sign the book
Even the most basic geocache should have some form of a logbook or sheet of paper where anyone that finds it can record their name and date. All the geocaches we found this day had an available log book with a pencil provided, but I’d suggest bringing along your own pen and maybe a couple sheets of blank paper in case the current logbook is full. In addition, all the geocaches also had quite a few fun trinkets inside that the kids loved to look at and talk about. The rule is that you’re welcome to take a trinket, so long as you leave something of equal or greater value in it’s place. We brought along a handful of plastic gold coins, glow in the dark stars and little army men, which we left and let the kids choose one thing from each treasure. The trinkets were usually little toys, marbles or stickers, so they thought this was the coolest thing ever and it made it feel like a real treasure to them!
6. Log your find and post a message
That’s it! So easy. The great thing about geocaching is that it’s basically free (as long as you have a smart phone) and you can do it anywhere! I can’t get over how many geocaches are out there…everywhere! Even the teeny tiny town I grew up in has at least a dozen! And since we started geocaching, we go treasure hunting everywhere we go, including when we go on vacation. We’ve found caches in four states so far! Every cache is different and the kids are getting quicker at finding them. We’ve found a small pillbox container in the pilings outside our local fire station, a camouflaged container hidden inside a planter, under a trashcan, up a tree, under the beach boardwalk and a geocache in a padlocked birdhouse where we had to crack the code! If you’ve never tried geocaching, I highly recommend you make plans to get out this weekend and try it! There’s treasure out there waiting for you!