If you’re looking for a fun way to keep your kids occupied this summer without spending a lot of money, Geocaching may be your answer. My kids and I found our first Geocache last year and since then we have discovered more than 100 caches in the St. Louis area.
Since I remember being confused about Geocaching when I first heard about it, I wanted to put together a guide to answer some questions other parents might have. Even if it sounds complicated or overwhelming at first, I promise it’s not. And believe me, if you have kids at various ages, this is an activity you’ll be glad to know about when those “boring” days of summer set in.
If you want the whole technical explanation of Geocaching, you can go to their website. There are also tutorial videos all over Youtube if you just search for them. But I’d like to give tips from a parent’s perspective, so you’re armed with practical knowledge before you set out to explore.
What is Geocaching and where do I begin?
According to geocaching.com, Geocaching is “a real-world, outdoor treasure hunting game using GPS-enabled devices. Participants navigate to a specific set of GPS coordinates and then attempt to find the geocache (container) hidden at that location.” You can find the app for Geocaching on your phone. Search for “geocaching” and you’ll receive two options – one that’s free and one that costs $10. Pay the $10 — it will show you many more caches to find. And this will be the only money you’ll need to spend besides gas money.
How do I use the app?
Once the app is downloaded onto your phone, you’ll fill out your profile and enter your current city. When you click on the tab that says “Find Nearby Geocaches,” you’ll see a map with a bunch of balloon-shaped pinpoints – that’s where the caches are hidden. As you zoom in on the map, you’ll be able to see street names that you’ll probably recognize, so that will be an easy way to know where you’ll be going. You’ll also see a blue dot — that’s you, so you’ll know how far from the cache you are. When you find a cache that you want to find, click “Navigate to cache” and you will see a compass that will give you directions to that cache. It will count down from miles to feet as you get closer. When you’re about 50 feet away, you’ll want to park and start walking. Your compass will continue to count down until you’re within 2 or 3 feet from the treasure.
You’ll want to start with the green pinpoints, as these are single caches, meaning once you navigate to that cache, you’ll find the treasure. The orange ones are multi-caches, so you start with one to get to the next, and the next. These can be pretty complicated with formulas to figure out(my 12-year-old can figure them out but I can’t), so you may want to look on the Geocaching website for help with these.
What do I need to bring?
After several excursions, we figured out that there are a few things we like to grab on our way out the door or keep in the car for days that we plan to Geocache. None of these things are completely necessary, but if you can take a few extra minutes to plan for your trip, you’ll be glad you have them.
- A pen. Each cache will contain a log that you are supposed to sign. Some of the containers have pens or pencils in them, but it’s always best to bring your own just in case.
- Small toys or trinkets. In the bigger caches, the kids will find little treasures they will want to take home. All courteous cachers leave something in place of whatever they took out. This is a great way to have your little ones get rid of some of the junk they’ve been hanging on to….even if they end up bringing just as much back home! You can bring Matchbox cars, toy bracelets, bouncy balls, etc. Just don’t bring anything edible, because….would you let YOUR kid have something like that if they found it on a treasure hunt??
- Tennis shoes. Many of the caches are hidden in the woods, or pretty far along a walking path. My kids and I have worn flip flops and gotten about 3/4 mile into a path to find a cache before we figured out we had to walk the same way BACK 3/4 mile to get to our car. And when you have a 50 pound 5-year-old complaining that her feet hurt so you need to carry her, you will wish you both would have worn more appropriate shoes.
- Pants and long-sleeved shirts. This isn’t always practical since we all have the most time to treasure hunt in the hot summer months. But we have encountered some caches that are hidden deep in woods with scratchy trees and itchy weeds, so the more skin you can have covered, the better. This brings me to my next point.
- Bug spray and sunscreen. Some of the caches are hidden in buggy woods while some of them are in direct sunlight. Having both of these protectants will cover your bases.
- Germex. Because you don’t know who else has been to the cache before you!
- Drinks and snacks. You won’t always need these if you won’t be out long, but one time we decided to go into a nature reserve where caches were hidden all around the park, and once we had gone a long way into the woods, we realized how thirsty we were. It would be good to pack a backpack for longer excursions like this.
Which caches should we try to find?
In the beginning, you will just want to find the ones that are convenient. There might even be one hidden at the end of your street! But you should know that some of the treasures are more exciting to kids than others. The different sizes of caches are micro, small, medium, and large, and you can tell what size they will be when you look at the “List” view.
The micro sized caches usually only contain a rolled up scroll of paper to sign. These can be hidden in road signs and other tiny spots. Since my kids like to find trinkets, we have started to skip the micros. When you click on the Description of each cache, you’ll find out more about what you might find inside them. Also, if you need help finding one, click on the Recent Logs, Hint, or Attributes and that should get your wheels turning. (Just don’t click on the Photos button if you don’t want to spoil the surprise.)
You’ll also want to choose which ones to find based on the Difficulty and Terrain level. We hardly ever see any that are too hard for kids to do, but one time we encountered one that was just about the highest difficulty possible, and it was stuck to the bottom of a bridge where you’d need to bring a rope to climb up. We said NO THANK YOU to that one.
Where are caches hidden?
They are hidden absolutely everywhere. In every city we’ve been in for the last year, we’ve found them. They can be in guard rails on top of overpasses or in lamp posts near shopping centers. Jammed into holes in trees or just placed in an old camera next to a tree. Often, they’re in film containers or peanut butter jars wrapped in camouflaged duct tape, but you’ll also find them in big metal ammo containers. My son even hid one in a Tupperware dish, wrapped it in white paper, and placed it in a pile of rocks.
Because they are everywhere, Geocaching has become my bribery tool.
“Hey, kids, I have to run to Walmart.” (Insert groans.)
“We can stop for a Geocache when I’m finished.” (Insert hoorays!)
It’s fun to find the actual treasures, but searching for caches has also led us to some parks that we never would have discovered otherwise. Since I have older boys who are no longer thrilled with playgrounds, it’s hard to convince them to go to a park for the day just so their 5-year-old sister can play. But if we look on our Geocaching map and see that there are several caches hidden around a park in a nearby town, we end up in a beautiful setting where she’s happy to play and they’re happy to explore.
If you’re planning a vacation or are just heading to a different city for the day and want to know which Geocaches you will find when you get there, simply enter in the city name where it says “Search by Location.”
What’s inside a cache?
As I said before, many of the small, medium, and large caches have toys or pencils in them. But the cream of the crop is when you find a Travel Bug. These are toys or keychains that have numbers on them, and they have most likely traveled from a different state or even another country. When you find these, you click on the bottom right side of your screen where it says “Trackables” and you enter in the number to look it up. This will tell you where it started and where else it has been. Your job is to log where you found it and take it to a new cache so it can continue its journey. If you really want to do your part in helping the Travel Bug travel, you’ll take it to a different city or even better, a different state.
How do we hide a cache?
Anyone can hide a cache, but it has to be approved by Geocaching in order for you to add it to the app. Here’s an explanation of how to hide a cache. If you think you’ll like hiding them, start saving air tight containers like peanut butter jars. The most important thing is that whatever you put inside your cache stays dry.
What else do I need to know?
I have just a few more random tips to share.
Sometimes you’ll get to a cache at the same time as someone else. Just be courteous and let them finish, then you can check it out. Some people are CRAZY about Geocaching. We’ve come across adults that have no kids with them who have found thousands of caches already, and want to be the first-to-find (FTF) a new cache. My advice is to let them mark that they were the first one to find it, because chances are it means a lot more to them than it does to you.
And realize going into your search for each cache that you may not find it. It’s possible that someone took it, or it could just be hidden too well. I’ve gotten into arguments with my kids before because I wanted to give up after 20 minutes of looking and they insisted on continuing to look. Maybe set a time limit so no one gets too upset. This is supposed to be FUN!
Finally, safety should always come first. If you start to head somewhere that just doesn’t look like it’s a good place to be, back out. The last thing you need is a bad case of poison ivy, bee stings, or to be held up at gunpoint. Use your motherly instinct — it will almost always be right.
HAVE FUN and let me know how you like it. And if you have any other tips for new cachers, let me know in the comments below.