Nate and the boys and I are an adventurous group, but before last week we had never been family geocaching. Readers frequently wrote in to tell us we needed to rectify this oversight, and it's been on the “must do” list for awhile.
So we finally went family geocaching, and it was JUST as awesome as everyone said it would be!
Geocaches are hidden treasure troves that are placed all around the world. Some of them are large and contain toys and trinkets, while others are small and hold only a slip of paper on which to sign your name. They can be created and placed by anyone, with GPS locations tracked on various apps and websites that help people discover them.
Sometimes, the coolest ideas come from kids themselves. I first learned about geocaching when my younger cousin came to visit from out-of-state. Fresh off the plane, he declared that he was devoting an entire day to his favorite hobby! With a geocaching app as his guide, the scrappy Boy Scout was ready to discover what our city had to offer. “It's a scavenger hunt for hidden treasure boxes and log books that people put all over the world. There are GPS coordinates and hints online. People leave comments about what they've found, along with cool things to see around the caches.”
I was initially skeptical about poking around in public spaces, but it was really fun! There are caches located all around my home on trails, in retail spaces, neighborhoods and parks. After making several fun discoveries, this new adventure quickly became a favorite pastime for my family.
What I love about family geocaching is that it can bring a group together and encourage them to find wonder in almost any location. Family geocaching takes away all barriers to exploration, with caches ranging from easy-to-find all the way up to intensive sleuthing searches. They're in malls, cities, campsites and backpacking destinations. No special equipment is required: if you have a smart phone and a pen, you can be part of the family geocaching craze.
How to Go Family Geocaching
Here's how to get started geocaching today:
- Download the app. The one we use is called, “Geocaching.” There is a free version and a paid version that reveals additional caches. Start with the free one – it has plenty to keep you busy!
- Locate a geocache. Make sure your phone is fully charged and has location services
turned on. Browse nearby spots on the app to see what looks interesting nearby. Each cache has a description, a size rating from micro to large and a rating from 1-5 for difficulty and terrain (1 being the easiest to get to, 5 the most difficult).
- Navigate. The map shows where you are in reference to the cache, and may also offer waypoints such as nearby parking spots. You can look at recent logs for any updates about placing or camouflaging, and even get a hint about the cache's whereabouts.
- Sign. Don't forget a pen to sign your name! Some large caches include trinkets that you can take, and it's nice to bring a token item to leave behind. You can also log your find on the app to be awarded digital badges for your discoveries. Check out recent logs for tips about nearby sights to check out while you're in the area!
Our Personal Experience
We downloaded a geocaching app and enabled location services on our phone. Dots popped up all over the map to highlight family geocaching opportunities, and we picked one that looked interesting: a parking lot geocache at our nearby mall.
With the big boys leading the way, we followed the map to the exact GPS spot where the cache was located and commenced our search. We looked high and low, digging through the app's logbook. Other users had left messages related to this cache, claiming they had found it as recently as five days ago. “It's all in the angle,” they said. An app feature let us request an extra hint, and it mysteriously revealed, “Two and a half.” Scrambling up to the second floor, we looked upward and downward. We peeked under the third floor, in every building angle and behind every fire extinguisher box.
The trip wasn't a total bust, though. We read through the app comments and saw a fellow cacher recommend a restaurant nearby, where we enjoyed a delicious lunch!
Our next stop was a little less public. We routed to an out-of-the-way neighborhood where the app promised there was an easier, but smaller cache. I poked awkwardly around the stop sign, peering up into the tree and bending down through the shrubbery. “Don't waste your time in the bushes,” one commenter advised. “There's nothing there.”
Finally, I peered behind this small metal box and saw what initially looked like an electrical outlet. Upon further inspection, I realized that it was a clever magnetic encasing with a tiny log book! We triumphantly recorded our family name, but the boys wanted more. They had heard that there were toys in some of these geocaches, and they wouldn't give up until they had a souvenir.
I flipped through the dots in the app that marked all the family geocaching opportunities around us. Each was ranked by size and ease of discovery, with detailed notes from whoever placed it. One with the name, “Toy Box” looked promising. We parked on the outskirts of a nearby park and tromped through thickly-forested woods in search of a camouflaged ammo box.
About 300 yards into the brush, our GPS locator hovered over the destination on the map. There at our feet was a waterproof trove full of figurines, kid's meal souvenirs and miniature books. The log showed pages and pages of visitors from as far away as Germany! There were also info sheets full of information about geocaching for random explorers who may stumble on the spot and wonder why this box was oddly chained to a tree. The sheets also included information for who to contact if the box needed to be removed. That sweet gesture goes back to the heart of family geocaching, which encourages discovery without disturbing the natural surroundings or being a nuisance.
Our family geocaching adventure took us through an unfamiliar route back home, full of even more interesting discoveries. We spotted unique animals, farm stands we didn't know existed, and this awesome train car that somebody is restoring in their backyard! That was honestly my favorite part, explaining to the boys that the real beauty of discovery isn't necessarily in the discovery itself.
Have you gone family geocaching yet?