I recommend geocaching all the time – it is free, easy, fun, appropriate for all ages, and outdoors! People across the world set up hidden treasure “caches” and then upload the coordinates so that other people can find them. Ten years ago, you had to buy a special unit to read the latitudes and longitudes, but now you can use a simple app on a smartphone! It’s a great way to explore new areas – but there are caches literally everywhere, even in suburbs and cities. You can see more about the local, on-going Polk County Geocaching Challenge we completed last year and there is also a 2017 Wildflower Warren County geocaching challenge!
I use the ‘Geocaching’ app although I believe there are a few other options – and I’ll explain how that app works below (in addition to showing you what a cache looks like, regardless of how you find it). You can also check out a geocaching GPS unit from Johnston Library!
There are a number of ways to find caches – but when you first log in, you’ll see a bunch of green dots showing you the ones around you. The blue dot shows where you are – and there’s a smiley on this one because I’d already found the cache (it is a great one for beginners and for kids; right along a paved path and near Ridge Pointe Park).
Before you set off looking, I highly recommend clicking around to do some background work first. Under the ‘about’, you can see what size container to look for and the difficulty ratings. There is a brief description, and occasionally photos or hints (but not always).
The most important tab is the ‘activity’ tab in the middle – I always check this to make sure the cache has been found recently. If there are two or more “DNF” or “did not find”s, I assume that it has been lost, ruined, or stolen and usually skip even looking unless I have a lot of time to kill. People often leave helpful tips – like to wear extra bug spray or to watch out for poison ivy. Caches are often “off the beaten path”, so prepare to get muddy at any time.
Once you’ve selected a cache, hit the little compass at the top right corner, it will take you to this page. Follow the arrow to get the correct direction, and the number should count down as you get closer. Once you’re about 30 feet away, it will buzz and tell you to start looking; coordinates can only take you so far.
Then it’s time to look! Prime suspect spots are hollow trees, burrows, and holes in walls. Here you can see my son spotting a funny looking hole in the wall – found it! Sometimes it can be up high, down low, or hidden in plain sight.
This is what was in the geocache – this one is a part of a local county challenge (more info here) so there is a little code word popsicle stick. There is almost always a log to write your name and the date, and usually some little trinkets. If you take something, make sure to leave something in return! Food is a big no-no, in the hopes of not attracting any animals, but little bits and bobs are perfect. If you don’t have anything on hand, I’ve seen these inexpensive mechanical pencils (affiliate link) in lots of caches!
Once you’ve logged and traded trinkets, seal it up and put it back. You can log “found it” and write a note in the app and you’re done!
Some people get really creative with their cache containers, or camouflage them incredibly well. I’ve mostly just seen the taped up peanut butter containers but I love seeing what pops up in the feed of @eat.sleep.cache.repeat on Instagram, like the caches above.
Another thing that is good to know is that there are different categories of caches, although they aren’t as common as a “regular” cache and you can read a nice overview of those here. There is a lot more information (almost too much, in my opinion, don’t get overwhelmed!) on the Geocaching website, if you like to research.
My husband and I used to geocache as a cheap date, and have really enjoyed getting back into it now that my son is a little older. We started when he was 3.5 and he is all about it now that he is closer to 4! I have big plans for the future with DSMOF – I want to create my own geocaching challenge to show off some of the best hiking parks in the area, and also to create a list of my favorite caches in the area.
I hope you give geocaching a try – please let me know if you do, or if I missed any questions that you might have!