By Ray Birks
Geocaching has been described as the world’s largest treasure hunt. A series of hide-and-seek games where hiders provide online clues for seekers. Seekers use an app on their phone using GPS to hunt for hidden caches. The fun is amplified when you can use geocaching as a way to get kids outdoors, explore their world and share their findings with others. As of 2021, there were over one-million active players worldwide. You’ve probably walked past thousands of geocaches in your lifetime without even knowing they were there.
I’ve found that geocaching with kids is always an adventure, whether you find the cache or not. There are a few near our house that we can walk or ride bikes to and my son has even adopted our local cache. We visit it a handful of times a year to ensure it’s in good condition and hasn’t been moved by an uninformed gardener. We’ve even replaced some caches that are missing or have been destroyed so that others who are seeking won’t have their adventure end in disappointment.
Locally, in the Wenatchee Valley, we’ve hiked up Dry Gulch, all over Saddle Rock, explored unknown cemeteries and biked a couple miles radius around our house searching for caches. We have driven countless miles while the phone is clutched in an excited child’s hand, searching for treasures.
The easiest way to start is to visit https://www.geocaching.com/play and create a free account. Then download the Geocaching app (iOS and Android) and log in to start the hunt. The free account lets you see caches within your local geographical area as well as ones that are not in difficult terrain or are otherwise hard to get to. I think this is a great way to ensure that kids can still participate safely. Once the app is downloaded, pull up the map to see caches in your vicinity. Tapping on an item brings up a description, hints on its location as well as a way to navigate to the site using your phone’s GPS. The app points you in the right direction and the excitement increases when you get closer as the app notifies you when you’re within 30 feet that you’ve almost completed your mission. Once you get to the site and find the cache you can log your success.
Most of the caches are small Tupperware containers or film canisters and the occasional ammo box. One of the fun components of finding the cache is the nominal trinkets or prizes that most caches contain. These can be little toys, tokens, or doo-dads that are not worth much money but add a little excitement to the adventure. The parent’s job is to remember to have their child grab something to bring along to swap from the cache, otherwise, you’re stuck scrounging around in the recesses of your car or a bag for something worth exchanging. In addition to marking in the app, there is usually a log book inside the cache where you can write your name and the date signaling your success.
Setting up your own geocache can also be a fun way for a family to learn about geography. You’ll need a container and some device that can give an accurate GPS location. I tried with my phone but it was not precise enough. You also can’t create one too close to other caches.
Even if your kids struggle initially to find a cache, most often than not, it results in life lessons learned. I appreciate that hunting for geocaches gets kids out to experience nature, walking or riding bikes, and learning map skills and patience. Sometimes you don’t find the geocache as easily as you would hope or it’s been moved or wrecked. Sometimes you forget a little trinket to swap out and have to resort to leaving the cache as is, without taking something home with you. It’s all part of the fun.