Drive past your local forest preserve or recreational area and you probably see just that: a nice place to spend the day, have a picnic, fly a kite. But what if it contained hidden treasure for you and your family to find?
There’s an activity my family and I tried for the first time this past weekend that we all fell in love with. It’s called Geocaching and it’s something many of us can do just minutes from home. To summarize, Geocaching a treasure/scavenger hunt where you are given coordinates for where a ‘treasure’ is hidden (usually hidden at a park or other public space). All you need is a GPS device (a smart phone will work—we used our Garmin) and a free account from Geocaching.com. Here’s how it works:
- Go to the Geocaching website and sign up for a free account. You’ll have to come up with a team name (get the whole family involved on brainstorming–think of something fun that defines your entire group)
- Once you have an account, enter your zip code to locate a list of Geocaching sites near you.
- Decide upon a cache you would like to find and enter the coordinates in your GPS device. Then head to your destination!
- Work as a team to find the cache (which is a small box or container). The caches are usually hidden from view so when you arrive at your coordinates, you might have to search a little (we found our first one in a tree!) And remember…most of the fun comes in the journey itself: working together as a family to find the cache!
- Once you find the cache, open it up, and see what you’ve found! Usually the cache includes trinkets left by other Geocache teams (we found stickers, small figurines, tickets, wood coins, and other small mementos). If you take something, remember to put something back of your own of greater or equal value.
- Sign the log book included in the cache. Write in your team name, date and time and any comments about your experience.
- Once home, log on to Geocaching.com to record your team’s experience. You can even upload photos and share other details of your journey.
Geocaching can be done by anyone—couples, friends, groups or scouting troops. I think that it can be a great activity for families. My husband and I loved the experience and our 3-year-old who wasn’t sure about the whole thing when we started didn’t want to leave!
We found two caches this weekend, both of about the same level of difficulty (easy ones for us first-timers). On Geocaching.com, the caches are given a ‘level of difficulty’ rating so you can start out easy and take part in more difficult hunts as you and your family gain experience.
Who hides the caches? Anyone can! I suspect my family and I will sooner or later. There are people taking part in geocaching all over the world. According to Geocaching.com, as of today there are 1,211,988 active caches and an estimated 4-5 million geocachers worldwide. Their site is full of geocaching info, including how-to videos and GPS resources. Before we went, we input in our zip code on the home page and were surprised to find so many caches hidden just a short drive from our home.
Here are some additional tips that we learned from our first time out:
- Wear long pants. You never know what brush or terrain you might need to walk through to get to your cache site.
- Bring a bag. Our pockets were loaded down with our GPS, camera, and trinkets to place inside the cache once found. It would have been much easier to have one of our members carry a backpack.
- Wear comfortable shoes. Preferably hiking boots or something similar.
- Bring water. Always a good idea on a day spent outdoors. Especially with kids in tow. Snacks might be helpful too.
- Bring a pen. Just in case the one in the cache with the log book doesn’t work anymore. It would be a shame not to be able to sign it once found!
So if your family needs a little together time and an activity that won’t break the bank, visit Geocaching today! My family and I—er, I mean, my awesome cache-finding team—can’t wait for our next cache-hunting adventure!