Looking for an outdoor activity that challenges the mind and is fun for the whole family? Gather the hiking and sleuthing gear and hit the trail in search of geocaches. Wait…what?
Geocaching is essentially a high-tech treasure hunt where explorers, armed with GPS-enabled devices or smart phones, search out caches using GPS coordinates. The caches can be small or large containers, or even artistic objects, and are hidden along nature trails, in parks, or other public places—some are even in plain sight, placed as inconspicuous as possible. The goal is to search out these caches, open them up, sign the logbook, and complete a little survey in your own geocaching log marking that you have completed the mission. Sometimes the caches contain small items left by previous geocachers, a reward for the find—just be sure to leave an item in return if taking one, its only fair.
Geocaches can range from the obvious, as seen in the left, to the obscure, such as the bolt geocache seen on the right.
The adventure is a learning experience for hunters of all ages, but especially the younger geocache seekers scurrying through the woods. Not only does the activity encourage a little outdoor fun (there is quite a bit of hiking while on the hunt), but geocaching also teaches kids about geography (geo is in the name after all); how to use a map and GPS coordinates; instills an appreciation for nature and the environment—often times caches are difficult to get to, needing deliberate movements and a plan to make the find; perceptibility skills—many caches are hidden, some quite cleverly, so a keen eye is a must to spot these small treasures; and patience—the search is not instantaneous, so if you have small children in tow, make a small game out of the search, or tackle easier targets and slowly work up to the more advanced finds.
Geocaching can be a family-fun activity, with easily accessible caches and plenty of learning opportunities, to difficult, man vs. wild experiences in the heart of the wilderness.
Groundspeak, the minds behind Geocaching.com, is one of the world’s leading geocaching and location-based games organizations and has been leading the treasure hunt since 2000. With nearly 3 million active geocaches in its catalogue and more 6 million geocachers worldwide, it boasts one of the largest libraries of caches and communities of cachers on the planet. What’s more, there are hundreds of treasures to be found right in our own backyard, and getting in on the action is easy: Simply register a membership at geocaching.com and enter your zip. A number of geocaches will pop up with varying degrees of difficulties. They are rated on five-point scales in terms of difficulty and terrain (D/T); if you’re up for a challenge, the higher the numbers, the tougher the chase, the sweeter the reward. Just be mindful, some caches may require special equipment to make it to the goods. When perusing the cache library in search of your next hunt, there is usually a short description of what the cache is, a general description of the area it can be found, and sometimes why the cache is there, as well as what you may need to find it, even decrypted messages for a final hint. Once you’ve decided on your cache, get the GPS coordinates, plot them in your device—there are plenty of apps; Geocaching offers a free and premium one for Android and Apple devices—and get on the trail.
Once you have gotten the hang of finding some caches, the community encourages its members to leave their own little treasures and add it to the growing list of caches. Leaving one is simple. First, find a unique spot to stash the cache (no digging, and refrain from targeting archaeological, ecological, and historical sensitive locations—continuous searches for the geocache can damage the site). Once you have a location in mind, prepare your geocache. Find a container that is waterproof (if there is a chance of a leak, place it in a water-tight plastic bag), include a logbook, a pencil or pen, a small note for the intrepid geocachers that have found your treasure, and maybe even a small token. Remember to mark the inside of the geocache with a short description of what exactly the container is, so if it is found by a non-geocaching hiker, they can leave it be. Once at the location where you will leave the cache, mark the exact GPS coordinates on the cache and in the logbook in permanent marker, and then register the cache with geocaching.com so the searching can begin. Be sure to revisit your cache from time to time to make sure everything is in good shape, replacing whatever items that need replacing, and make sure the site is in good shape—if the natural area looks likes it is getting too much wear and tear, it might be a good idea to discontinue the geocache or find another location.
The popularity in searching out geocaches has grown to such a point that Florida State Parks has gotten in on the action with Operation Recreation GeoTour. Accessible through Geocaching.com, the GeoTour stretches from Pensacola to Key West, with 69 active official geocaches located in state parks throughout the state. On a local level, geocaches are just about everywhere. Jonathan Dickinson State Park, a stop on the GeoTour, has tons of caches hidden throughout the 11,500 acres of park lands, ranging from easy breezy 1s to hard-to-find 5s. If you’re looking to go on a full-on treasure hunt, pirate style, there are plenty of caches located along the Intracoastal Waterway, Lake Worth Lagoon, and the Loxahatchee River that are accessible by boat and paddle only. There are even caches dotted around downtown, letting searchers shop, eat, and cache—it’s a great way to explore the local terrain.
For those wanting to his the trail, try searching for one of these fun and educational geocaches.
A Multitude of Species | N 26° 49.520 W 080° 02.579
One of the joys of geocaching is getting out and experiencing the natural world. But sometimes the thrill of the hunt makes for a one-track mind. This fun multi-cache located in John D. MacArthur Beach State Park forces cachers to slow down, take in the scenery, and learn a little bit about the park and its animal species in order to reach the final destination, collecting information at waypoints along the way.
- Friendly tip: read those signs and notes carefully, and be sure to mark the proper number with the corresponding letter: Final coordinate format: N26 49.ABC, W080 02.DEF
Munyon 1 | N 26° 49.019 W 080° 02.861
For those looking for a watery adventure, this is your geocache. Grab the kayak or standup paddleboard and make your way to Munyon Island for this somewhat tricky find.
- Friendly tip: The Drifters know the spot…
Historical Tombstone Tour 2004 | N 26° 42.136 W 080° 03.292
For geocache that peppers in a dose of local history, a little arithmetic, and the added bonus of a spooky cemetery, this downtown West Palm Beach geocache tour is a must. Located at Lawnwood Cemetery, geocachers will take to the plots in search of a small container, but the finding it is not so easy. The hunt utilizes tombstones as a way to navigate from location to location, so keep a keen eye and a sharp mind.
- Friendly tip: thinking of Dickens and old Ebenezer Scrooge…
Images courtesy of Geocaching.com