What Is Geocaching?

The inside scoop on the geocaching craze

Boys with digital tablet in forest.

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What Is Geocaching?

If you and your kids need more activities to do when spending time together, consider geocaching. A worldwide game that involves everything from clues to camping, geocaching is a great way to spend some time outside, using your tech skills and tools like GPS, Google search, the Geocaching app, and more to find treasures hidden in the most unlikely places.

Geocaching is the world's largest treasure hunt. It's like a grown-up version of the beloved childhood pastime, except it's no joke. Geocaching is the real deal. The high-tech treasure hunt combines GPS tracking with outdoor adventure, and it's fun for all ages.

There are more than three million geocaches hidden all around the world in parks, trails, and urban areas. In fact, there are probably some near you as you're reading this. But finding the box is only half the game. First, you have to get the coordinates.

Types of Geocaching

There are other outdoor activities that share some of the same features as geocaching, but with a few differences. These include:

  • Letterboxing: Enthusiasts of this hobby search for boxes hidden all over the world, using clues from letterboxing websites. Each box contains a stamp and inkpad, which the finder uses to stamp their logbook (like a passport). They then place an imprint from their personal stamp into the letterbox's logbook, recording their visit.
  • Waymarking: Less time-consuming than geocaching or letterboxing, waymarking involves finding and sharing interesting locations around the world. Waymarkers may discover these places unexpectedly on a vacation, or they may realize that an attraction near their home is worth sharing with people in other parts of the world.

Occasionally you might be lucky enough to find trackable game pieces like Groundspeak Travel Bug or Geocoin. You can take these extra-special trinkets with you and place them in the next cache location you visit. They are logged and tracked online as they move from cache to cache around the globe.

The Travel Bug looks like a metal tag and is typically attached to an item. Geocoins look like elaborate coins or medallions. Each contains a special tracking number that you can follow in real time.

Geocaching HQ, the company responsible for the Geocaching app, has also created an app called Adventure Lab. Users can "create, play and share unique outdoor scavenger hunts, experiences, and games."

While a physical cache can be included in these adventures, the experiences themselves are the high point and do not necessarily include a treasure box. According to the Adventure Lab website, there are over 20,000 adventures worldwide to enjoy.

How to Geocache

Follow these steps for a fun and successful geocaching experience.

  1. Download the official app and/or create a membership on geocaching.com. Both are free and allow you to see the coordinates for geocaches near your home or wherever you are traveling.
  2. Choose a geocache to search for. Many are located in parks or along trails, so outdoor activity is built right in. They’re also found on city streets and on both public and private property. 
  3. Using the Geocaching app or a handheld GPS tracker, navigate to the coordinates.
  4. Search for the box. Geocache boxes come in all different shapes and sizes. They can be anything, but they are usually small, weatherproof boxes made of metal, wood, or plastic. You might find a camouflaged Altoids tin, a can of mixed nuts, or an ammo box. The cache will be hidden (but not buried) in a safe, non-intrusive place. 
  5. When you find the box, there is usually a log book or sheet inside so that you can record your visit. There may also be small treasures--if you brought something to share, you can trade for what’s in the box. Just make sure to replace the treasure you take with something of equal or greater value.
  6. Always put the geocache back where you found it.

Tips for Geocaching

There are just a few essentials you'll want to bring along on your geocaching adventures. A pencil for taking notes and signing the log when you find the box, your phone or other device for GPS tracking, and inexpensive treasures to leave in the box are really all you need.

For the treasures, think McDonald's Happy Meal toys, plastic dinosaurs, arcade tokens, and other trinkets like Cracker Jack prizes or inexpensive birthday party favors.

If you are geocaching with kids, start with easy caches that aren't too far away. The information for the cache on the geocaching app will tell you how hard it is to find.

You may want to hide your own geocache for others to find. Head to the geocaching app for guidelines and instructions on how to do this.

Consider taking part in a Cache In, Trash Out (CITO) event with the geocaching community in your area. CITO is an environmental initiative in which participants help to clean up public areas where geocaches are hidden.

Planting trees, clearing out invasive species, picking up trash, and maintaining trails are some of the activities you may help with at a CITO event. This can be a great way to meet other geocachers and have fun while teaching your kids how to be good environmental stewards.

Keep in mind that you can uphold the CITO mindset on every geocaching adventure by picking up trash along trails and cleaning up areas where you find geocache boxes.

History of Geocaching

This popular past time is only two decades old; the first geocache (then called a "GPS Stash") was hidden in 2000. The past time grew quickly, however, and ten years later there were one million active geocache listings. In just three more years, the number of active listings had jumped to two million.

Today, over three million active geocaches exist worldwide in 191 different countries. With more than 200 geocaching organizations around the world, it's safe to say that geocaching has caught on big time.

The joy of discovering the box and the surprise of the trinkets inside are the bonuses to a fun day spent hiking, biking, trekking, and searching in unfamiliar places with lots to discover.

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  2. Geocaching. Geocaching adventure lab.

  3. Geocaching. Become a cache owner.

  4. Geocaching. Cache in trash out.

  5. Geocaching, Official Blog. Happy 20th birthday, geocaching! May 5, 2020.