What child doesn’t love a good, old fashioned treasure hunt? My kids are forever hiding or burying things in the yard and challenging their brothers or friends to find them, sometimes with clues and sometimes with hastily-drawn maps where just like in the pirate tales of old—“X” marks the spot!
There’s something so compelling to kids of all ages about looking for something hidden by another, not quite sure what they might find but so curious to discover what it might be. Take the adventure and intrigue of your good old-fashioned treasure hunt and add in 21st century technology, and you’ve got geocaching! Geocaching is one of my family’s favorite outdoor activities, and it is so easy to do.
When we started geocaching in back 2008, many if not most of the people we told about it had never heard of geocaching before. That’s not anywhere near as true today, as there are millions around the globe who participate. But it’s still surprising to me today when I run into someone who has heard of geocaching and mentions wanting to try it out with their kids, but they never have because they assume it’s too complicated.
That couldn’t be farther from the truth! So for all y’all who have been waiting to try geocaching with your kids, I’m going to give you a quick and easy run down so you can jump on in!
First of all, let’s talk equipment. If you own a smartphone, you’re pretty much good to go. Just download an app. That’s it. Seriously. There’s a free app you can use to try out geocaching and see if you and your kids enjoy it. It’s by Groundspeak and is called Geocaching Intro. We use the paid “premium” version, which costs $10, and is totally worth it! But go ahead and try out the free one first. You will also need to go to geocaching.com and sign up for a free account.
When we started 8 years ago we had to purchase a hand-held GPS unit at a cost of about $150, and it wasn’t nearly as simple to use. We switched to using the phone app several years ago and it makes it SO much easier. Not to mention I always have my phone with me, so whenever we’re out and about and think about it, we can pull up the app and see what geocaches are nearby…they’re everywhere!
Once you’ve downloaded the app and logged in, you’re ready to go! The free app limits you to beginner geocaches, which show up as darker dots on the map. The lighter dots are caches with higher difficulty/terrain ratings, and you’ll have to upgrade to the premium app for those. You’ll need location services enabled on your phone, and then the app will search for geocaches nearby. Click on a cache that comes up on the map and you’re ready to search. The app will tell you how far away it is, and which direction you need to head in. It will show you in map form and in compass form.
Climbing the edge of a “log cabin” in New Hampshire…see the ammo can up there in the eaves? My kids and I, at the time of this post, have found over 1100 caches in 33 states. So you might say we are BIG fans of this activity!!
I have to make my kids take turns holding the phone as they watch the screen and follow the map–so there’s no arguing. They ALL want to be the one navigating! Once the map shows that we are within 10-30 feet or so of “ground zero”, or the cache location, the real fun begins. The hunt is on and it becomes more a game of hide and seek as the kids check out tree stumps and suspiciously-placed piles of rocks or sticks to find the “buried” treasure. (Note: they are never actually buried underground–that’s against the rules!)
If the container is big enough, often a tupperware container or a metal ammo can, it will contain small toys and trinkets that the kids can trade out for small toys and trinkets they brought with them. It’s tons of fun!! Besides trading goodies, you will want to sign the log in the cache (which can be a small notebook or sometimes just a strip of paper) with the username you created when you signed into the app. Then close it back up and replace it exactly where you found it so it’s ready for the next geocacher to find. So easy and fun!
One of my boys scrambling up a light post in at the back of a parking lot. If you look closely, you can see the camouflaged plastic powdered drink container fastened at the top of the pole, just under the light. This was a challenge to get to, but they did it!
Geocaches come in a wide variety of types, sizes, and difficulties. Our family searches for mostly traditional caches, which means there’s a physical container at the coordinates listed on the map. There are many other types including puzzle caches where you have to solve some sort of puzzle to get the coordinates, virtual caches where you’re looking for a piece of information at a location rather than a physical container, and earth caches where your kids can learn about the geology of a particular area at the given coordinates.
This tiny container is an example of a nano cache. Yes, that tiny thing opens up and has a tiny rolled paper log inside to sign. These are often magnetic and hidden on the underside of park benches or other metal structures where they blend in really well.
The traditional caches that we like to look for come in a variety of sizes as well…everything from tiny micro or nano containers that are barely the size of a fingertip to large buckets or ammo cans large enough to hold many fun trinkets for trading. And then there are lots of sizes in between. My kids, of course, prefer looking for the containers that are big enough to hold little toys from them to trade with, but we’ve also enjoyed finding smaller ones, especially when the container or the hide location is unique!
Some tips to remember when geocaching with kids:
- Have your kids collect a few small trinkets to trade before you head out. I tend to save a baggie of kids’ meal toys and the like just for this purpose. A couple of common-sense geocaching rules regarding items placed in caches: they can’t be dangerous (no knives, lighters, etc.) and they shouldn’t be edible (no gum or candy)…not only is it kind of gross for your kid to pull candy from who knows where out of a tupperware container hidden outdoors, but local wildlife will often sniff it out and destroy the container trying to get at a free snack.
- Some other optional equipment can be handy. I usually carry a pen to sign logs, as sometimes they go missing from the cache containers or sometimes the containers are too small to hold a pen. If you do go hunting for the tiny micro/nano-sized caches, which really are a lot of fun to find, you might want to carry a tweezer as well. The logs in those are often a tiny strip of rolled-up paper, and can be difficult to remove.
- Be prepared depending on the location you are caching in. This is mostly common sense. If you’re grabbing a geocache in the parking lot at the grocery store (yes, they’re there!) make sure your kids watch out for moving cars. If you’re looking for geocaches on a hike at a park or natural area, make sure everyone has appropriate clothes/footwear for the location, water bottles and snacks if needed, and sunscreen or other protection from the elements. We live in an area where venomous snakes are a possibility and poison ivy is prevalent, so I remind my kids to watch where they’re walking and be aware when looking around branches or rocks if we’re searching on a hike through the woods.
So what are you waiting for? Get outside and play, and give geocaching a try if you haven’t done so yet. You won’t regret it! Then come back here and let us know what you thought! If you’ve geocached with your kids before, I’d love to hear any tips and ideas you’d like to share. Let us know in the comments!
For lots more information and to sign up visit geocaching.com. I’m not being compensated in any way to share their site, this is just an activity that my family really enjoys so I wanted to share it with y’all!
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