Modern treasure hunters armed with GPS units are combing the woods of Missouri right now. They hike the trails of state and local parks, often bushwhacking their way through the underbrush, looking for hidden boxes full of grungy plastic bobbles.
Geocaching is a great way to mix technology with hiking and an excellent excuse to get people outside. You can plan a creative day trip by packing a picnic and seeking geocaches hidden in your favorite park or one you have not yet explored. Geocaching can be played by families, casual hikers or serious adventurers.
If you’ve ever gone geocaching, you know it’s not the contents of the box that drive this modern sport. Geocache boxes—usually just repurposed small, waterproof containers—contain “goodies” such as action figures, plastic frogs, pens and super balls. Some geocaches are so small, they only have room for a tiny logbook to record your find.
The real thrill is the hunt.
Geocaching was invented in 2000 and was limited to outdoorsmen who already had GPS technology for backpacking or boating. The first geocache was a five-gallon bucket buried in Oregon by Dave Ulmer. Since then, the sport has grown worldwide, with more than a million caches tucked away for people to find.
To play you only need some basic gear, including a handheld GPS, a computer to look up locations and a pair of hiking boots. If you already have a portable GPS for your car or own an iPhone, you’re good to go.
To find a geocache, go to the game’s official website, geocaching.com and sign up for a free membership. Then type in your home address or zip code to find caches near and far, which are listed by their GPS coordinates. It’s a good idea for beginners to start in a local city park to get a feel for the game and test their equipment.
Caches are hidden by other players and listed on the site. Cache owners rank the terrain and difficulty of the cache and list the size of the find. Beginners should start with low-difficulty caches, and anyone hunting with children should look for large boxes that might contain more interesting trinkets. Microcaches can be the size of a pill box and are more challenging to find.
There are two major rules to geocaching.
First, caches are always stashed where nonplayers won’t find them. Caches are hidden well away from hiking trails or sidewalks to prevent the curious from looting a box or worse, reporting it as a bomb to the police. Most caches are placed under logs, rocks or in hollowed-out trees, so it may take some searching to find a cache once your GPS brings you to the proper coordinates.
Second, always bring a trinket to replace the one you take. The trinkets for geocaches are inexpensive items such as party favors or small toys. Never leave food, candy or anything that smells—these will attract wild animals who might try to break into the box.