A young boy looks at a cell phone as he geocaches outside on a sunny day.

How geocaching can get your family outside, moving, and having fun

Getting outdoors and active as a family is not only good for your health, it’s great for family bonding, encouraging a love of adventure in our kids, and developing movement skills.

With three young daughters and a puppy, I’m always looking for new outdoor adventures. So I was intrigued when I first heard about “geocaching.” Friends were posting photos of their kids finding treasures hidden behind trees in the middle of parks and trails. Who was hiding these? How are they still there? What is geocaching and how do we get involved!

What is geocaching?

The literal definition from geocaching.com: “geocaching is a real-world, outdoor treasure hunting game using GPS-enabled devices. Participants navigate to a specific set of GPS co-ordinates and then attempt to find the geocache (container) hidden at that location.” For our family, geocaching is just plain FUN!

History of geocaching

In May of 2000, the U.S. government opened up satellite and GPS communication, enabling anyone with proper GPS receiving devices to navigate to the location of hidden items. Immediately GPS enthusiasts wanted to test the accuracy of these satellites. The first item was hidden in the woods by Dave Ulmer, its GPS coordinates sent out to an online GPS user group to see if anyone could find this “stash”. They did!

Within weeks more GPS enthusiasts caught on to this stash-and-hunt idea and started hiding their own stashes. Within a month a newsletter was formed, the name was changed to Geo (for earth) cache (meaning hide or storage) and by that summer the website was launched to enable users to log their stashes, the GPS coordinates, and their finds.

Now, 14 years later, with GPS receivers in our hand held mobile devices, geocaching has gone mainstream. Over 2.4 billion caches are hidden around the world, all different shapes, sizes, and levels of difficulty. Some are straightforward, easy to navigate coordinates, others involves solving puzzles or riddles, and others lead to other puzzles and a maze of finds before you reach the final cache. Geocaching is perfect for families with children and for serious orienteer’s keen for worldwide geocache challenges.

Get into geocaching

  1. Go to geochaching.com
  2. Enter your postal code to see how many caches are hidden near your ‘backyard’
  3. Download the Geocaching app to your smart phone with GPS
  4. Choose ‘Find Nearby Geocaches’
  5. Click on any of the dots for details about the difficulty level
  6. Click on the ‘>’ arrow and ‘Navigate to Geocache’ and you’re off
  7. You can search by compass or by map, or toggle between both
  8. If you need clues, click on the ‘<’ arrow and choose from Descriptions, Recent logs, Hints, and Attributes posted by previous cache finders to help you
  9. Sometimes even photos of the exact hiding spot are posted if you are really struggling and need a spoiler

Yes, there are rules

  • When cache is found, sign the log
  • Put the cache back exactly where you found it
  • If there are treasures in the cache and you take one, put one of equal or greater value back in its place
  • Get all your friends and family involved!

What you need to geocache

  • Mobile device with GPS
  • Geocaching.com app
  • A pencil to sign log books
  • Treasures to exchange with items in cache
  • Old shoes in case you get muddy
  • A sense of adventure!

How geocaching improves physical literacy

Learning early in life that being active is fun, can make you feel good, and comes in many different forms, goes a long way towards a healthy long-term relationship with activity.

Geocaching improves physical literacy by taking adventure outside, on foot or bicycle, on different terrains and surfaces. It encourages exploration, climbing, digging, thinking, and moving obstacles to find hidden treasures that await discovery.

Some of the skills that can be developed during a geocaching adventure include:

  • balance
  • agility
  • running
  • lifting and lowering objects

Each of those skills come together to help form a person’s physical literacy.

The best part of the geocaching experience for us has been the secret knowledge we share as a family! Imagine knowing when you bike with your friends that there is a hidden gem by the church parking lot, or walking to school across the bridge and only you know about the camouflage covered box under it, or remembering the fun you had with your cousins discovering the plastic “dead” leg by the creek that hid a cache!

And I love that it has us rediscovering the paths, forests, creeks, and hidden gems in our own backyard, and that a simple “Find nearby cache” on the app can turn a hike or a visit anywhere you are — camping, at friends, on vacation, skiing — into a geocaching adventure.

Incidentally, the picture at the top of this article is from a cache we found while on vacation in Homosassa Florida, inside a giant manatee!

Image courtesy of Deb Lowther

4 responses to “How geocaching can get your family outside, moving, and having fun

  1. We love to geocaching as well. At the same time, please be very tick aware during your time outdoors as you walk through parks, fields, hilltops and trails alike. Play safe!

  2. We’ve really enjoyed getting our 3 year old out geocaching. It has been an exceptional method of combining family outings and “treasure hunts”.

  3. My husband’s workplace was locked down last week because someone “strategically placed” a geocache canister resembling a pipe bomb in the parking lot! It took several police officers and a bomb squad almost 10 hours to determine what it was. What a needless waste of resources!

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