08 June 2010

Geocaching: treasure hunting with your GPS

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My family's split down the middle when it comes to outdoor fun. There are two people who are always looking for reasons to be/play/eat outside, and two who prefer looking at nature from behind glass, preferably while seated in a temperature-controlled environment with Wifi. As such, the answer to "what should we do this weekend?" is rarely straightforward.

I'm always looking for ways to coax the indoorsies outdoors. And I think I've hit on it: geocaching. Or, as I presented it to my family, walks that require gadgets (several eyebrows lifted in interest as I'm usually the one hoping the iPhone gets forgotten at home).

Let's Go Geocaching Geocaching is essentially a treasure hunt with the help of a mobile GPS device. To begin, go to Geocaching.com and sign up for a free account. Then search for a cache to find...it can be in your neighborhood, along a trail, or anywhere else in the world. (I found three within walking distance of my house.) The website will give you GPS coordinates and clues, which you plug into your device and set out on the hunt! Your GPS will lead you to the vicinity of the cache, but once you arrive you must find the final hiding spot using the clues.

But what exactly are you looking for? Generally, the cache a small waterproof container holding a logbook, and sometimes, a collection of trinkets to trade. But folks who really get into geocaching go much further, creating puzzles to be solved, or setting up multi-part caches. Consider these more challenging adventures once you've got some experience under your belt, or if you're embarking on this adventure with teens.

After you find the cache, dance your happy dance! (I'm getting excited just thinking about it.) Once you're settled back in at home, you can log back in to the Geocaching website to leave your comments.

A few tips should you decide to try geocaching with your kids:

  • Choose your first few caches wisely. Keep them relatively easy to find, and read the comments for extra assurance that the cache is still hidden at that location. Caches do occasionally go missing, and it would be a shame to kick off your experience with a disappointment.
  • Pack a pen and some little items to leave behind. The rule is that if you take something from a cache, you must leave something of equal or greater value.
  • Consider geocaching while on vacation. What better way to explore new territory?
  • Hide your own cache. Once your kids catch the geocaching bug, they might want to create and hide their own cache. The "pay it forward" spirit feels good for everyone. Geocaching.com gives you all the details about hiding your first cache.

Dodge CaravanHave you ever tried geocaching before? I'd love to hear some Parenthacker experiences. Please share!

This post is part of a series sponsored by Dodge Caravan.

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My husband and I have been geocaching on and off practically since it first started (since 2001). We love it because it gets us out of the house, and it can take you places that you didn't know about in your own area. My husband frequently takes our 4-year old out "treasure hunting" now, and we sometimes go out as a family though that will get easier when our 1 1/2 year old gets older. We have also purchased a couple "travel bugs" which are placed into caches and people pick them up and register where they put them next. It's a great way to teach geography, as you watch on the map where your travel bug goes.

One thing to watch out for when geocaching with kids is a "microcache", which is usually just big enough for a small log book (if even that). Extra challenging to find, and no exchange of goodies. Not so much fun for the kids.

We love geocaching. We just discovered it about a month ago and have found several treasures so far. I have an app on my phone and we use that. The GPS feature isn't as good as it would be on a normal GPS device, but it works for us. It's a great activity for all ages. My 3 year old even gets involved. It's like a pirate treasure hunt. Sometimes they hide that treasure in the darndest place.

We're getting ready to geocache this summer! I think I've got everyone talked into it, finally. Trying to decide on an inexpensive but decent gps, or are there good geocaching apps for an ipod? I don't even know. I don't even have an ipod, but if there are apps for geocaching, maybe I could talk myself into one!

My daughters think of geocaching as treasure hunting, it is a great time for all and they just love the hunt for the cache..

Those with an Android phone should check out c:geo from the Market, it is a free app and really good for finding and tagging caches online.

It has some great features, a radar for when you are close, maps of the location... and with Androids navigation, you can actually get turn by turn directions to get you close to the site.

The app pulls all it's information from the geocaching.com and is really all you need to get out and find caches.

As a single mom with little money for entertainment, we purchased a inexpensive gps and began geocaching in our area. It started out as just my daughter and myself, but now includes cousins, friends, aunts and boyfriend. We love it and try to hunt for caches even when we are traveling to new places. It is a great time and inexpensive. Try it!

I love the caches that are more than just a box hidden under some leaves or in a log, like the ones roped up in trees or hiding in plain sight - we once found a cache that was shaped like a bird, sitting in a tree, with a compartment hidden away inside!

Thanks, Eric! I've always wanted to try this w/ the kids, AND I recently got an Android phone. Great tip!

I have been caching since 2007, and we love it! It's a great way to meet other people! Stay away from micros for the kiddos and don't forget your swag!!! TNLN TFTC!!

We just started Geocaching as well. My 6 year old also thinks of it as a big treasure hunt. Our first find was a geocache 500 yards from our house. The next day we went on a pre planned hike that turned into a geocache hunt. In our second cache we found a travel bug which was made it even more exciting. We didn't find the cache where we turned around. But my daughter is ready to go back again and track it down. Even after knowing it's a 2.5 mile hike out and 2.5 miles back!!! The next time she says she won't drink all the water.

I second Geocaching as a great activity while traveling. You'll find place that aren't in the guidebooks. Always check the comments before you go. One cache led us alongside a hippie nude beach on Maui with no warning!

We found our first cache just this past weekend. I used the app on my iphone and it worked great (not having used a regular gps, I can't really compare). As with many of the other commenters, my 5 year old felt like he was going on a treasure hunt and loved it. We had some time to kill between a wedding and a reception, opened up the app and found that there were LOTs of caches nearby. So we picked the closest one. So much fun!

We've been Geocaching since the early 2000's, well before kids. Now that we have a 6 year old and 4 year olds, we take the kids too! We found that around age 3 you can start doing easy caches with the kids. The one's that don't take a lot of hiking and are easy to find are the best as the kids tend to tire out if there is a lot of hiking first. We try to find an easy one right away and then they are ready to find another one. We keep a bag of trinkets to exchange and the kids are always excited to see what is inside the cache. It's a great way to get the kids outdoors and explore new areas. Especially if you are on vacation! Caches are everywhere!

I KNEW there would be a bunch of geocachers among you! Really, what's not to love? I can't wait to do this with my family.

Which app?

Oooh, fun story, fun story! My partner and I were going camping, and caching, so I ziplock-baggied (is this gross? it was fun at the time) my positive pregnancy test with a note that said, "Surprise!" and then hid the cache in a tree near our site, and plugged the coordinates into his GPS. I got the surprise factor alright! So yeah, we were jumping up and down like fools in the middle of nowhere.

The baby is now three, and we go caching every few weeks. As one of those self-admitted "indoorsies," I find it's much more fun to go for a walk if there's treasure at the end of it.

My husband's iPhone is usually just fine as a gps. Our 3 1/2 year old daughter frequently asks to go find a "treasure box." and she'll trade out, not just take stuff.

We have been caching for nearly 4 years and my boys love it. Plenty of water is a must and some snacks will keep you going a little longer. Caches with swag keep their attention much more than those without. And when they are done, they are done. Call it a day. We like nice hikes when we are on the hunt as opposed to drives.

I wanted to add a little on devices. The Geocaching app for iPhone is great but you have to have a signal. I also carry a Garmin Colorado 400t. It's more accurate but you have to load it before hand. I've also used the Trimble geocaching Navigator for Blackberry with success.

We've taken the kids geocaching a couple of times, and it was great fun. We found it was a great way to explore a beautiful park that we hadn't visited before.

We don't have a GPS, so I installed the Geocaching Intro app by Groundspeak on my iPhone, and it worked like a charm. Free, too.

Now I know what we can do this weekend!

As a long time (pre-kiddo) cachers, I must agree that it is a great activity! Our two year old has limited time for the fun, so we're waiting for when she gets a bit older before we head out every weekend again.

Just wanted to add that there are GPS unit that don't hook up to your computer - and this is not a good thing. Once you get bit by the geocaching bug :) you'll find that manually entering the GPS coordinates into the unit to be really annoying... and with a GPS that connects to your computer, along with a premium membership, you can download hundreds of caches into your unit at one time... getting to the fun part, the hunt, faster. Well worth the extra cost of a fancier unit! Plus, this will make it more spontaneous, download caches into GPS, head out in a random direction and see what you can find!

We also have planned camping trips in state parks based on which parks have the most/best caches. We're in Texas and the state parks here vary on cache saturation. Definitely gets you out into parts of the parks that you might not have otherwise ventured into!

We started geocaching about 10 months ago. We love the fact that you can find one or 30. We went to see a morning (kid) movie on my husband's birthday and spent the rest of the day geocaching. We did not plan it, but that is what happened. Our 3 year old loves it. He likes to 'find things' and 'hide things'. We have a geocaching box in our vehicle that has things for him to trade, small plastic bags, small pencils, and lots of silica gel packs (I keep them every time I open something). We are always prepared!

We both have iPhones and use the Geocaching by Groundspeak. The only complaint the we have is that it sucks the life out of your battery. For this reason, we have talked about getting a GPS unit. However, the new iPhone has better battery life... we will see...

We used geocaching.com's app. It is by Groundspeak.

We love the more "lo-fi" form-letterboxing. There is no GPS involved, just clues. The boxes hold a rubber stamp and a log book, and you stamp the log book with your personal signature stamp and then stamp your log book with the stamp from the box. It's nice, because it documents itself, and you have the keep sake book to remind you of your hunts.

I had vaguely heard of this, but your post had me checking it out. So yesterday was my family's first hunt--found 3 out of 4. My iPhone works great so far, and I think we are hooked. It's a great way to get out, and we have already seen a new part of a nearby park. We have 3 kids (5, 4, and 1), and everyone enjoys it! Thanks for the post!

My 7 year old son and I just started reading The Boxcar Children book titled "The Box That Watch Found". It's all about geocaching and has gotten my son interested in the hunt. I think we'll be trying our own treasure hunt soon.

Asha - just wanted you to know that this post started us on new adventures. It is PERFECT for the tech loving indoorsies. We are hooked and found 7 on our camping trip. The kids are begging for more. I've gotten MANY hints on here over the past 3 years, but none that will change our patterns so much. Thank you!

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