Hidden Treasures: Geocaching w/Kids

[ 15 ] December 5, 2007 |

GeocachingBy Michelle Riggen-Ransom

My family is caught up in the latest craze that’s sweeping the nation: geocaching! Well, okay, maybe it isn’t sweeping the nation but it is pretty cool and it’s also a great way to keep us going on outdoor adventures as the temperature drops and the couch seems more and more inviting.

Geocaching is a relatively new activity that involves finding hidden loot (called caches) in various locations using global positioning coordinates. It sounds techie but it’s really pretty simple: Go to a website like geocaching.com and enter your zip code to find a list of nearby hidden caches. Then, using a handheld Global Positioning System (GPS) and maybe a good map, head out to hunt for real-life treasure! My husband has a small GPS he uses for fishing made by Garmin: A good unit can be purchased online (check Amazon.com) for roughly $100 to $350. They’re great for anyone who enjoys hiking, fishing, or just taking walks in the woods. Hello, Santa?Geocache Treasures

We found about fifteen caches listed in our immediate area and started out by seeking two of them: the Haines Park cache and the Walker’s Farm cache, both in Barrington. Most caches are small boxes or hollow tubes containing a logbook where you enter your (team) name and the date you found it, as well as some little trinkets that you trade for trinkets you’ve brought with you. Each geocache has two ratings listed on the geocaching.com website: difficulty and terrain. These are based on a scale from 1 to 5, with 1 being the easiest. For families, I would recommend starting off with ratings of 1 or 2 – you’ll find these are plenty challenging in most cases. Also on the website are scrambled clues and notes from other folks who have searched for the caches. The website is a great source of information for newbies like us.

Caches can be hidden anywhere from urban areas to parks and woods. We’ve been selecting caches where we can get a little hike/walk in on the way, combining desperately needed parental fitness with an energy-combusting preschooler activity (win-win!). Use common sense when embarking on these trips as you would for any hike: Make sure everyone is bundled up accordingly, bring snacks/water, stay together, and always let someone know where you’re going.

Another cool thing about caching is the idea of “cache in, trash out.” As you explore these various outdoor places, it’s really easy to pick up any trash you see along the way, stick it in your bag and toss it out or recycle it when you get home. Not only are you finding treasure, but you’re helping the environment. Another win-win!

The found treasures tend to be small things like golf balls, plastic animals, sparkly pencils and the like, so throw a few similar things in your bag for swapping before you head out. My son has slept with his new treasures for three nights in a row. To him, our first find was as precious as gold.

Nature/Nurture, written by Michelle Riggen-Ransom, is an occasional column with ideas and information to help kids and their families engage with the natural world in fun, interesting ways. Share your thoughts and explorations by adding your comment below, or contact us with your story ideas.

Category: activities: outdoor, nature/nurture


Michelle Riggen Ransom

about the author ()

A fan of all things oceanic, Michelle keeps moving from one coast to another. She's lived in many cities (always by water) and now with her husband in Seattle is raising two fourth-generation beach babies. Michelle currently works as a communications consultant for tech companies, and on building apps like Craftmonkey and InstaChimp. Apparently a love of nature and a passion for cool technologies are not mutually exclusive, as she is equally smitten with both.

Comments (15)

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  1. Katy Killilea katy says:

    Michelle, I got some books from the library about geocaching after I met you. I really want to start! SInce we don’t yet have a GPS device, we might faux geocache instead–plant a cache ourselves and then make a map for our kids to–what a coincidence!–find the cache. But I will be asking Santa for an inexpensive GPS thing. Thanks for the great idea!

  2. tonka_boy says:

    Great post, and geocaching is indeed a great family activity. My wife and I have been addicted since last June, and now my grown children are taking the grandkids geocaching. They love it! The kids are planning to release Little Red Riding Hood & the Big Bad Wolf travel Bugs. The goal would be to keep Riding Hood as far away from the wolf as possible. Can’t wait! If interested, our blog is: http://geocats.blogspot.com/

  3. Hi Michelle:

    Geocaching is an excellent sport for kids and families. We linked your article up at GeocacheGazette.com.

  4. Anisa Raoof Anisa says:

    <p>Editors note:</p>
    <p>This article was originally titled “Buried Treasures: Geocaching w/Kids”, but we’ve updated it to “Hidden Treasures…” </p>
    <p>Thanks to Groundspeak for helping us to better understand geocaching (http://www.geocaching.com). Kidoinfo certainly had no intention to create an inaccurate portrayal of geocachers digging up parks for buried treasure.</p>
    <p>The article’s author, Michelle, clarified: “It’s true that geocaches are not buried in the earth, but one of the definitions of buried is “to cover in order to conceal from sight”. This has definitely been the case with the geocaches we’ve found, as they’ve been buried in leaves, behind rocks etc. Plus I think the idea of “buried treasure” resonates with kids so that they can relate to and hopefully get interested in geocaching.”</p>

  5. SC Avalanche says:

    My family is new to Geocaching. We found our first one on 12/12/2007. I like the idea of trading toys, because it would give my son something to look forward to. Great Post and thanks!

  6. Geocacher says:

    Geocaching is a great hobby to start doing. My favorites are the ones in town which have the nickname ‘urban’ caches. Usually these are small containers about the size of a dime or small pencil.

  7. Marko says:

    Katy: Using the Google Maps satellite images, some folks can find geocaches without the use of a GPS. There’s a series of caches in the Dayton area that are called F.T.F Alpha, Beta, Gamma, etc that move around on a piece of guard rail so everyone gets a chance to get log a FTF (first to find) note, that are easy to find without a GPS since the satellite image will get you close enough to find the rail and it’s generally a quick search from there. Maybe you can find a few caches like the F.T.F. series in your area.

  8. Paul Verizzo says:

    I first did what my grand-kids call “treasure hunting” probably five years ago. Man, they love it, especially in Colorado where caches can be in the plains or in old mining camps in the mountains.

    Katy, you don’t need to spend a fortune on a GPS. Get an old one on eBay. Something like the Garmin GPS III+ will do just fine. Mostly, you just have to know how to punch in the coordinates and away you go. The III+ has a detachable antenna, so with an extension cable the antenna can be outside or on the dash and the kids can hold the unit in back seat.

  9. Yes, it’s great family fun! We recently got our son and his girlfriend involved. As well, we took our family (14 of us) on a Geocache hunt on Thanksgiving, before the big meal. It was the talk of the dinner table!

  10. Pete says:

    Great article, and superb family fun! We’ve been Geocaching for a year now, and have found well over 100, and have hidden several. My daughter is integrating the whole concept and exercise into her 7th and 8th grade classes of at-risk kids. It’s a perfect fit!

  11. A Caching Dad says:

    Just a note, if your not ready to buy a GPS yet. Take a look at http://www.letterboxing.org This activity works in the same way as geocaching but you must follow directions much like you would follow a pirates treasure map. There are a few other key differences but for the most part letterboxing is very similar to geocaching. My 6yr old son and I have hunted for both letterboxes and geocaches and while we find Geocaching more of an adventure (children love to hold the GPS and follow the arrow) we like both activities. Good Luck and have fun!!

  12. larry says:

    Hi Everybody,
    I have been caching in New York state for almost two years now. I went with a friend one cold January morning after work just to see what it was all about. Since then I can’t seem to get enough of it. I am now up to 450 finds. Caching has taken me to places I never new were there and got me out hiking again. I use a Explorest 400 and it works great and it only cost about $150.00. Happy Caching!!!
    Larry aka Sanches

  13. Pat says:

    I am new to geocaching,not a child by a long way, and enjoy the fresh air and seeing local areas that I didn’t know existed! I’m usually beaten to the treasure..when it’s suggested that I “look over there.”

    Friends of mine, (long time cachers) were introduced to the sport by their teenage daughter, she got them up of the couch and they are well and truly hooked!

    Merry Caching!

  14. Harry says:

    Our brother/brother-in-law showed us caching 2 1/2 years ago when we visited him in NC and we haven’t stopped, closing in on our 200th cache find!

    As a mapping/geography/tech geek who loves the outdoors, I love how it’s “hiking/nature walking with a purpose” and the kids (ages 6 and 4 respectively) love the “treasure aspect”. It also lets you learn of parks and playgrounds we never knew of before, even though some are less than 5 miles from our home.

    I do want to note that it is much much harder to find most of these things when there’s snow cover, so that combined with the fact that it’s often very cold to do a long walk with small kids our caching tends to be limited in the winter months (and in the dead of summer it’s often a little too hot). But in the spring and fall it’s great! Thanks for the great article.

  15. Mike Barlow says:

    We learned about geocaching while doing research for a web project about outdoor activities with kids. Since then, we have become completely hooked.

    Geocaching has taken us to places (even in our own home-town) that we didn’t even know existed. Our kids love finding treasure.

    When we started I wrote a blog post called “The Joy of Geocaching” (one of several posts on the topic of geocaching) that has prompted several friends and family members to take up the sport.

    The link is here:

    http://trailmix.net/blogs/barlow/archive/2007/05/05/the-joy-of-geocaching.aspx

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