How to Have a Family Treasure Hunt: Geocaching With Kids
Using your smart phone, you and your kids can take part in a global adventure hunt not far from your home (and with almost no prep work).
Welcome to the world of geocaching.
There are more than 2 million hidden geocaches scattered across the globe, waiting for your kids to find—wherever you are.
In this article, I’ll show you how fun and easy it is to enjoy the hunt and ensuing excitement of finding a cache wherever you may be.
Geocaching has been around for years. You’ve probably heard friends or family members rave about how much fun it is to go on these GPS-led treasure hunts. But what is it, exactly?
Geocaching is fun for adults and kids alike, making it the perfect family adventure.
It combines the excitement of a family treasure hunt, the outdoor fun and exercise of a hike, and the wonder of GPS technology.
Caches are hidden in all different environments, from busy market centers to remote desert crags, all over the world. You simply enter your location online to pull up a list of caches in your area. Choose the one you’d like to search for and go hunt for it.
Watch this video to see where geocaches are hidden.
You don’t need a lot of time, money or special tools—just take a GPS-enabled smartphone or other GPS device and a small token to leave in the cache when you find it.
Caches usually consist of some kind of weatherproof container that holds a logbook and some small trinkets or prizes. When you find a cache, be sure to sign the logbook.
People get very creative with their caches.
Kids love to choose a prize to take home. Just be sure to leave something of equal value for the next person who finds the cache.
Geocaching is a lot of fun, so get out and do it today. Take advantage of this free service that’s available almost anywhere in the world and provides an exciting outdoor activity that’s great for families. Read on to learn how.
#1: Get Your Tools and Account
You need one tool for Geocaching. Grab your smartphone or GPS device and let’s get started.
It takes about 10 minutes to sign up for an account and download an app.
Complete these three steps before heading out the door.
- Register for an account at Geocaching. Click on “Join” to sign up for a free membership. Put in your information including a username and password.
- To use a smartphone, you need to download a geocaching app. There are multiple apps and some are free. Skip this step if you’re using a GPS device.
- Gather some small items to swap at the cache. This is optional. If you don’t want to bring anything, no worries. Finding the cache is fun even without a treasure exchange.
Hint: If you have a charity donation bin in your home, go through it and pull out toys or trinkets in good condition that you think others will be happy to find.
Your first geocache will take you the longest to prepare for. The time it takes to head out the door gets shorter after you’ve set up an account and practiced looking online for caches.
#2: Select Your Caches
The time for this varies, but plan on about 10 minutes to research your desired caches.
Click “Play” on the geocaching homepage and enter the zip code of the area where you wish to search.
You’ll see a map with many caches marked. Click on the ones you want to read about.
Hint: If you choose to download a free app, check the app instead of the official geocaching site to select your cache. Not all geocaching apps will display a complete list of caches, so it’s best to check your app against the website before you get out there and realize the cache you found online isn’t registering on your phone.
Select the caches you’d like to hunt for. If you have a smartphone, you can select your caches on the go. With a GPS, you’ll need to select your caches beforehand, enter the coordinates into your device and write down information or hints you may want to take along with you.
Beginner Tips for Choosing Geocache Locations
Select a location with multiple caches in a small area. Look for 4 or 5 caches during your first outing. Caches are designed for different audiences and vary in difficulty from something a small child can find to very difficult, sophisticated searches. Try several so your family will get a good sense of the activity.
Before setting out, check the online log and make sure the cache has been found recently. If it says “DNF”, that means the last group to search “did not find” it.
There’s a whole list of different kinds of caches. For your first time, stick with “traditional” caches and graduate to some of the other types later.
Icons are used to tell you the approximate size of each cache. Begin with a “regular” or “large” cache, rather than a “small” one. Don’t select a “micro” unless you want to be hunting for hours for something that may be the size of your thumb.
The time it takes to go geocaching can range from 30 minutes to the entire day. Pay attention to the difficulty rating and other information for each cache on the website and plan accordingly.
You can choose a geocache location almost anywhere. Most adventurers will be able to find geocaches right in their own neighborhood. Caches can be in urban areas or you can hike, bike or hop on your four-wheeler to access geocaches in more remote or wilderness areas.
Look for a cache marked “favorite” and one that has photos. That’s even better for your first time.
If a cache has all of the above characteristics, mark it down on the list of caches you’re interested in.
#3: Hunt for the Treasure
Grab your smartphone or GPS, slip into a positive attitude and sense of adventure, slather on some sunscreen and get ready to go.
Hint: Bring water and snacks. Wear closed-toed shoes for things like tromping through tall grass and walking across sliver-prone bark paths.
Here’s an idea to get you started: set a time limit in an area (like a park) and let your kids search for as many caches as possible within the specified time limit. We are newbies, so it took us an hour to find two.
Follow the map in your GPS or phone to find the location of the cache.
Just because you find the coordinates, don’t think the hunt is over. You still have to locate the cache itself. Sometimes they’re very well camouflaged.
#4: You Found the Cache! Now What?
Celebrate! Finding any hidden treasure is exciting. If the kids are the ones to spot it, they’ll be elated.
Look inside. You’ll find some small treasures and a logbook.
Pick out a treasure and leave something in its place (the etiquette is for the traded item to be equal or more awesome than what you took).
Leave your team name and the date in the log.
Put the cache back in exactly the same place you found it.
Login online and let others (and the owner) know that you found the cache. You can type “TFTF”, meaning “thanks for the find” as well as other messages.
Use common sense when choosing an item to leave in the cache. Items that appeal to both adults and children are best. Make sure it’s legal and appropriate for children to see. Avoid perishable items or anything scented that animals may get into.
Some Final Thoughts…
Isn’t it exciting to think that you may walk by secret caches every day and not even know it?
One of the coolest urban geocaches we ever heard of was a small cache stuck with a magnet to the bottom of an iron city bench—which thousands of Muggles walked by every day.
There’s a whole new world for you and your kids to explore through geocaching, and it’s probably right in your own neighborhood.
For our first geocaching experience, we selected a large city park. We had fun exploring with our friends. It was an adventure that my kids are excited to try again in the future.
Geocaching is something you can do together almost anywhere. It’s a great way to spend time outdoors. And it’s a healthy way to integrate technology into our kids’ lives.
What do you think? Does your family enjoy geocaching? Please share your best stories, tips or photos in the comments below.
Kristin Ammerman is a mom, creative writer and the evangelist of fun for My Kids' Adventures. Her three kids love that their mom's job includes trying out new family activities. Other posts by KJ Ammerman »