How to Have a Family Treasure Hunt: Geocaching With Kids

Does the thought of tracking down hidden treasures pique your kids’ interests?

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.

Discover how to have a family treasure hunt using geocaching, the global treasure hunt where your smart phone helps you find over 2 million hidden caches.

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?

Why Geocaching?

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.

You Will Need:

Smartphone or GPS device
Small trinkets to swap with the cache (optional)
Pen to sign the logbook

Prep Time:

10 minutes for first-time geocachers who need to set up an account online
An additional 10 minutes to select your caches

Activity Time:

30+ minutes

Location:

You select the area. Can be urban or rural depending on preference or convenience.

#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.

    geocaching website homepage

    Register at Geocaching.com to get started.

  • 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.

disney geocache screenshot

The map will show where geocaches are located. There are even some at Disneyland.

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.

geocache 101

The site includes helpful information for beginners. I’ve summarized it for you here.

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.

children

Children walk and discuss likely hidden cache locations.

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.

smartphone

Kids like taking turns with the smartphone to guide the group to its destination.

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.

Tips for Finding the Cache:

  • Having trouble? Check the website for clues. Sometimes the owner of a cache will leave an encrypted hint.
  • Read the notes recorded by previous geocachers. You may even find clues in their pictures.
  • The better your equipment, the more accurate the data. However, it helps to use some common sense. Think about where you might hide a cache and broaden your search to include those areas.
  • If all else fails, you can email the owner of the cache while you’re hunting. If you can’t find it, record it as a DNF.

#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).

treasure

Finding the cache is an exciting event.

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.

More about Geocaching:

  • There are caches in many places around the world. Some people like to go geocaching on vacation. Have a trip planned? Check the zip code for where you’re going and research some fun areas to explore for a cache.
  • Interested in geocaching on a regular basis? You can upgrade to the premium membership for several extra perks. For about $30 (USD) per year, premium members see extra caches that owners have hidden from the basic geocaching population. And GPS users who upgrade don’t have to manually load the coordinates. All the information can be directly downloaded to your GPS.
  • Bet you didn’t know that non-geocachers are called “Muggles.” Check the website for a list of special geocaching verbiage and acronyms.

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.

child

Following the arrow to the cache on the app.

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.

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About the Author, KJ Ammerman

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 »


  • http://www.mykidsadventures.com/ Jennifer Ballard

    Thanks, KJ! All the tips for beginners are really helpful. I can’t wait to give this a try.

  • http://www.kjfiles.com/ KJ Ammerman

    Awesome – We’re new to geocaching so my tips are great for true beginners.

  • Dawn Gosney

    Thanks, great tips! Do you have a specific app that you recommend for an iphone?

  • EmilyQuestions

    What a clever way to pass on the fun! I am going to suggest this to the kids/cousins for our upcoming vacation to see what treasures we can find. Thanks, KJ!

  • http://www.kjfiles.com/ KJ Ammerman

    Great idea! My sister and her husband check out the geocaching site before their vacations. They’ve found it’s a fun way see the area and spend a day with cousins.

  • http://www.kjfiles.com/ KJ Ammerman

    Wow, Stacy! I’ve never heard of letterboxing. Sounds like an awesome family activity. Thanks for sharing it here!

  • http://www.familyblogtips.com/ Julie Corbett

    My son and I first learned about geocaching when we read The Boxcar Children book called The Box that Watch Found. I had not heard of the activity before then. We’ve been meaning to try geocaching for ourselves – thanks for inspiring us to go out and try it!

  • http://www.solosolutions.com/ CMColeman

    We have been geocaching with our children during our summer vacation in Alberta, Canada. The children are learning and getting more out of the places we visit, and we’re making lifelong memories together as a family. Love the activity!!

  • http://www.kjfiles.com/ KJ Ammerman

    I read the original 1940’s version of the Boxcar Children when I was a kid (awesome classic!). One of the early adventure series for children. I hope you try geocaching and you and your son have a wonderful experience – without having to spend the night in a box car, sleeping on a bed of pine needles 😉

  • http://www.kjfiles.com/ KJ Ammerman

    Thank you for sharing your positive experiences geocaching while on vacation. I agree that it would help your family learn about a new area and infuse a bit more outdoor fun and adventure into the trip!

  • sues1234

    This is such a great idea. I have never heard of it before. so glad I signed up for this newsletter.

  • http://www.kjfiles.com/ KJ Ammerman

    I am happy to be the one to introduce you to geocaching! My Kids Adventures is a great newsletter. They do a fantastic job of getting a variety of activities so there is something for every family. If you follow them on facebook, extra activities and ideas are posted there as well!

  • ChrisMurphyHub

    I’ve been wondering about this whole geocaching thing. Thanks for sharing what it is and how to involve kids with it.

  • Scott B

    Great Article! It gave great ideas, and I never thought about the more creative caches shown in the attached video. Sounds like a great thing to do with the kids. I’ll have to check out apps for the iPhone.

  • http://www.mykidsadventures.com/ Jennifer Ballard

    The Cub Scout Pack tried it out last night. Our organizers pre-stocked the caches with enough prizes for everyone in the group to get one and handed each kid a trinket to leave before we started. That was a good idea for a big group.

  • Kara

    I can’t wait to try this out with my kids – something new to try at the end of summer is always nice.

  • http://www.kjfiles.com/ KJ Ammerman

    I was so glad MKA asked me to write on geocaching. It was the motivation we needed to give it a try and we are so glad we did! I hope your kids have a great time!

  • http://www.kjfiles.com/ KJ Ammerman

    Thanks, Scott! If you find a great app, will you share it here? Thank you!!

  • http://www.kjfiles.com/ KJ Ammerman

    Kids can get bored by the end of the summer. So mixing it up is a good idea :) And a good memory-making opportunity before the kids head back to school!

  • http://www.kjfiles.com/ KJ Ammerman

    What a great idea for scouts! What awesome troop leaders you have! So did the leaders add to existing caches or did they create their own? Do they have any tips for other scout leaders? I am going to share this idea with our troop here :)

  • coolmilo

    on our holidays we started off with a message in a bottle that had a pirate map, it outlined the paths to each location. The kids still talk about it 3 years later. Physical activities are best. Exploring and showing them the beauty of the world. Good to see an App that gets the kids involved outdoors.

  • http://www.mykidsadventures.com/ Jennifer Ballard

    They looked up already-existing caches (2 at the same park) and “pre-hiked the hike,” meaning they tested the activity to make sure the caches were there, easy to find and filled with prizes for all members of our group before the scheduled time.

    These things were helpful:
    -Printing out the links & coordinates for each family so they could type them in to their GPS’ or phones
    -Providing the trinkets and loading the caches with more than enough for everyone in our group. They handed each kid an eraser at the start, which was traded for a sticker in cache #1 and a pencil in cache #2.
    -An older boy scout who is experienced in geocaching led our younger cub scouts in this activity, explaining how it worked, answering questions, etc.
    -Providing water and popsicles at the end–that’s always a hit!

  • http://www.kjfiles.com/ KJ Ammerman

    These are wonderful tips for scout groups! I appreciate all the extra tips. I am forwarding this on :)

  • http://www.kjfiles.com/ KJ Ammerman

    That is a fantastic non-tech version. The message in a bottle with a pirate map could be modified to fit so many occasions. Birthday parties, holidays, play dates… Low tech is usually a favorite at our house. Thanks for sharing your idea!

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