GPS Treasure Hunting

So you’ve already navigated your way to and from grandma’s house with the new GPS system you got under the tree this holiday season. But looking for directions is hardly a fun way to play with your new toy. So why not try taking part in a modern-day GPS-savvy scavenger hunt known as Geocaching? (FYI: It’s pronounced geo-cashing).

The adventure game allows participants to use GPS technology to uncover hidden treasures, or caches, hundreds of thousands of which are now located all over the world. The caches usually are boxes or buckets that have a few tokens and a logbook inside, and the whole premise is based on a simple theory, “take some stuff, leave some stuff,” in order to keep the game going. Many cities and states, seeking to draw caching enthusiasts, are now working to promote geocaching tourism. Asheville, North Carolina, for example, is holding the Ultimate AsheCache in May of this year, and will put $1,700 in prizes in caches stashed within a 100-mile radius of downtown. Other tourism boards have sponsored caches in Prince Edward Island, Canada, upstate New York, and Arkansas.

Here’s a quick tutorial to getting started:

1) Log in to the Geocaching website and create a profile to access the site. Type in your home base coordinates, and enter the zip code for the area where you’d like to go treasure hunting.

2) Scroll through a list of different kinds of caches in the area to find one that’s interesting to you. Enter the coordinates in your GPS device to familiarize yourself with the area, and read through the clues left by the cache’s hider that will help lead you to the treasure.

3) Depending on whether the cache is hidden in an urban or rural environment, you may want to get a topographic map to help you find your way. GPS devices tend to only provide directions as the crow flies, so use MapBlast (offered through the geocaching website) to help with navigating the streets.


4) When you’re ready to find your cache, don’t go alone (we don’t need to tell you it isn’t smart to go wandering by yourself in the woods) and bring plenty of water, just as you would on any hike. Following the coordinates in your GPS device should lead you to within a mile of the cache, but bring a compass along as well to help you out should you lose a signal. When you get within 100 feet of the cache, rely on your senses to lead you to it, instead of just focusing on the device. Look for good hiding places like stumps or piles of rocks.

5) Once you find the cache, leave a record of your experience in the logbook, and if you take a treasure, be sure to leave one behind in its place. Once you get home, log on to the website to let the person who hid the cache know you found it.

We think that Geocaching is a great way to add a bit of excitement to everyday travel, and think that their “Cache In, Trash Out” plan, which encourages Geocachers to pick up litter along the routes they’re hiking, is a terrific idea. There are also plenty of variations on the caching theme, including EarthCache, which teaches users about geology and geography and is sponsored by the Geological Society of America. And caching is a great weekend activity for families, no matter where you are.

To learn more about GPS treasure hunting, check out their guide to finding a geocache or hiding one yourself. Happy hunting!

UPDATE: Not only does Geocaching keep you entertained, it also can help keep you safe – thanks to Jaunted for this story!

Image: Groundspeak, Inc.