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Geocaching: The Everyday Treasure Hunt

Geocaching may sound fancy and complicated, but the basic idea is really simple: It’s a teched-out update of the good old scavenger hunt. In the majority of the cases you don’t keep the treasure, but simply record that you found it—the fun is in the search.

You only need the Geocaching app or a GPS to get started. Then you get the coordinates to hidden caches and set out to discover them. The caches vary in size but all contain at least a log sheet and a pen; some also have some trinkets that you are free to take, provided that you put in items of roughly the same size and value. Once you find the cache, you record your discovery in the log and hide everything back in place for the next participants to find.

Over the past 20 years or so, geocaching has exploded in popularity. It appeals to individuals looking for adventure but also to couples or families who just want to do something fun together. It is the rare pastime that unites techies and back-to-nature types, urban explorers and lovers of the great outdoors.

A photo of a geocache box hidden within a bush.

Cache It If You Can
Of course, finding a cache is not as easy as plugging in a latitude and a longitude, then turn up—where would be the fun? There are various levels of difficulty, both mental (in some cases you might have to solve puzzles) and physical (you might have to climb, hike, bike or paddle). There is a geocache 6.79 miles underwater in the Mariana Trench, among of the deepest points on Earth—needless to say, this one gets the maximum rating for difficulty and terrain.

More accessible to regular people, if still requiring some exertion, is a cache holding a small waterproof cell-phone case at the top of Mt. Elbert, which is the highest peak in the Rockies at 14,400 feet.

But don’t worry: those are at the extremes of geocaching. There are hundreds of thousands of geocaches that are easily accessible regardless of physical ability and location. Chances are good, in fact, that there is at least one cache near you, and perhaps even hundreds if you live in a big city. West Bend, in Wisconsin, boasts 1,600 caches—20 of them placed at strategic spots to form a “geotour”—and even calls itself the Geocaching Capital of the Midwest.

A man in a grey and black Free Country 3-in-1 system jacket stands in the snow.

Adventure Awaits, Right Outside
Geocaching is particularly fun in the great outdoors, which may be why so many state parks have embraced it—especially since a prime directive is for participants to leave no trace on the surroundings. A state like Colorado is especially welcoming, with its great diversity of terrain, from sand dunes to mountains: State Forest State Park, for example, has 13 geocaches (five of them all-season), and you can even rent GPS units at the visitor center.

Whether you want to see your daily surroundings with fresh eyes or experience a new place like a local, geocaching adds the thrill of adventure and discovery to a simple outing. You can exercise, discover new areas or rediscover your own backyard. But remember: do not alert non-geocachers, who are known as Muggles!