A High-Tech Treasure Hunt 

There’s a lot of hand wringing these days–and rightly so–over sedentary children who are enamored of computer and video games and who rarely venture outside for some good old-fashioned fun. Well, here’s a high-tech twist on an old game that’s sure to “cache” on with even the most committed video devotee.

It’s called geocaching, a worldwide phenomenon that uses a global positioning system device, or GPS, to turn a simple treasure hunt into an Indiana Jones-style adventure.

The word “geocache” comes from geo, as in geography, and cache, as in a hiding place for small items. Ten years ago, when the notion of geocaching first took off, there were roughly 75 known geocaches worldwide; today there are more than 985,000. In New Jersey alone, there are more than 7,000 active geocaches, according to geocaching.com.

How it Works

A family wanting to participate in this unique version of hide-and-seek can search for a nearby geocache by zip code (or other criteria) on a listing website. Enthusiasts have already put the caches in place. They use special guidelines (found on listing websites) to hide the waterproof containers—geocaches—in public parks, along nature trails, in rural and urban areas, even underwater. The coordinates and other details of the cache—for example, its level of difficulty and terrain—are then posted on the website. Then, with a GPS device and the coordinates in hand, the family can set out to locate the hidden treasure.

“Geocaching is really popular because people of all ages and abilities can play it,” says Jen Sonstelie, marketing manager of Groundspeak, the company that owns and operates the largest geocaching website, geocaching.com. “People can go out with their 2- or 4-year-old and look for an easy geocache, have success, and find it as a family. People can also go out for the day to go rock climbing or to go on a long hike and have that sort of adventure—and still have the geocache at the end of it.”

Tips for Treasure

“One tip we give everyone is to look for something a little bit out of place, because people are incredibly creative with the hiding,” Sonstelie says. “For example, you’ll see a pile of rocks and it will just look like it fell a little bit unnaturally. And, chances are, that’s where the geocache is.”

A small geocache may contain just a logbook of visitors to the site. A larger one may also contain inexpensive items for trading, like marbles, baseball cards, bouncy balls, and small toys. (Be sure to bring small items along with you to replace what you take from a cache.)

“Finding the geocaches can be challenging because people hide them really well,” says Bob Pilsbury of Warren, who took his son’s Cub Scout den geocaching last year. “And sometimes a GPS can’t get a good signal, so it may just bring you within 50 feet of where the cache should be.”

Geocaches vary in complexity. Sonstelie suggests newcomers to the sport choose the easiest terrain and level of difficulty. And, she says, when picking a geocache, make sure it’s still active by checking to see when someone last posted a comment on the website. If more than a year has passed without mention, the cache may have vanished.


Good luck and have fun!

Mary Ann McGann is a freelance writer from New Jersey