Geocaching: a treasure hunt for the whole family

An inexpensive family fun day out

Geocaching is a treasure hunt for the whole family
Geo-what?” This is how my friend Jill responded when I told her our family had gone geocaching over the weekend. Most people who haven’t heard of this growing phenomenon have the same reaction. As a mother of three young children (Ryan, 4½, Hadley, 19 months, and newborn) I am always looking for new and fun things to do outdoors as a family.


Geocaching is a treasure hunt for the whole family

Because our time on the weekends is divided between household maintenance and the kids’ activities, we wanted to find something that was fun yet practical – a five-hour activity that cost $35 would not work for us. We also wanted to get the kids outside and moving as much as possible, even if just for an hour. With rising childhood obesity rates, we felt that finding such activities was more important than ever.


Geocaching was first created in May 2000 by GPS enthusiast Dave Ulmer, who decided to play a game by hiding a container out in the woods and noting the coordinates with a GPS unit. He then posted these coordinates on the Internet, and anyone who wanted to play along would then have to locate the container with only the use of his or her own GPS unit. The rules were simple: “Take some stuff, leave some stuff.”


Within three days, two different readers read about the stash on the Internet, used their own GPS receivers to find the container, and shared their experiences online. Soon more people began hiding their own containers and posting coordinates, and geocaching was born. Now, eight years later this “game” created by Ulmer has become the newest outdoor craze celebrated not only by outdoor enthusiasts and hikers but also by couples and families.


A visit to the website was my gateway into this exciting world of treasure hunting. After creating my free account, I searched for caches nearby, assuming I’d have to travel at least an hour to participate. Luckily, there were more than 30 caches within 15 miles of my home.

Say goodbye to boring car rides!


This user-friendly site rates each cache by degree of difficulty and the “owner” of the cache can post notes and hints to make finding your way a bit easier. Even more fun is the fact that those who have found the cache before you can electronically sign the log book and encourage you to seek it for yourself.


A cache is usually a small waterproof container containing a logbook and "treasure," often toys or trinkets of little value. Occasionally, the cache owner will put in a cash “prize” or special keepsake for the first finder.


Because we would be hunting as a family we selected a cache with a low degree of difficulty; we chose “Rodan’s Roost” at Burger Hill Park in Rhinebeck, just a few miles from our home. We had our handheld GPS unit in hand and headed up the hill on our first geocaching adventure. You can also Geocache with your cell phone. Thirty minutes later my son had convinced himself that there would be cupcakes, icing, gold and stickers hidden in the container. As we approached, I admit being equally as excited to see what we’d uncover. We carefully followed the GPS to the listed coordinates and stopped.


There are a few rules to geocaching, one of which is that you cannot let “Muggles” (non-geocachers) around know what you’re up to. No one can see you remove or replace the cache, for this is a very secret society you’ve entered! Once we had made sure that the way was clear, we looked around for a place the cache might be stored, and we found it rather quickly. We opened the cache and found a log book, as well as treasures left by the cache owner and other geocachers.


The other rules state that geocachers “Take some stuff, leave some stuff” and sign the log book – in other words, take a memento and leave a little symbol of yourself after signing the log contained in the cache. My son selected a small pencil sharpener as his “treasure” and we left a figurine in its place. We replaced the cache, again making sure no “Muggles” were watching and headed back to our car, heads held high as we were feeling quite accomplished.


Our entire trip took about an hour, but we talked about it for many days following. My son took his pencil sharpener for Show & Tell and we began talk of hiding our own cache somewhere in the area for others to find. It goes without saying that if you decide to hide your own cache you should do so with respect and common sense – it is important not to trespass onto private property and not to disturb any natural resources.


Meridith Ferber lives in Rhinebeck with her husband and three children. The Ferbers moved to Rhinebeck from Brooklyn in 2004 and enjoy exploring all that the Hudson Valley has to offer.