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Family Geocaching 101

Geocaching (pronounced geo-cashing) is a lot like modern day treasure hunting: you have a map where “X” marks the spot (or, in this case a GPS-enabled device with a set location) and treasure to be found (a geocache container, often filled with a logbook and all sorts of goodies).

The activity has grown in popularity in recent years, and is a wonderful way to explore new outdoor areas while having fun! For those completely new to the activity, there are some things you should know before getting started:

What is geocaching?
Geocaching is a recreational activity where the object is to find a hidden container filled with a logbook, pencil, and usually prizes. Containers are placed outdoors, often in parks or near local landmarks.

Is it family-friendly?
Absolutely! In fact, geocaching is a unique way to spend time together, get kids active, and encourage curiosity. One of the best things about geocaching with kids is that the activity engages a wide-range of ages. For instance, allow younger ones to pick out a toy or object they want to place in the geocache. This will get them excited for the trip. Older kids can use the GPS device to learn navigation and problem-solving.

What supplies do I need?
The main thing you need for geocaching is a GPS-enabled device. This can be your smartphone or an actual handheld GPS. You will also need internet access to find the coordinates of a cache.

How do I get started?
To find a cache, you first need to know its coordinates. Whoever has placed the cache must upload the coordinates online to one of the many geocaching websites or forums. Most people upload placed caches here, the official global GPS cache hunt website; this site is a great place to start searching for nearby caches. Go to the “Find a Geocache” page to limit caches to a certain radius around your address or zip code.

Once you have determined which cache you will search for, you’ll need to input its coordinates into your GPS-enabled device. This will guide you to your cache. Some caches are quite easy to find and visible from the trail, while others are more difficult to locate and might require some searching in brush or hollowed-out tree stumps. It is recommended that you should specifically seek out a low-difficulty cache for your first adventure in order to get used to the process. Each cache at, for example, is listed in ascending order of difficulty.

Now for the fun part — finding your cache! Once you’ve located your treasure, you get to write your name and the date you found it in the logbook. You also get to search through the contents inside. Caches contain a variety of items, and might include maps, books, and small toys!

One of the most important parts of this activity is the geocaching golden rule: when you take something from a cache, you are honor-bound to leave something else in its place. If you become a member on one of the various geocaching websites, you can often rate your experience online after the fact.

Where are some local/regional places to geocache?
Luckily, there are a ton of great geocaching sites in the DMV area. You can find any number of these online:

Geocaching Trails in Virginia | TrailLink
This list includes close to 100 Virginia geocaching sites, along with trail length for each cache. Notable geocaches include the Woodrow Wilson Bridge and the Virginia Beach Boardwalk trail, if you’re in the mood for a geocaching road trip.

Caches for Kids, Northern Virginia |
Caches include those located at Claude Moore Park, Bull Run Park, and Aldie Mill, among dozens of other locations.

Geocaching in Virginia |
Limit your search results to any of the major cities in Virginia, and browse the latest caches hidden.

You can also get involved with the Northern Virginia Geocaching Organization, which is dedicated to “promoting safe, responsible, and environmentally-friendly geocaching.” The organization often hosts geocaching events in the area.

Is there anything else I should know?
If you’re in the market for a GPS navigation device, provides a plethora of information, including tracker comparisons.

There are also geocaching apps! These apps help simplify search and navigation for the whole process. Some popular free apps include Geocaching Intro (Apple/Android), c:geo, and CacheSense.

Happy hunting!

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