What’s totally free, gets you outdoors, is fun for the whole family, is almost exactly like a treasure hunt, and can be done in Houston but also all over the world? Geocaching! This “sport” has been around over a dozen years, but don’t worry if you haven’t heard of it. We’ll tell you all you need to know to get started!
What is Geocaching?
When you geocache, you hunt for small containers hidden in the landscape by people that plant them in nooks and crannies just for you to find them. You find these containers using your phone, which takes you to the location, and then you use your treasure hunting skills (and sometimes a few hints) to find the exact place they are hidden. The kind folks that hide the containers do it just for fun – there’s no financial incentive, and the fun is to surprise and delight – and to see how many people can find it!
Geocaches abound all over Houston, so it’s the perfect thing to get your kids outdoors and in pursuit of a super fun goal.
How do I get started?
You’ll need a few key things if you want to have a successful geocaching experience:
- Close-toed shoes, water, sunscreen, and bug spray: these caches are in the great outdoors, and sometimes they can be pretty hidden. You may find yourself in a forest, a field, in a neighborhood, or near a bayou – so make sure you’re really ready to explore!
- The Geocaching app: this free app by company Groundspeak is available for iOS and Android. You will want to download the app on any phones that will be involved in the hunt. We made a family account so we can log all our finds on the same app, and we signed in on multiple phones. With a free account, you can access tons of easy and medium level geocaches. A paid, annual account gets you harder caches, but don’t do this until you get really good! There are plenty of free ones to choose from.
- Your phone: You will need to access the app on your phone so you can choose a cache to find, navigate to it, see information about the cache, and record that you’ve found it, among other things. Don’t worry, you won’t be buried in your phone the whole time – it’s just a tool to help you get to your goal.
- A pen: It’s fun to sign your name when you find a geocache, and most of them contain a list to do just that!
- Small trinkets: The larger geocaches may have small toys or trinkets inside, so bring a few of your own so you can either contribute or swap them out. Good geocache etiquette requires that if you take something from a cache, you put something back in!
Once you’ve got everything ready, you’ll need to know some geocaching vocabulary. This is an extremely popular hobby with a dedicated following, and like any specialized craft, there are plenty of new words to learn!
- Geocache: this is the actual container you will find – “geo” because it’s located using GPS, and “cache” because the container has things inside it. Geocaches can be tiny (size of a kid’s finger) to the size of a shoebox, and anything in between. They are usually made of something very sturdy like metal or plastic, and many are magnetic because they are affixed to metal of some kind. There are also those hidden in the landscape under brush. Sometimes they are painted to camouflage with their surroundings. The goal is for the inside not to get wet, because there’s stuff in there!
- Muggle: when you search for caches, it’s very important that innocent passersby not see you find it or place it back. These people are called muggles – if they do see you, they might get curious and take the cache or put it back in the wrong spot, which would ruin the fun for everyone. Watch for muggles and wait for them to pass!
- DNF: In the racing world, this means “did not finish,” but in the geocaching world, it means “did not find.” When you try to locate a geocache but you just can’t find it, log a DNF in the app so others know it wasn’t found. Sometimes caches get moved or lost (remember muggles?), so this alerts others that it might not be there – or may be super hard to find.
- TFTC (Thanks for the Cache!): You might see this abbreviation when you’re looking through the activity section on a cache – people write TFTC when they find a cache to to thank the person who originally hid it.
- FTF (First to Find): This is the ultimate achievement in geocaching – being the “first to find” a geocache! They are being placed all the time, so you may very well get a FTF in your adventures.
How to Geocache with Kids
Pre-planning is key when geocaching with kids. It doesn’t take long, but you will increase your chances of success if you:
- Bring plenty of water and snacks: you don’t want to cut your adventure short because the kids are hungry or thirsty, so pack a bag like you’re doing some light hiking.
- Keep the explanation simple: Tell them they are going on an outdoor treasure hunt! They won’t get to keep the treasure unless you find a cache with trinkets, but it’s really rewarding and fun to find a geocache regardless.
- Find a spot with several geocaches: Sometimes caches are hard to find or not there anymore, so make sure to guarantee success and increase your odds. Great places in Houston include along the major bayous, larger thoroughfares (think Heights Blvd, Heights or Midtown Hike and Bike Trails), parks (Memorial Park and the Arboretum are great spots), and unique neighborhoods (Old Sixth Ward). The rule in placing caches is that it has to be free to enter so it’s accessible to everyone.
- Try, try again! Sure, it’s frustrating if you can’t find a cache, but keep hunting and you will be rewarded. On our last outing, we found 2 of the 4 we searched for. I’m pretty sure one was there and we missed it, and the other I think was legitimately missing. We have small kids so searching for a long time isn’t an option. Better to move on and get a quick win by finding a different one! You can always go back and try again another time.
We hope geocaching is as fun for your family is at is for ours. Hopefully we’ll see your name on a geocache around Houston soon!