Caches like this one are fun for all ages to find.Photo by Jessica Pupillo
Summer break hasn't even begun, and parents everywhere are already dreading the constant arguments over "screen time" that are sure to come. No matter how nice the weather, many kids will choose video games and texting over pools and bike rides. Fortunately, there is at least one great family activity that manages to blend the great outdoors with kid-friendly technology: geocaching.
Geocaching is essentially a high-tech game of hide and seek in which participants try to locate hidden treasures (called geocaches) using a GPS or smart phone. Geocaches vary in size and substance but typically consist of waterproof containers housing a logbook and pencil as well as a "treasure," which can range from unusual coins to books, CDs and small toys. Participants who find a geocache are expected to sign the logbook and then replace the container's treasure with an item of equal or greater value before returning the container to its original location.
Since the game began in 2000, literally millions of people have taken up the activity including a great many St. Louisans. Hundreds – possibly thousands – of geocaches are currently hidden throughout the St. Louis area. There's a good chance that one can be found within a short walk of your home or your favorite park.
Becoming a geocacher is easier and faster than you might guess. There are a number of great books on the subject (including "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Geocaching" and "Geocaching for Dummies"), but unsurprisingly, the best place to get started is online.
The most popular website by far is geocaching.com. This comprehensive, user-friendly site is designed for newbies and experts alike and is loaded with information, tools and coordinates for millions of geocaches worldwide. You have to sign up as a member to access coordinates, but a basic membership is free and sign up is easy.
After you sign up, you can begin searching immediately for a geocache near you. Newcomers to the activity are encouraged to start with easy-to-find geocaches. When searching through the online database of nearby geocaches, be sure to pick one that has a difficulty rating of one star and a comparable terrain rating. You don't want to get lost deep in the woods on your first expedition. Also be sure to select a regular-sized or large geocache, as indicated in the online description. Tiny, or micro, geocaches can be difficult to find even for seasoned explorers.
Once you've chosen your geocache, you can enter the coordinates into your GPS or phone and begin hunting. Geocaching.com offers a highly rated app for $9.99, but many others are available including some free ones (Sprout editor Jessica Pupillo downloaded the free "c:geo" app on her Android, linked it to her free Geocaching.com account and in no time was out hunting for hidden trinkets to illustrate this story).
For those hoping to be a part of the local community of geocachers, the St. Louis Area Geocachers Association offers a great option. The group organizes picnics, group cache hunts, lunches and a variety of training activities for both members and non-members. To learn more or to become a member, visit them online at www.geostl.com.
Good caches for kids As I quickly found out myself, there's nothing more disappointing than trooping your kids out into the woods in search of hidden "treasure" and then not being able to find it! If you're just starting out, consider hunting these caches first.
Oh Oh Oh It's Magic! located near The Magic House in Kirkwood Secret Fountain located within Longview Farm Park in Town & Country
Piggy-back your next park trip with a geocaching adventure. Just download a geocaching app, and search for caches within the park.