My son and I had dabbled in geocaching over the past few years until last Spring when it suddenly became the most brilliant outdoor activity in the world. We didn’t have to leave our neighborhood during COVID restrictions, we were able to physically distance from other people while we rambled off the paved pathways searching for treasure, and we didn’t have to drive anywhere (a quick search revealed that we could find over 50 hidden caches without leaving our neighborhood)!
Geocaching is an affordable family activity with virtually no learning curve. Children and youth of all ages will be motivated to get outside, and it’s a great opportunity for family bonding. My family has been geocaching with friends this Spring and have found happiness in being able to meet up with others in a safe environment outdoors.
What is geocaching and how to get started
Geocaching.com describes geocaching as a “real-world, outdoor treasure hunting game using GPS-enabled devices. Participants navigate to a specific set of GPS coordinates and then attempt to find the geocache (container) hidden at that location.” Don’t worry if this sounds complicated. You can use your smartphone to locate the geocaches and even those of us who are directionally challenged can learn how to follow the easy-to-use app.
Getting started requires the following five steps:
1. Register for a free account at geocaching.com. You can also upgrade to a premium membership, which allows you to search for a larger collection of caches.
2. Load a geocaching app on your phone (my family likes the Groundspeak app).
3. Open the app and search the map to find caches near your house (traditional caches show up as little green boxes).
4. Use your phone to navigate to the cache and try to find the hidden container. I recommend paying attention to the difficulty, terrain, and size. As a beginner, you’ll want to choose larger caches instead of starting with micros (often the size of a matchbox or a small pill container). I also click on the ‘hint’ to help narrow down the search. My family always reads the description for additional hints and tips, and we read the ‘activity’ section for each cache to see when it was last found. If it was last found a year ago, it might mean it’s either super hard to find or it’s gone missing. You’ll also find additional tips under the ‘activity’ section from other users who have already found the cache and left a comment (you have to leave a comment with every found cache).
5. Log your find. Click ‘log’ when you have found your geocache, leave a comment, and then enjoy the victory that comes with the happy face that appears over that cache. Also, open the cache to sign the physical log book. (I recommend bringing a pencil with you because many small caches won’t have one.) Many caches also have treasure in them (small trade-able trinkets). The basic rule with ‘trading’ is, you must leave something equal in value to the treasure you are taking out of the cache.
These five steps apply to phone geocaching. If you want to use a traditional GPS device, visit geoaching.com.
Five great places to try geocaching in Calgary
1. Bowness Park, NW. There are several easy-to-find geocaches spread out around this large park. You’ll also find a playground, picnic sites with fire pits or stoves, a wading pool, a pond with boat rentals, and paved pathways for biking. From Bowness, you can also cross the river where you’ll find more geocaching in Baker Park (along with a disc golf course). You can also head west into Valley Ridge (which involves climbing stairs), or head east into the Bowmont Natural Area following the paved pathway. You could spend the whole of Spring exploring the pathways, neighborhoods, and natural areas that are all accessible from Bowness Park.
2. Nose Hill Park. There are several parking areas for this large urban park with geocaches to find from each one. If you want to bike around the park, I recommend starting from the Shaganappi Trail parking lot where you’ll find paved pathways to traverse the park. If you’re on foot, my family always starts from the John Laurie Boulevard parking lot or from one of the trailheads off 14 Street.
From 14 Street, make sure you find the Nose Hill Siksikaitsitapi Medicine Wheel (a virtual cache), the Nose Hill labyrinth (A Mazing Cache), or one of the earth caches where you might find a large glacial erratic. These caches usually require some reading and a question that you must answer for your log.
3. Prince’s Island to St. Patrick’s Island, Downtown. Bring the bikes, inline skates, or scooters and head out for some playground hopping and geocaching fun downtown. You’ll find several caches hidden along the river between Prince’s Island Park and St. Patrick’s Island. The kids will also enjoy stopping at three different playgrounds along the route, all connected by a paved pathway. For a longer bike ride, consider starting in Edworthy Park and taking the Bow River Pathway downtown. There are several caches to find along the route on both sides of the river.
4. The Weaselhead Natural Area in North Glenmore Park, SW. Hike down to the Elbow River from North Glenmore Park and enjoy a 5-kilometre hike through the Weaselhead Natural Area as you hunt for geocaches along the way. My family found seven geocaches the last time we did this scenic hike, and it was easy to forget that we were still in the city. Back in North Glenmore Park, there are playgrounds and picnic areas with fire pits or stoves. No bikes or dogs are allowed in the Weaselhead Natural Area. You’ll also leave the paved pathway behind for this hike.
5. Fish Creek, South. This large provincial park has many access points across South Calgary and you’ll find geocaching opportunities from each parking area. You can either bike the paved pathways or head out on foot to explore the dirt trails. Due to the size of this park, look at the geocaching map ahead of time to plot out your route. You may need bikes if you want to find several caches in the same outing. Otherwise, you could spend springtime exploring the different parts of this park.
Tanya is a freelance writer and mom to an energetic boy. She loves hiking, camping, skiing, and all things mountain-related. She is the author of the blog, Family Adventures in the Canadian Rockies, rockiesfamilyadventures.com.
Calgary’s Child Magazine © 2021 Calgary’s Child