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Treasure hunts go GPS

Treasure hunts go GPS

Treasure hunts go GPSAre you looking for something fun and active that can get the whole family working together as a team this summer? Geocaching may be the answer. Pronounced geo-cashing, this outdoor activity involves using a hand-held satellite device – global positioning system (GPS) – to search for a cache or hidden treasure such as a small toy or message under a log, hanging from a tree or hidden anywhere that’s easy to search. It could be in the city, in a national park, on a provincial hiking trail or in any other publicly accessible area. Trying to find the designated item can keep your whole family out walking or hiking for hours – without even realizing how much activity you’re getting.  

When André Bentivoglio, a parent of two children ages 3 and 7, first heard about geocaching last winter, he couldn’t wait to try it. He described it to his kids as a new kind of treasure hunt, which got them very excited about the activity. “My kids just get such a kick out of it,” André says. “They even insisted on bringing shovels the first time, but my wife actually spotted the cache hanging in a tree.”

Learning how to be a “cacher”
Start your hunt by going to a website that lists local geocaches (see below for resources). Enter the geographical coordinates, marked in degrees of latitude and longitude, into your GPS and read any additional hints. (If you don’t have a GPS, read about how to find an inexpensive one below.) The majority of geocaches involve a moderate amount of walking or hunting to find the item, but the geocache website will tell you how difficult the terrain will be and how easy the item is to find. “Every single one is different,” André says. “There are some you can walk to and others you have to hike and jump over logs. Some you can find in 30 seconds and others you may not find at all. It’s a good way to experience something that’s both mentally and physically challenging.”

Even if you don’t have a GPS, you can still have fun on the trails. Try having a scavenger hunt by going out into the woods with a list of things to find such as certain birds, trees, insects and plants. For even more fun, go out ahead of time and bury a small treasure in a place you can easily find again. Write up clues and use a compass to help your child find the treasure.

Tips for your first geocache outing

  • Choose at least two or three caches that are walking distance from each other and stick to a familiar area your first time out.
  • Pack an item you’d like to trade.
  • Bring all coordinates, hints or comments about the cache from your geocaching website, some paper, a pen, water to drink, comfortable walking shoes and insect repellent (if going on a trail).
  • Be prepared to search a large area when arriving on the site. A GPS can be accurate within 10 to 20 metres, but in valleys and remote areas where there are not as many satellites, or where there are many obstacles like trees, the accuracy can be reduced.
  • If you drive to a location, mark where you are parked on the GPS so you can find your way back if the cache is a fair distance away.
  • Stay on the trails, even if you need to walk away from the cache’s coordinates. This will protect you from poison ivy and will reduce your impact on the environment.
  • Try not to be disappointed if you don’t find something on your first trip out. It’s the searching that’s the most fun part anyway.
  • Keep some spare socks and shoes in the car in case of rain or crossing wet terrain.

Buying a GPS
The price tag for a new GPS unit is about $130. There are many ways you can reduce this cost:

  • Ask about refurbished models. These units were returned to the factory and then rebuilt to warranty-approved condition. They are usually priced much lower than new models.
  • If you already have a cellphone, laptop or Blackberry with GPS capability, you can order a GPS service and pay a monthly fee.
  • Go geocaching with another family so that you may share in the cost of the GPS.

Children need at least 60 minutes of moderate activity most days of the week, but Canada’s Report Card on Physical Activity in Children and Youth 2008 says screen time (time spent in front of television, video games or computers for entertainment) is replacing active play. Kids reported between three and four hours of television on weekdays and six to seven and a half hours per day on the weekends. By switching screen time for fun activities like geocaching, kids can live a more heart-healthy lifestyle.

Try these geocaching websites:

International (one of the largest geocaching sites with many, many local listings in Canada) 

Canada’s National Parks

British Columbia




Quebec (French)

Atlantic Canada (New Brunswick, P.E.I. Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador)



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