If you’ve ever dreamed of finding hidden treasure (who hasn’t?), you should try geocaching, a sort of high-tech treasure hunt. With geocaching, you use a smartphone or GPS unit to locate hidden “caches” that are often placed in parks and other wild areas but are sometimes stashed in urban areas. The actual cache is a container that could be as big as a plastic shoe box or ammo box that’s filled with trinkets, rewards, or messages. Or, it could be as small as a 35mm film canister with a simple log sheet where you add your name, home location, and when you discovered the cache.
Now, some of you might say, “What’s the fun in filling out a log?” But, the real fun is the challenge of trying to find the cache, which is not as easy as it sounds. Whether you use a hand-held GPS or a GPS-enabled phone, all devices have varying degrees of accuracy. Even if you have the exact GPS coordinates and stand in that location, the cache could be within a few feet or a few yards of you, and you’ll have to poke around to find it. Plus, some caches are tucked into crevices or cleverly camouflaged to look like rocks or other objects. The hunt is on!
Geocaching not only provides the thrill of the hunt, but it’s also a great way to stay healthy because it gets you outside walking. Plus, caches will lead you to places that you may not have known existed, even in your own hometown. You’ll be testing and stretching your mental abilities, plus it’s just plain fun. Also, kids love hunting for things, so geocaching is an excellent way to get the whole family involved in the outdoors.
Geocaching is a very easy activity to get into, and it’s relatively inexpensive. The only equipment you need is a hand-held GPS unit or a GPS-enabled cell phone.
There are literally thousands of caches located around the world. Beginners should start with the more accessible caches in your local parks and playgrounds. Then, gradually work your way up to more exotic locations like hiking trails where caches may be hidden on a mountain top, near a waterfall, or in a swamp. Along the Alabama Gulf Coast, for instance, there is a cache hidden on an island deep in the rainforest-like Mobile-Tensaw River Delta.
To obtain coordinates for a cache, log on to a geocaching website, such as Geocaching.com. Or, if you’re using a cell-phone, download an app like the one found on Geocaching.com, Cachly, or C:Geo. When you log on or open the app, enter your zip code to get a list of caches near your location. Pick one, enter the coordinates or download them into your unit, and then let the games begin. You’re encouraged to share your experience with others by attaching photos of you and the cache after you find it and describe a little bit about your experience.
Some caches have clues that make the hunt even more adventurous, including encrypted messages that require you to break the code to get the clue. Get to it, Sherlock!
As for rules, there really aren’t many. The main rule is not to move the cache. Leave it where you found it for others to find. If you happen upon a cache of value or one that you are supposed to take with you, you are required to put something back of equal or greater value. If you find that a cache is missing, make a log entry of it on the website or app, so the owner knows that it is gone.
A Twist to the Game
An interesting variation to basic geocaching is the use of a “trackable,” which is an item with a unique code on it. That code is used to track the item as it travels around the world. One type of trackable is a Travel Bug. Owners set goals for the Travel Bug, like visiting every state in the U.S.
If you find a trackable, log into your preferred site, note the code number, and investigate the goal of the trackable. Then, use the provided directions to send it along to its next destination.
Alabama Geocache Sites to Get You Started
Want to try your hand at geocaching? Here are a few great ways to get started in Alabama. Remember, safety first when you’re searching. Good luck!
Dash of the Unexpected Geo Tour
NorthAlabama.org, a website of the Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourist Association, has made it easy for you to get started geocaching. The site hosts the Dash of the Unexpected Geo Tour, which includes plenty of caches where you can enjoy music, learn more about Civil War history, and experience the many charms of small towns across North Alabama. Simply download a copy of the North Alabama 200 Bicentennial Passport, visit Geocaching.com to create a free account, and you will receive 20 coordinates to sites in north Alabama. The passport has some interesting clues like “Fragile: Hot Glass,” “The Battle of Crooked Creek,” and “High Above Huntsville.”
Alabama State Parks
Another great way to get started in the sport is by visiting any Alabama State Park. Almost all of them have geocaches hidden away off the beaten path. Once again, sign on to Geocaching.com, create an account (if you haven’t done so already), and then enter a park’s zip code (you can find them on the state park geocache web page). Then, off you go on your adventure.
Rocket City Stash
Some say that the Rocket City Stash in Huntsville is the oldest continuously active cache in Alabama. It was established in 2001 and is still active.
This one is for experienced geocachers. It’s only accessible by boat or kayak and should only be attempted by experienced paddlers that not only have experience using a GPS but orienteering knowledge as well. The cache is located on an island deep in the heart of the Mobile-Tensaw River Delta, the second largest river delta in the country.
Written by Joe Cuhaj for Matcha in partnership with BCBS of AL and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.