The following article is a paid collaboration with Wild, Wonderful West Virginia.
Remember those epic summer camp scavenger hunts when you were a kid? Geocaching is a modern-day treasure hunt for the whole family, and West Virginia adds a unique historic spin.
When you’re geocaching, you use a GPS device to track down hidden caches (boxes of items) using location coordinates. Thanks to GPS technology and smartphones, geocaching has grown into an international community with caches nearly everywhere on the planet.
Lucky for us, the Mountain State is loaded with caches and "geocache trails." Gather your family and friends, tell everyone to bring their smartphones, and start on one of these adventures. We promise you’ll be transported to that scavenger hunt at “Camp Awesome” back when you were 13.
A Few Ground Rules First
There are some important ground rules. In state parks and forests, you need a permit before you can hide a cache. If you take something from a cache, always replace it with something else. Use environmentally sound manners when you’re geocaching (leave no trace, follow established trails and generally respect the wilderness setting). And remember that anyone can find a cache, so only hide appropriate items.
State Park Geocaches
West Virginia’s state park system is amazing in so many ways that it should come as no surprise that more than 25 WV state parks have pre-existing caches. In fact, most of them have quite a few to choose from. Geocaches usually involve a theme of some sort and WV’s geocaches run the gamut from whitewater river themes to cave lore to railroad culture to local historical topics. Besides the adventure of just finding the caches, most will add to the fun by asking you to do something a little extra or give you a lesson about the area.
For example, if you find Babcock State Park’s "Glade Creek Waterfall" geocache, you’ll have to find the PH level, the current flow rate and the current water temperature of Glade Creek in order to get credit for the geocache. Beartown State Park’s “Goldilock’s Worst Nightmare Earthcache” is all about the geology and ecology of the park. At Chief Logan State Park, the “Steam Power” geocache is a lesson in steam locomotive culture and the historical importance of steam power.
Besides the state parks, look for other dedicated geocache trails around the state, like the WV Civil War GeoTrail, the Hatfield McCoy GeoTrail and the Coal Heritage GeoTrail. Each of these GeoTrails has several stops that revolve around the subject, and they’ll have you travelling to both historically and culturally interesting spots to find your caches.
Check out the WV Civil War GeoTrail to search for 75 caches at important Civil War sites throughout West Virginia, while learning how the Civil War shaped the state’s history. Visit historic sites, like the former Blue Sulphur Springs Resort that was once known for its rejuvenating waters, but all that’s left now is a pavilion. Or visit Organ Cave to learn not only about the geology and terminology, but also its history as a Confederate hideout.*
Along the Hatfield McCoy GeoTrail, track down 16 different caches to learn about the historic feud between the West Virginia and Kentucky families. Along the trail, visit noteworthy historical sites such as "Devil" Anse Hatfield’s birthplace and gravesite; the Battle of Grapevine Creek, which was the last battle between the feuding families; the Hatfield and McCoy Feud marker at Matewan; and the “Pawpaw Incident,” where another chapter of violence between the 2 families was sparked.
The Coal Heritage GeoTrail will have you traversing all over the state to find its 16 caches associated with WV’s coal heritage. Travel through Southern West Virginia to places like the historic town of Mullens, downtown Welch along the Tug Fork River, the Exhibition Coal Mine in Beckley, and Thurmond-Minden Trail (also known as the Rend Trail) in the New River Gorge National River.
There are whole slew of other geocaches in the Mountain State. Some take you to some of the most remote, wild areas of West Virginia, so you may need to be solidly fit or use your wilderness orienteering skills. Others are in easy-to-get-to public places like museums, town parks and local tourist attractions.
Some local favorites: the Hawk Observatory Tower geocache, which is at the Hanging Rock Raptor Observatory, high atop Peters Mountain; Bushwackers View deep in the Dolly Sods Wilderness; and the Indiana Jones and Raiders of the Lost Arc cache around Charles Fork Lake in Spencer.
So go round up your family and friends, charge up your phone and start tracking down those coordinates. Geocaching is much more about the journey to new places in the state than the actual caches themselves.
For more information about Mountain State geocaching, contact the WV State Parks.
*Organ Cave history tours are religiously themed and based on the King James version of the Bible.
Originally written for West Virginia .