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A Beginner’s Guide to Geocaching in Portland, Part One

We’re Portland. Outdoorsy, nature-y, and family-friendly. That’s our thing, right? But sometimes I find my kiddos are loathe to go on a hike or a long walk, despite their Portland roots. If only there were a way to make it more exciting and interesting for my kids to wander around the woods with their parents. Enter geocaching!

Portland Moms Blog is sharing the basics of geocaching, some of the best geocaching spots in Portland, and how to finesse your adventures in and around the city and make it fun for kids. And hopefully, you’ll be hooked!

Geocaching

What is Geocaching?

The term geocaching comes from the roots geo (Earth, world) and cache (hidden or to hide). Essentially, it is the practice of hiding and finding small items out in the world. Imagine if there were a not-so-secret map of treasures available to you, right here in your city? Well there is, and that map is at the heart of geocaching. Even more amazing is that this map extends beyond Portland, beyond Oregon, and beyond the United States. Every time my family goes on vacation, we look for caches. Even better, geocaching is a great, collaborative activity that can be introduced at any age level.

What is a Cache?

A cache is usually a container of some kind, ranging in size from nano (maybe the size of a bullet or thimble) to large (I once saw a four-quart paint bucket!). All caches contain a paper log where those who find it can record their name and date; larger caches often contain toys or other trinkets for geocachers to trade. One rule about geocaching: if you take something from a cache, you must to leave something in return.

How Does Geocaching Work?

Six-year-old finds a nano cache on her first attempt!

Let’s say Tina has a medium-sized cache to hide; a small plastic jar wrapped in camouflage tape. She puts a log and a pen inside, then hides it somewhere clever in Laurelhurst Park. She goes to her geocaching app and enters the coordinates for where her cache is located, rating it based on size (nano, small, medium, etc), difficulty (1.0-5.0) and terrain (1.0-5.0). Tina also provides a brief description of the cache and possibly the surrounding area, often with an interesting tidbit of information or local history. Once Tina’s cache is loaded, it appears on a map in the geocaching app.

Along comes Jackie in Laurelhurst Park. She opens the app and sees Tina’s cache on the map; she can then try to find it using the provided coordinates. She can even (in theory) walk right to it, as the mobile app gives geocachers reasonably accurate GPS navigation (tree cover can interfere with GPS accuracy). Of course, sometimes you can be right on top of the cache and still not see it, depending on how well it is hidden!

Once Jackie finds the cache, she opens it up, writes her name on the log, and marks in the app that she has found it. She also writes a note about her experience, or just a quick thank you to Tina for hiding the cache.

Why Would Anybody Do This?

Caches can often be pretty tricky. I’ve found some hidden under fake rocks, stuck in false magnetic nails, and burrowed into hard-to-reach places. I’ve also stumbled on some without any effort or found some after over an hour of searching. There have been plenty of others that I was never able to find. The thrill of the hunt and wackiness of the hiding spot can lead to some pretty fantastic adventures. The kids can really get into it and often have better “geo-senses” than I do!

How Do I Get Started?

Medium-sized cache with toys inside!

If you are brand new to geocaching, sign up for a membership at geocaching.com, then download the geocaching app and log in. Free accounts allow you to see the caches that are near you, while the paid version lets you search for caches in advance and locate “premium” caches.

Head outside and open up the app. Look for a green (standard) cache on the map. Try to find one with a low difficult rating (1.0-1.5) that is not nano or x-small. Select your cache and try to find it! Once you do, record your name in the log and mark the cache as found in the app. Now you’re a geocacher!

What Else Do I Need to Know?

Here are a few key terms that may be useful to know ahead of time:

  • People who don’t know about geocaching are called muggles. Geocachers are supposed to be stealthy so nearby muggles don’t know the mischief they are up to.
  • Caches sometimes contain small items on key chains called travel bugs. You can pick one up and record that you snagged it, then place it in another cache somewhere else. My son once grabbed a travel bug that had gone all across Europe, Africa, South America, and the U.S.!
  • Some cache descriptions use acronyms. TOTT (Tools of the Trade) can be tweezers, screwdrivers, or other things useful in retracting a sneaky cache. TFTC means Thanks for the Cache. BYOP is used when a cache is so small it doesn’t contain a pen/pencil, so bring your own.

You are all set for your first geocaching adventure! In our next post in this series, we’ll review kid-friendly caches throughout Portland, and share the best sites for a day of geocaching with kids in-tow!

Did you give geocaching a try after reading this post? Leave a comment and let us know how it went!

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