GPS Treasure Hunting for Beginners

A GPS treasure hunt. Can you think of anything more exciting? It’s like an Indiana Jones-style scavenger hunt. This style of treasure hunt brings to mind the movie Scavenger Hunt from 1979. (Yes. I saw that as a child, which makes me 46 this year.)



The Basics of the GPS Treasure Hunt

A treasure hunt with your GPS is called geocaching. That’s pronounced (jee oh cashing). Instead of a treasure map with a large X to mark the spot like pirates use to bury treasure, people hide caches, and mark them with GPS coordinates. Also, they’re not buried in the ground. Instead, there are a variety of cache styles and types that people hide in plain sight. There’s no digging involved.

There are millions of hidden geocaches around the world. While geocaching has been around for years, many treasure hunters are only finding out about it recently as GPS-enabled phones are making it easier to find locations. Even celebrities are enjoying geocaching with their families.

I’ve lived in this city for most of my life, and on the last geocache search near the local animal shelter, we found a hidden shrine in the woods nearby. It had plaques with names on it as well as a memorial bench. I’d never have known about it otherwise. It’s like seeing the city with fresh eyes.

Hidden treasures

Bring the Kids on a Treasure Hunt

It’s a terrific Sunday activity for the entire family, but you have to make sure that the locations chosen are ones that have an appropriate difficulty level. When a geocacher leaves a cache for others to find, they’ll label the location with clues and a rating system, depending on the system used by the app or website.

Difficulty and Terrain Rating for Caches

On most websites or apps, they’re labeled with a difficulty rating and a terrain rating. A marking of D/1 and T/1 is the easiest cache to find. The difficulty rating of 1 means that it won’t take long to find. A terrain rating of 1 means that it doesn’t require a long hike and the terrain will be flat or paved. The ratings climb from there to the hardest, which is D/5 and T/5. Those are not for beginner geocachers. They’ll require special equipment, tools, and puzzle-solving abilities.

Tools you Need:

  • GPS Device or Smartphone
  • Pen for the Logbook
  • Treasure to Exchange
  • Setting up Your Account

App for Your GPS Treasure Hunt

You’ll have to choose a website or an app for this activity. The most popular app is available from Before heading out to find your first treasure, you have to sign up for an account with the site. Create a username and password to access a free version of the app. From there, you can hit the play store compatible with your smartphone to download the app. Use your website information to sign in to the app.


Heading out the Door on Your Hunt

Once you’ve created your account and downloaded the app, you’ll need to consider where you’re going to search. It’s best to find a location close to home on your first outing. For mine, I headed to the local park. I’ve been going to that park most of my life, and I still had a hard time locating the cache.

If you use a GPS device, you’ll need to select your locations prior to leaving home. With a smartphone, you can search on the fly. In this┬áresearch phase, it can save time if you look at the cache online. Under the menu marked Play on, you can find options like Find a Geocache, Hide a Geocache, Log a Geocache, and Find Trackables. This makes it easier to plan your trip.

Beginner Tips

  • Take a bottle of water with you. Searching is thirsty work!
  • Have a flashlight handy. It could take longer than you expect.
  • Wear closed toe shoes, sneakers, or hiking boots. The terrain might be rough.
  • Spray you and the kids with sunscreen and insect repellent.
  • Bring a camera to record your find.
  • Pens and a notebook for recording your log.
  • Bring your own trinkets and treasures to leave behind in the cache.
  • Trouble Finding the Cache


Check for Clues

Even with some research, it can be tough to find cleverly hidden caches. If they were right in the open, it wouldn’t be as much fun! On the website or app, there can sometimes be clues to help you find the cache. In some cases, other cachers have left pictures of the cache, which can give you a clue to its whereabouts.

If you read the clues, check the pictures, and still can’t find the cache, you can label it as a DNF, which means Did Not Find.

We Found the Cache!

Once you find the cache, you can do a little treasure-finding dance. Open the cache to see what’s inside. This is the best part of the experience. There will most likely be a log book, and there could be trinkets. If you take a trinket, leave one in its place. The traded items have to be as awesome as the ones you take.

Fill out the logbook with the date of the find and replace it exactly where you found it originally. It might be tempting to place it in a spot that is even harder to find, but that could potentially ruin the clues.

You can report your find in the log for the cache online. Don’t forget to thank the cache hider with a TFTF (thanks for the find) or TFTC (thanks for the cache).

Once you’ve returned the cache to its hiding place, you’re ready to head to the next GPS treasure hunt location. You might even be inspired to create your own cache and hide it where the muggles won’t find it.

Good luck on your first hunt!

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