GeocachingAbout a year ago, my family and I discovered Geocaching, an amazing outdoor activity that teaches kids to read… maps, that is! We had heard about it from various people, and thought we’d give it a try one fall weekend when heading out for hike.

Our kids generally love the outdoors, but the idea of a 2 hour trek through the forest didn’t do much for them. But when we mentioned we’d combine it with a treasure hunt, and their challenge would be to find hidden treasures along the trail, they couldn’t wait to get going!

Geocaching is a real-world outdoor treasure hunting game. Players try to locate hidden containers, called geocaches, using GPS-enabled devices. There are over 1,500,000 hidden geocaches all over the world, so chances are, there are some near you.

Our first time, we happened to be going to Pinnacle, in Quebec’s Eastern Townships, and we found out on the geocaching.com website that there were at least 3 hidden caches there, along our planned hike route. Yay!

You don’t need much more than a GPS-enabled device (in our case, iPhones!), and a free membership on Geocaching.com. There you can search their database for caches near you or near your destination: you’re sure to find one! You will get the exact GPS coordinates of the ‘cache’, as well as a description of the site and other attributes (difficulty, for example).

Geocaching app

Once you get closer, use your GPS or smart phone with Geocaching app, and navigate closer to the hiding spot. I loved doing this with the iPhone app, because it would tell us how close we were (ie: 53 meters), and in what direction to move (ie: NE). Because we happened to be in the woods, this was very useful! We pulled out the iPhone compass, and taught the kids to read it. They loved swapping between the Geocaching app to see if they were getting closer, and then the compass, to get back on track.

When you’re within a couple of meters, it’s basically just a question of looking for a little hidden container. They don’t contain much, little trinkets people have left behind, and the basic concept is you can take the trinket if you replace it with something else.

Once you’ve found the cache, you log that you’ve found it, either using the smartphone app or the Geocaching website.

Sutton Round Top

Our kids at the summit!

We found all 3 that first day, and spent a good three hours on our hike without a single complaint from the kids. We’ve repeated the experience several times since, and no longer ask the kids: Shall we go for a hike? But rather: Shall we go geocaching? The answer is always yes… :-)

This is an activity I HIGHLY recommend, as it has taught the kids so much about general navigation outdoors: reading a GPS, compass, understanding distances, etc. And of course, it’s a great way to spend a few hours outdoors with the whole family, which is always priceless.

Want more information? Watch this video that tells you everything you need to know!