You’re sitting at work one day and you overhear someone at the desk next to you talking about how she went “geocaching” with her family that weekend. You hear how much her kids liked it and that the family went for a nice hike, getting away from their TV, video games, and computers for a few hours.

You think that this thing called geocaching sounds like something your family would enjoy, but you aren’t sure exactly what it is or how to even get started. Read on and we’ll explain everything you wanted to know about geocaching.

Geocaching Basics

According to Geocaching.com, geocaching (“JEE-oh-cash-ing”) is defined as a “worldwide game of hiding and seeking treasure.” Those who participate in a geocaching event are called geocachers—or cachers—and they compete against hundreds (even thousands) of others in seeking a geocache—or simply a cache—which is a hidden container. The container may hold a variety of items, but usually contains a logbook, which geocachers sign once they’ve located the cache. Those who participate say they enjoy this outdoor sporting activity and like that they can geocache anywhere in the world. Once they pinpoint a geocache’s location using GPS navigational technology, they then share the geocache’s existence and location online.

To find caches, you’ll typically need a basic GPS unit. There are also smart phone apps that have an actual GPS or will allow you to input coordinates to find geocaches. If you don’t have access to a GPS unit, know that many state parks, which contain lots of geocaches, also have GPS units for use—just be sure to check with park rangers before you go. Geocaching can also be done with aerial satellite maps and a compass, but it’s much harder and not as accurate.

You can find geocaches in your community or wherever you want to geocache, and there are forums that allow you to connect with other geocachers if you have questions. Sometimes members will organize events where you can meet face-to-face with other cachers.

In addition to Geocaching.com, Groundspeak.com is an online resource for finding different events and games that are location-based.

Earthcaching

One form of geocaching—earthcaching—brings earth science to the game format. Earthcaching refers to a special location that people can find and visit to learn about a unique geoscience feature or aspect of the earth. Visitors to these caches see how the planet has been shaped by geological processes, how resources are managed, and how scientists gather evidence to learn about the earth. It differs from basic geocaching in that you’re looking for a place, not a container.

Good for Families and Kids of All Ages

One benefit of geocaching is that it’s doable for all ages, and it’s also something the whole family can do together. Geocaches are marked with levels of difficulty, with 1 being the easiest and 5 being the most difficult. Younger children have a great time looking for geocaches that are a level 1 or 2. Older children can find the geocaches with a higher level of difficulty, which may require some climbing or hiking on more challenging trails. Families can discover hidden places that they never knew existed while enjoying outdoor time together.

Another benefit is that parents can combine use of maps with use of GPS devices. Learning how to read a map, and telling north from south, east from west, is important knowledge for kids of all ages.

A Sport for All Seasons

Geocaching can be done year-round, and geocache owners will advise whether or not their cache is “winter-friendly.” In winter, some caches will require waiting until swamps or creeks are frozen in order to get to the cache; in other cases, you may have to use snowshoes to tromp through deep snow. Some geocaches might be buried under snow and therefore more difficult to find, but that can also make it more challenging and fun.

So, unplug with your family for a couple of hours and give geocaching a try. You just might discover some really neat places right in your own backyard—and have a family adventure at the same time.

Laura Pink lives in Wisconsin with her two little girls and her husband, Brian. Pink writes the Not Just 9 to 5 Mom blog on WorkingMother.com and a personal blog, Not Just 9 to 5. Her entire family goes geocaching often.

Laura Pink lives in Wisconsin with her two young daughters and her husband, Brian. Pink writes the Not Just 9 to 5 Mom blog at workingmother.com and a personal blog, notjust9to5.com.