Geocaching is an outdoor adventure where participants seek locations or cleverly hidden containers using a GPS device or free mobile app. It’s often called a game of high-tech hide and seek, sharing aspects of orienteering and treasure hunting. It’s a great way to discover new places and head off on a route you wouldn’t otherwise choose. Geocaches, typically a waterproof container with logbook and small “prizes,” can be found all over Colorado with some especially unique locations located along Northern Colorado’s majestic Continental Divide from Clear Creek County to Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park. The real prize, however, is the scenery and adventure found along the way. The best part is, anyone can be a geocacher.
When the Global Positioning System spread to the masses in the early 2000s, a community of modern “treasure hunters” emerged, leading to the creation of geocaching. It has now become a worldwide phenomenon thanks to smartphones and affordable GPS units. Participants use coordinates to locate strategically placed hidden containers. Once discovered, the idea is to take a “prize” left inside and leave a new trinket of your own. In all, Colorado has more than 22,000 to find and there’s more than 2.5 million geocaches in over 180 countries around the world, so it can be a never-ending exploit.
People usually choose to geocache because it’s a way to explore the world around them with friends and family. It’s also fun. According to geocaching.
com, it is a game that “reveals a world beyond the everyday, where the possibility of a new discovery hides under park benches, in the forest and probably a short walk from where you are right now (literally).”
The best way to get started is to visit Geocaching.com. There are more than 10 million registered users on the site, with more than 800,000 in the United States. It’s just a matter of registering for a free member account, purchasing a GPS device or downloading a free app and getting out on your high-tech scavenger hunt. Record your finding in the container logbook and online once you complete the journey. Geocaching.com allows users to locate caches according to city, address, zip code or latitude and longitude. Geocachingcolo.com has a number of notable Colorado caches.
A geocacher first hides a geocache, lists it on Geocaching.com and challenges other geocachers to find it. At minimum, geocaches contain a logbook for finders to sign. After signing, finders log their experience on Geocaching.com or with the Geocaching app and earn a reward in the form of a digital smiley. Some geocaches contain small trinkets for trade. If a geocacher takes something from the geocache, they replace it with something of equal or greater value and return it where it was found for the next geocacher.
Geocaches, which are never buried, can be in forests, parks, urban locations or just about anywhere. Geocache listings include difficulty and terrain ratings, with 1 being the easiest and 5 being the most difficult, to help geocachers choose an adventure that is right for them. GPS accuracy will be limited to a 30-foot area. Distances can be deceiving and a geocache can take longer to find depending on trails, rivers and other obstacles. Along the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway, geocaches can be found in numerous locations including Rocky Mountain National Park, the National Forests and Golden Gate Canyon State Park. There are also geocaches on top of 14ers Longs Peak and Mount Evans
Geocaching.com provides a set of guidelines for geocache placement. The guidelines include important rules that keep geocaching fun, and legal, for everyone involved. If a geocache clearly violates one of these rules, community members who review new geocaches may ask the hider to fix the issue.
Don’t let your adventure stand in the way of safety. Once you locate a cache you want to find, write down its coordinates and enter them into your GPS or phone. Before you leave on your hunt, make sure you have extra batteries, appropriate clothing, and food. Also bring a map and compass and check the geocaching terrain for difficulty ratings. Before you start, mark your car as a waypoint to ensure a safe return. Tread lightly. Geocachers are encouraged to practice minimum impact behavior and remain on trails at all times. Always obey local signs and regulations.
A popular GeoTour, or specific grouping of several geocaches, is the Across the Divide GeoTour including locations in Rocky Mountain National Park, Estes Park and Grand Lake. Traveling from town to town, the tour crosses the Continental Divide in Rocky Mountain National Park reaching an elevation of over 12,000 feet. There are a total of 47 caches on the tour.
In honor of the National Park Service’s Centennial in 2016, and the “Find Your Park” campaign, the Find Your Park GeoTour was launched to help millions of geocachers celebrate national parks and partner places. At least 30 parks have registered a total of nearly 90 geocaches for the GeoTour, and additional parks are currently developing geocaching programs. The Park Service permits geocaching when the activity is directed by park management and has an educational component
“The National Park Service is proud to work with Geocaching HQ on the Find Your Park GeoTour,” NPS Northeast Regional Director Mike Caldwell said. “The national parks across the country participating in this program are ready and eager to welcome geocachers from around the world to some of the extraordinary places that make up the national park system.” Geocaching HQ CEO and co-founder Jeremy Irish said, “We’re very proud of this partnership. Our mission is to help everyone become an explorer. We’re thrilled that geocaching gives people another reason to explore national parks.”
The Rocky Mountain Conservancy offers two different geocaching adventures recommended for first-time geocachers this summer. Using a GPS unit, discover the natural treasures along Upper Beaver Meadows trail, June 21, July 5, 19 and Aug. 2. Follow the clues left in nature to uncover the hidden mysteries located in this upper montane ecosystem. The class is designed for kids and parents who want to spend time in Rocky Mountain National Park learning about nature while enjoying the adventure and fun of practicing a new skill. There is also a class in the ecologically diverse area inside Rocky Mountain National Park known as Hollowell Park, June 14, 28, July 12, 26 and Aug. 9. Kids will learn about the various plants and animals that reside around this riparian area and experience the adventure and fun of using a GPS unit to find hidden clues around the meadow.
EarthCaches are category of geocaches where the prize isn’t a trinket, but locating and documenting geologic landmarks. Many locations in Rocky Mountain National Park are EarthCaches. Players complete the mission by answering questions or sending a photo of the landmark. Other popular EarthCaches in Colorado can be found at Garden of the Gods Park, Dinosaur Ridge, Mesa Verde, Red Rocks Park and Hanging Lake.
While there are geocaches all over the state, regulations abound. Boulder County, for example, requires a permit for the placement of geocaches in its Parks and Open Space areas.
Geocaches are not allowed in Colorado’s Wilderness areas and Colorado State Parks generally require a permit for the placing them. Some of the State Parks prohibit physical geocaches altogether. If you are planning to place a geocache in a Colorado State Park, contact the park office to find out the geocaching regulations/permitting process.
Larimer County Parks and Open Space areas require written permission placing geocaches.
Geocaches are generally allowed on Jefferson County Open Space if they conform to their placement guidelines. Cathedral Spires Park, Centennial Cone Park, Lookout Mountain Nature Center and Preserve do not allow geocaches.
For those who are really into it, geocachingcolo.com hosts an annual campout and geocache weekend. This year’ event taks place at Cutthroat Bay at Lake Granby, July 29-31. The 2016 GCCO Campout is the premier event in Colorado. This year organizers have “pulled out all of the stops” with multiple smaller events throughout the weekend, new cache hides, lots of prizes, and beautiful scenery.
Geocaching is something the entire family can enjoy and is a great way to explore a new area, get more exercise and learn new skills. It’s also easy and inexpensive to get started. Even if planning on going on a hike anyway, check and see if a geocache is located along the way. Join in today with the other dedicated geocache followers in Colorado itching to get their hands on the most coveted caches.
Geocaching in Colorado
Geocaching at Colorado State Parks
Misc. Regulations in Colorado
Geocaching in Boulder County
Geocaching in Jefferson County
Across the Divide GeoTour – Estes Park to Grand Lake
Originally published in the June 2016 issue of the MMAC Monthly
Photos courtesy www.geocaching.com