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Geocaching and letterboxing are super fun treasure hunting games that entice us to explore the great outdoors while in pursuit of hidden “treasure”. The “treasure” is either a small cache of toys and trading items (in the case of geocaching) or a hand-carved stamp image for your log book (in the case of letterboxing). Sometimes though I think the real treasure is in discovering the beauty of nature that is all around us and getting to spend time together as a family. It’s a nice break from this hectic, fast-paced world in which we live.
If your kids are anything like mine, they would happily spend all day either on the computer or with a video game controller in their hands. So I am constantly looking for ways to get my kids to put away their electronics and go outside to have some fun. One way our family gets the kids to put down their electronics to go outside and enjoy the sunshine is by participating in outdoor treasure hunt games like geocaching, letterboxing, and munzee.
Back in 2006, I learned about geocaching and immediately bought a GPS. I was shocked to learn that there were hundreds of geocaches to find in my hometown alone. There was one literally within a 2 minute walk of my house! We passed it nearly everyday on our after dinner walk and never even knew it was there. All it took was that first cache and we were hooked.
Since then we have discovered a few other outdoor treasure hunt games. We spend nearly every weekend during the spring, summer, and fall on the hunt. My kids have walked countless miles and never complained once – because they are having too much fun searching for the hidden containers.
Each of the outdoor treasure hunting games is slightly different, but they all involve searching for hidden containers, usually placed in parks or scenic areas. There are probably quite a few of these hidden near where you live, so you most likely won’t have to travel far to give the games a try. (Although if you get hooked like our family did, you may find yourself planning whole vacations around these treasure hunts!) Here are the most popular treasure hunting games here in the US:
Geocaching involves using GPS coordinates to find hidden caches. The GPS will get you within 10-20 feet of the hidden cache and then you will have to hunt for the hidden container. Most hidden geocaches contain a log book for you to sign as well as small toys and trinkets for the kids to trade.
To get started, you will need either a Geocaching GPS or the geocaching app for your smartphone. I recommend starting with the smartphone app until you see if you will enjoy geocaching. The app is only $10 which is a lot cheaper than buying a GPS unit. The only disadvantage is that the app can run down your phone battery quickly. Ours never seems to last the whole day and we have to end up using a regular GPS anyway.
If you decide to purchase a GPS, I recommend the Geomate Jr. GPS unit. It is less expensive than other models and comes pre-loaded with 250,000 geocaches covering all 50 states, and many other countries. Although you can get more expensive GPS units, it really isn’t necessary if you are only using it for geocaching.
There are several sites that list the coordinates, but the biggest one by far is Geocaching.com. As of today, there are over 2 million geocaches hidden worldwide and listed on this site. To see the coordinates, you will need to register for a free account.
Although geocaching is by far the most popular of the outdoor treasure hunts in the United States, it is not the only one. Letterboxing is rapidly gaining popularity. Letterboxing originated in the UK in 1854, however it remained largely unknown in the US until Smithsonian Magazine published an article on it in 1998. Following publication of this article, letterboxes started showing up all over the US.
Letterboxing does not require any special equipment. Instead you are going to be following clues to lead you to the hidden container. Clues can be straightforward, or they might be in the form of a puzzle that you have to solve.
Letterboxes differ from geocaches in that there are no trade items. The hidden letterboxes contain a logbook and a rubber stamp. The finder will use this stamp to make an impression in their personal logbook as a keepsake of all the boxes they have found. In addition, most letterboxes carry with them a signature stamp so they can stamp into the box logbook as a record that they were there.
The stamps used in letterboxing are usually hand-carved – at least here in the United States. They really aren’t that hard to make and that is coming from someone who does not have an artistic bone in her body! The Speedball Stamp Carving Kit is great to use if you are just starting out letterboxing and want to make your own signature stamp. Signature stamps don’t have to be overly difficult to carve. Here are the signature stamps that my husband and I use – a teardrop trailer and a Viking helmet.
There are lots of places to find clues for nearby letterboxes, but the two most popular sites are AtlasQuest and Letterboxing North America. I greatly prefer AtlasQuest as it is more user-friendly. Each listing allows you to see when it was last found and read the comments left by other finders. This is really helpful so you can make sure the box hasn’t gone missing before you go out to hunt for it.
Munzee is a relatively new treasure hunt game and requires a smartphone to play. Basically you are searching for hidden QR codes. Over a million have already been hidden worldwide. When you find one, you scan it with the Munzee app and gain points. We typically don’t go out searching for Munzees alone, but if there is one in the area of a letterbox or geocache, we typically find the Munzee too.
To get started finding Munzees in your area, visit Munzee.com to download their free app.
You may discover that your city or county parks have treasure hunts of their own. One local park district has scavenger hunts in several of their parks. You follow the clues on the signs to ultimately find the logbook to sign and a rubber stamp. The first one we did was also giving out seed packets to kids as a prize for completing the hunt.
A few years ago, a local county park had a hunt called RambleQuest which took you on a search for plaques with raised images throughout all their parks. When you found the plaques, you needed to take a rubbing of the image with a crayon or pencil. If you collected them all, you earned a hiking stick medallion.
So be sure to check out your local park department website. You just might discover a fun treasure hunt awaits!
I hope after reading this you are inspired to check out geocaching and letterboxing along with some of the other fun outdoor treasure hunt games with your own family this summer. They are a great way to get some fresh air and some exercise. In addition, they just might take you to some wonderful parks and places that you might have never known about otherwise. So tell me… Have you ever participated any of these treasure hunt games? If you know of any others that I didn’t mention, be sure to leave a comment. Until next time… Happy Exploring!