Ready to go geocaching for the first time? These tips for finding your first geocache will help ensure you have a successful hunt and are able to log the smiley.
When my family first started geocaching, we discovered that there were 15 caches within a 10 mile radius of our house. So we loaded up the coordinates in our handheld GPS and went for the one that was listed as being closest to our house. We hunted for 20 minutes and couldn’t find the stinkin’ thing. Discouraged, we moved on to cache number 2 and couldn’t find that one either. We about gave up on geocaching all together. When I got back home and got on the computer, I discovered from reading the logs that the first one we tried to find was missing. The second one was a micro with a 5 difficulty – definitely not a cache that a beginner should have attempted.
Fortunately we decided to give geocaching another try and were much more successful on our second outing. We have been geocaching for 10 years now so we have gotten a lot better at locating caches. We have found geocaches of all sizes and difficulty ratings. Finding your first geocache will be a lot easier if you follow the advice listed below.
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Don’t just go out and try to find the first geocache that pops up when you do a search. Instead take a few minutes to browse through the list of nearby caches and take a good look at the cache description, hint, and logs. This will allow you to pick a couple of easy ones to try for your first outing. Going for an easier cache the first time will greatly increase your chances of finding it and being about to log it as a find.
So how do you choose easier caches? Take a look at their difficulty and terrain ratings. Every geocache listed at geocaching.com is given difficulty and terrain ratings based on a scale from 1 to 5. The ratings are chosen by the planter of the geocache and are based upon how difficult they think the cache will be to find and how rough the terrain is to get to the cache site. A rating of 1 will the easiest and 5 will be the hardest. Look for difficulty and terrain ratings of 1 or 2. These caches will be fairly easy to find and the hike to get to it should be pretty level.
Also check out the cache size. Micros and nanos are, like the name suggests, extremely small and can be infuriatingly difficult to find – especially for a new geocacher. For your first couple of geocaches – choose to hunt for ones that are either medium or large in size as they will be easier to find. You can always attempt harder caches after you have some experience under your belt.
In the picture above, I pulled up some of the caches available at one of the state parks here in Ohio. When you first do a search by location, you will be taken to a similar page. The three circled columns are the ones you want to look at – size, difficulty, and terrain. Based on their ratings, I have put a red X by caches that beginners would want to avoid because they would likely be too difficult for beginners to attempt. I underlined the reason a newbie would want to rule out these particular caches. You can go through a similar process to choose which caches to look for on your first trip.
After you find a few that you think will be easy to find, click on the cache name to go to the description. Take a minute or two to read the past logs. You want to make sure the cache has been found recently. People will usually write a note if they are unable to locate the cache. Nothing is worse than spending a half an hour or more hunting for a geocache that is missing.
While you are on the cache description page, be sure to also read the hints. The hints won’t usually tell you exactly where the cache is located, but it should point you in the right direction and give you an idea where to look when you are near the hiding spot.
Most geocaches are going to be within 20 feet of an established trail (although there are certainly exceptions). As a whole, geocachers tend to be mindful of the environment and are going to want to cause as little disturbance to plants and animal habitats as possible. So if your GPS is pointing into the woods and it saying the cache is still 200 feet or more away, it is highly likely that there is a better entry point into the woods closer to the hiding spot. There is no need to start bushwhacking – just keep following the trail even if the distance to the cache starts climbing. Chances are the trail will probably loop back around and get you much closer to the hiding spot.
Bonus tip: It’s always a good idea to get a hiking trail map from the park office if one is available. Many state parks have hiking trail maps online as well so you can print one in advance.
A geotrail is a term geocachers use to refer to a tell tale sign that people have left the main hiking trail and entered the woods at that particular spot. A geotrail can be a path of trampled vegetation, bare earth, or a clearing through thick brush. Most people on the main trail probably wouldn’t pay any attention, but to geocachers, geotrails can be a valuable clue that they are heading in the right direction. Sometimes they even lead you right to the hiding spot!
Geocachers often speak of ground zero as being the absolute closest your GPS gets you to the hiding spot. Most GPS units have an accuracy of 10 feet or so. Which means that the actual coordinates (and hiding spot) are within a 10 feet radius. (Keep in mind that your GPS won’t be quite as accurate under the heavy tree cover of summer.) So I recommend that once you get as close as you can with your GPS unit, you simply stop paying attention to it so much and start really looking at your surroundings.
Look for anything that looks weird – a pile of logs or rocks that doesn’t look natural, for example. Often times your instincts will be right and that will be the hiding spot. In the picture above, we found the cache under a pile of rocks next to a tree. Those piled rocks were a dead giveaway that we had found the hiding spot for the geocache.
One of the best tips for finding your first geocache that I can give you is to think like the person who planted the cache. Get to ground zero and start really looking at your surroundings. Ask yourself, if you were hiding a geocache here, where would the best spot be? The person who hid the cache also has to be able to find it again. So look for anything that might give an indication that there might be something hidden there.
One time we got to ground zero for a cache and discovered this endless pile of logs next to a fence. Devilish hiding spot isn’t it? I started looking more closely and saw a railroad tie in one of the gaps between the logs near the bottom of the pile. I pulled out the stake, thinking that would be a great marker for the planter to be able to find the cache again. As it turned out, the railroad stake was the cache – it had a bison tube attached to it at the end. If I hadn’t been thinking like the hider of the cache, it could have taken us forever to find it.
Another time we were searching for a geocache on a hillside completely covered in large rocks. Seriously there were like a thousand rocks there! My husband and I took a look at the hill and realized that we could be searching there for hours, looking under rock after rock. So I asked myself where I would put it if I was the one hiding the cache. I wouldn’t put it under some random rock, because chances are I would never be able to find it again myself to do maintenance on the cache. The GPS was indicating a spot up near the top so I started looking for anything that might make any of the rocks stand out. Within 5 minutes I found a rock with a paint splatter on it. Low and behold, the cache container was beneath it!
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By choosing your first geocache carefully and paying attention to some simple clues around the hiding spot, your first outing is sure to be a success. Do you have any additional tips for finding your first geocache? If so be sure to share them below. Want even more geocaching inspiration? Be sure to like the Geocaching and Letterboxing Facebook Page.