Looking for family activities that aren’t so… mainstream? If you love hiking, treasure hunting, and solving challenges, geocaching might just be your new favorite hobby. Huntsville is home to a thriving geocache community loved by adults and kids alike. We spoke with Lisa Bradford of North Alabama GeoCachers to get the scoop.
What Is Geocaching?
Geocaching is an everywhere treasure hunt that uses a phone app or GPS to find caches. Caches can be small (think micro capsule attached to a bank sign) or extremely large. And the difficulty level can range from super easy to hard – ever tried to find a hollowed out stick in the middle of the woods?
To begin, simply create a free account. Some caches are available with the free version, while paid subscribers have access to premium caches. Lisa recommends downloading the app to your smartphone to have access to the satellite view, which makes searching easier on the kiddos. Choose a geocache that looks fun and use your phone to navigate to the location.
What Happens When I Find a Cache?
Approach your cache stealthily, and watch out for non-playing onlookers, known as “muggles.” If there are treasures inside, feel free to take something, and leave something just as nice or nicer. Many caches include small toys, trinkets, stickers, pencils, or a Travel Bug. A Travel Bug is usually a dog tag attached to another item, that loves to travel! When you find a Travel bug, log it on the website, and take it from one cache to another cache. And finally, be sure to sign the logbook. (Tip: Remember to always carry a pen!). Some seasoned geocachers even have their own rubber stamp for signing caches.
Best Places to Look in Huntsville
According to Lisa, some of the best places to start looking in Huntsville are in Big Spring Park, Monte Sano, Downtown, and more: “They are virtually EVERYWHERE,” she says. The only word of caution she gives is to watch for snakes when hiking. Bug spray is a good idea, as well as hiking shoes since you never know where you’ll end up. Kids as young as three and four will enjoy taking part in this worldwide treasure hunt. In fact, Lisa’s daughter has been geocaching since age 6, and is now 14 and still loves it!
Take a North Alabama GeoTour!
Want to level up? GeoTours are a fun way to travel locally and get to know your area from a whole new vantage point. A Dash of the Unexpected GeoTour lets you explore North Alabama, from waterfalls to craft beer to fishing, with 31 geocaches along the way. There’s even a cache at the Huntsville Botanical Garden! No entrance fee is necessary to access the cache. (Hint: it’s by the picnic tables adjacent to the parking lot.)
What Are You Waiting For? Start Learning!
Geocaching can be a great educational tool to incorporate into your classroom, be it traditional or homeschool. There are many flavors of geocaching to explore. For instance, earth caches are landmarks, and puzzle caches require math skills or decrypting. You can teach kids cardinal directions and have them make their own compass rose. The possibilities are endless as kids learn thoughtful exploration of the world, care of the world, how to build communication skills, and more.
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Kelli Pavlovec writes as a hobby and as a career. She loves running in the rain, old British TV shows, reading fantastic literature, and all things nature. She’s taking a course on Fiction Writing this semester and hopes to finally write and publish some books which she’ll post at kellipav.com.