Elevate your family vacation into an epic treasure-hunting adventure with an item that most families are guaranteed to have at least one of – a smartphone. 

A hand holds up a smartphone, displaying the Geocaching App. A wooded area is visible in the background, with pathways and wooden fencing.
The app can be used on any phone with GPS © Groundspeak 

Have you heard of geocaching?

Geocaching is a worldwide ‘treasure hunt’ game enjoyed by all ages. All you need is a smartphone or GPS device and you can find yourself discovering new places.

The first geocache was hidden way back in May 2000, when Dave Ulmer wanted to try out GPS technology which had become available to the public. He set prizes for members of the public in Beaverton, Oregon, who could find his treasures, and pretty soon people were hiding their own, which has eventually snowballed to over 3 million geocaches hidden worldwide today, spread over 191 different countries on all seven continents. There are even geocaches in Antarctica!

Geocaches come in all shapes and sizes and some even contain ‘treasure’ – a small trinket that you can take out and replace with one of your own. The trinket is usually something of token value such as a key ring, novelty toy or small memento.    

A woman and two small children are walking across grassland looking for geocaches. The sun is out and there are trees around them.
There are geocaches hidden all over the world, from woodlands to cities © Kim Tate

Here’s how you do it

Download and open the Geocaching App to find geocaches or GeoTours near you (more about GeoTours later). Select a geocache to find, and use the app to navigate close to it. If you are using a dedicated GPS device, you will input the coordinates beforehand. 

Read more: Meet a traveller: Levison Wood, world explorer

When you get close to the location you will need to hunt around for it, guided by clues and messages in the app left by seekers before you.  Make sure to return it for the next treasure hunter to find!  

Two children reach up to a white container in the fork of a tree trunk; it's labelled with the word 'geocache'.
After a long search, some adventurers locate their geocache © Jessica Palmer

But…why?

Kim Tate, who runs the popular family travel website Stuffed Suitcase, has found plenty of geocaches with her girls and has also completed the GeoTour at Rocky Mountain National Park. 

"Geocaching and GeoTours are great for families to experience because they get you out on foot exploring a city or park. Anytime I can get my kids outdoors and being active, and having fun while doing it, I consider it a family vacation win," Kim says. 

Read more: Where to have an epic adventure in two weeks or less

She loves how her girls are drawn into finding the next clue and are seeing unique aspects of that region along the way. "City searches can be fun because they often lead you to popular sites that you would want to see on a walking tour."

A huge bonus is that most families already have a smartphone, so geocaching is practically a free activity to do anywhere you travel.

The world’s longest treasure hunt?

Australia is home to the Outback Way-Finder Geocache Trail. The 35 caches on the trail are placed at sites of natural, cultural, historic or scientific interest.  

Beginning at Winton in Queensland and following a dusty and often corrugated 2800km (1740-mile) road, the trail ends at Laverton in Western Australia, passing by the iconic Uluru on the way.

An adventurous spirit and a 4WD is required for this one but you will see a side (or the middle) of Australia that even most Aussies haven’t experienced. 

A family standing in woodland are laughing as they search for a geocache
People of all ages can take part © Groundspeak

Finally! Something your teenager will also enjoy

Geocaching is not just for families with younger children. Cameron Davis, aged 15, has searched for geocaches all around the world with his family and shares his adventures on his YouTube channel at Cameron Travels. He says, "The ones I loved the most were the ones I did on our RV trip in the Pacific Northwest of the United States and the one I did most recently at Val Jalbert."

Read more: X marks the spot: great travel treasure hunts

Val Jalbert is a pioneer village that takes you into the heart of the 1920s in Québec, Canada. The historical village has curated an interactive treasure hunt that takes place with a GPS and a questionnaire.

"I liked how the questions in Quebec weren’t too hard but would still make you think," Cameron says, adding, "The caches were all scattered around Val Jalbert’s property so it was cool to walk around and explore new things and see all of the sites." 

Level up your next family holiday with a cache-pedition

So give the theme parks a miss, get everyone outdoors and active and embark on a treasure hunt your family won’t forget. You don’t have to travel far to experience a geocaching adventure and, who knows, you might discover a side to your own city you didn’t know existed.

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