Active Play

Geocaching: What’s the Big Deal?

Jun 4, 2013

 Now I'm not sure about your family, but when my wife and I suggest that we should all go for a "family walk" together on a beautiful sunny day, it's amazing how motivated our children become to suddenly clean their rooms or do their homework. Since when has going outside and spending time together as a family, while taking a walk through the neighbourhood, become more boring than putting away your dirty underwear and working on algebra questions? Recently, my wife and I have used a different tactic for our "family walks." Instead, we suggest that we should go geocaching together. If you have never heard of geocaching, it's the 21st Century version of treasure hunting.  

Kim Wilson, Creative Head, Children's and Youth Programming at CBC, recently tried geocaching with her son, Noah. (They're the treasure hunters in the photos.)

The quest for buried treasure has always captured the minds and imaginations of people for centuries. From Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island (published in 1883) to the recent adventures of Captain Jack Sparrow in Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean movie series, the thrill of treasure hunting almost seems embedded in the human psyche. Recent technologies, such as GPS and smartphones, have made treasure hunting something that anyone can do ... and can turn a family walk into an exciting adventure.

Here's how geocaching works: All over the world, people have "planted" treasures (called caches) for other people to find. These treasures often consist of one or more trinkets inside a small container, plus a notebook to write your name and some comments. Those who plant a cache then input the GPS coordinates onto a website so that others can try to find them. The most popular website is Often the caches are left in spots such as inside tree trunks, under rocks, or other interesting places where people can find them when they go for a walk. To find a cache, you can use an app on a smartphone (a popular one is called "geocaching" - accessible from or a GPS device to find nearby caches. You could even go low tech and find the coordinates on a website and use a map and compass if your family is really adventurous!

If you're lucky, you might even find a "trackable" object. When I went with my family, we found an elephant. The idea here is that you take the trackable home with you, log into the geocaching website, type in the trackable's code, and then record where you found it. Then, the next time you go geocaching, you place the trackable in a different geocache's location for someone else to find. You can then follow the trackable on the online map to see where it was before you found it and where it's gone after you found it. For example, the trackable elephant we found has travelled over 17,000 km, and started on the west coast of North America (Seattle) and travelled as far east as Charlottetown, P.E.I., and as far north as Iqaluit, Nunavut.

Many cities have now incorporated geocaching into tourist activities for families. From Fredericton to Ottawa to Kamloops, cities and regions across Canada are promoting geocaching as a great activity for tourists and families to explore their areas.   Now, I can't guarantee that you'll find any buried gold or jewels on your geocaching travels, but I can guarantee that the time you spend as a family will be your true treasure for years to come. James Mandigo is Co-Director for the Centre for Healthy Development in the Faculty of Applied Health Sciences at Brock University located in the Niagara Region of Ontario, Canada. James is also the current President of the Ontario Physical and Health Education Association (Ophea) and former Ontario representative on the Physical and Health Education's Board of Directors. He was a writer for Ontario's 2010 Health and Physical Education Curriculum, and has conducted workshops with educators and practitioners locally and around the world pertaining to topics such as physical literacy, life skill development, teaching games for understanding and pedagogy. James has also worked extensively within developing countries. His current research and development project in El Salvador explores the role that sport and physical education have in the prevention of youth violence in that country. His research and development activities in this area have been funded by the Canadian Social Science and Humanities Research Council and Scotiabank International. James is the proud father of three children, Benjamin, Nathan and Lillian, and enjoys cheering on his wife, Karen, while she competes in triathlon and ironman events.

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