The weather is cooling down fast now here in Michigan. We lit our first fire of the year in our fireplace last night. Our favorite Great Lakes beaches are emptying of tourists—and some have even gotten snow already. The trees are starting to look bare as last week’s red and yellow and orange leaves are twirling to the ground.
This is the time of year I love best because the cold gives me a good excuse to curl up on the couch with a cup of tea and a book. However, with two young boys in the house, those quiet moments don’t last long. When they need to get outside and run around, we grab our GPS device and head out treasure hunting–geocaching, that is.
If you’re not familiar with geocaching, it really is a bit like modern-day treasure hunting. Anyone with a GPS device or a smartphone with the geocaching app can login and get the coordinates to all sorts of caches across the world. Many of these caches contain just a log where you can record the fact that you found it; others contains trinkets that kids like to exchange for small items they bring along. There are even virtual caches, where there is no physical container to find—just the triumph of recording that you were there. To give you an idea of how popular this hobby has become, here’s a photo of the caches in the state of Michigan.
Yes, each of those little colored dots is a cache. We have a premium membership, which is well worth the $29.99/year price for the entertainment, but even without paying, there are plenty of caches to find.
Anyway, whether you’re an experienced geocacher or if this is the first time you’ve ever heard of it, here’s my top ten list of reasons why geocaching is a great fall activity for families:
- The whole family can participate. This is an activity that my kids love, and my husband and I enjoy it, too. The kids love the experience of finding “treasure,” while we get to take a nice walk and catch up on the events of the week. We actually manage to have *real* uninterrupted conversations while the kids are running ahead toward the cache—mostly unheard of otherwise!
- Geocaching teaches valuable navigation skills. I grew up learning how to find my way using maps, but the tools of navigation are much more sophisticated these days. My young sons can operate our GPS device far better than I can already. I’m sure that will come in handy someday—maybe!
- Geocaching is great exercise. In the pursuit of caches, we’ve clocked many, many miles—and no one complains about how far we’re walking because everyone is focused on following the coordinates and seeing what’s in the cache. The kids are active and loving it! (Oh yeah, and the adults are active, too, which is probably the bigger achievement, if I’m being honest.)
- Geocaching gets us outside. As I mentioned above, fall makes me want to curl up under a blanket. I could hibernate until spring, if my family would let me. However, once I’m outside smelling those leaves and feeling that cool breeze on my face, I can’t help but smile and appreciate the beauty of the season.
- We see places and things we’d never see otherwise. This is a big one for me. Since we started geocaching, we’ve been to so many places we otherwise never would have seen. One of our favorite unexpected finds was the Devil’s Washtub in the Keweenaw Peninsula, but we even found a couple of small parks in our own town we never knew existed.
- Geocaching teaches us to appreciate the journey as much as the destination. Whenever we head out geocaching, we know there’s a good chance we may not find the cache. It happens sometimes, and it can be disappointing. The best part of the adventure, though, is trying—even when we fail miserably. There’s always next time!
- Geocaching is a great problem-solving activity. Some caches require some ingenuity beyond just navigation. The GPS devices get us only so close to the cache; after that, we have to decode and follow clues or sometimes complete puzzles. This leads well to #3…
- Geocaching reinforces the value of teamwork. Our team, my family, does pretty well together. I can’t tell you how many times my husband and I have been ready to give up on a cache when one of my sons stumbles (sometimes literally) on it. The boys sometimes get annoyed at each other when one finds a cache before the other, but they’ve learned that it takes all of us to be successful. Beyond our little team, we also participate in a larger network of teams, by finding “trackables” and helping them along their journey. The kids love seeing where those have been and where they go once they leave us, reinforcing that it takes many people to get something accomplished sometimes.
- Geocaching is an inexpensive hobby. With so many hobbies costing a fortune, it’s nice to have something we can do together that really costs very little. Sure, there’s the initial cost of a GPS device, but a smart phone works almost as well. We splurged for the $29.99/year premium membership, which gives us access to even more caches and some useful extras, but that’s not a necessity. There’s also the gas cost, but that can be managed with some planning.
- Fall geocaching with the family beats raking leaves any day! It’s going to snow soon enough anyway, so no one will see all those leaves we didn’t get to!
A word of warning, though: Geocaching can become addicting! Once you find that first cache, you’ll want to find the next and the next.
So much for raking!