By Tamara Hughes
One thing you can do to liven up a family stroll for the kids is geocaching. Geocaching is a game where people have hidden containers, called geocaches, in parks and natural areas, and posted the GPS coordinates on the geocaching.com website. You can get the coordinates and tell the kids that you’re going on a treasure hunt! Caches can differ but a basic cache will have a logbook for you to sign, an info sheet about geocaching, and some trading items. The basic rule is take something, leave something; so bring along some dollar-store treasures to leave if you think your kids will be interested in taking a trading item from the cache.
Getting into geocaching can be fairly easy. If you don’t want to shell out for a GPS unit, there are a lot of smartphones with a GPS built-in these days (we use our iPhones) and an easy app. Go to geocaching.com, pick a geocache to find, input the coordinates of your first target into your caching app or GPS, and head out on an adventure!
Obviously, with kids, actually finding the cache is a big part of the fun. Some of them are pretty tricky though, so how do you choose the right one to go after? On each cache page, there are several things to look for to help you choose a good one. Each page will have size and difficulty ratings. The bigger the size and the lower the difficulty rating, the better it is to find with your kids (especially if your kids are still little!). On the cache page, there is an “Attributes” section, which will tell you if it’s kid-friendly or stroller-accessible. Another thing to look at is the comments left at the bottom of the page. If quite a few people have left a note that they haven’t been able to find it, it may be missing or damaged and could prove a frustrating experience for your kids.
Some favourite areas for Calgary geocachers are our big, beautiful parks… Edworthy Park, Nosehill Park, and Fish Creek Park. It’s a great way to check out some areas of the city you might not otherwise get to!
We go out geocaching with our family – two boys, 4 and 2, and our baby girl, 9 months. The younger ones are a bit too small to really get it yet (though the 2-year-old gets really excited once the cache is found!), but the 4-year-old really enjoys it and likes helping us look for the cache. It’s great quality time for us.
Another thing I really like is that it can be educational. Some caches (called earth caches) are at interesting geological sites. In the past, we’ve gone to the Kananaskis Karst, which was really cool to see and learn about. As well, some caches are themed or have educational content – the caches set up in Cypress Hill Interprovincial Park were great for teaching us interesting things about the area.
One of the things I really love about geocaching is that it introduces us to a lot of places we may never discover otherwise. Recently we went to Perrenoud Wildlife Habitat, which we wouldn’t have ever known existed except that a cluster of caches brought our attention to it. Unfortunately, it’s a place we’ll have to explore again some time as the kids we not in such great moods that day and our outing was cut a little short!
That leads me to some of the downsides of geocaching… there are not many, but they are important to take into account. Since it’s an outdoor activity, bathroom access may be spotty or non-existent, something to think about with freshly-potty-trained kids. A lot of times it isn’t stroller-friendly, as you’re going off the beaten path to look for caches. We get around that by using carriers for the kids (my husband and I both take one – one for the baby, and one in case the older kids need a break). Unfortunately, if you have a baby carrier on, you will have a much harder time physically getting down and looking for the cache. Also related to this – it can be frustrating for kids if you don’t find the cache. I find that my oldest son doesn’t want to let us leave until we find something, despite anything going on with his younger siblings.
All in all, it’s something we really enjoy doing with our family, and we’re looking forward to the day when all of the kids are as interested in it as our oldest!