Modern-Day Treasure Hunting

Why was I crawl­ing through a frozen sew­er pipe on my hands and knees in the mid­dle of winter?

I was geo­caching, my lat­est obsession.

If you haven’t heard of geo­caching, it’s a world­wide trea­sure hunt using GPS to locate hid­den con­tain­ers called geo­caches. There are lit­er­al­ly mil­lions of geo­caches hid­den around the globe. When I first start­ed play­ing, I was delight­ed to dis­cov­er that there were sev­er­al with­in walk­ing dis­tance of my townhome.

My friend Gary with a geocache
My friend Gary with a geo­cache he dis­cov­ered at the base of a tree in a local park.

What exact­ly is a geo­cache? It can be as sim­ple as a plas­tic Tup­per­ware con­tain­er with a log­book inside to record your name. Part of the fun of geo­caching, how­ev­er, is the cre­ative ways in which these caches can be dis­guised. I’ve been geo­caching for just over a year now and some of the more than 500 con­tain­ers I’ve found include:

  • a ceram­ic gnome hid­den inside a hol­low tree
  • a secret draw­er built into an ornate Lit­tle Free Library
  • an arti­fi­cial rock beneath a busy bus stop bench
  • a bird­house on the porch of an antique store in rur­al Wisconsin
  • a hol­lowed-out book on the shelves of the pub­lic library where my writ­ing group meets

I’ve found geo­caches as small as my fin­ger­nail and as large as a garbage can, and every size in-between.

tiny geocache
This tiny mag­net­ic geo­cache was stuck to the back of a city street sign. 
It unscrewed to reveal a tiny log­book inside.

Who hides all of these caches? Any­one can, once they’ve learned the basics of the game.

I tend to get stuck in famil­iar ruts, so for me, one of the great­est joys of geo­caching has been all the new places I’ve dis­cov­ered. I’ve been to parks and walk­ing trails in my own home­town that I nev­er knew exist­ed. While I’ve been on vaca­tion, geo­caching has tak­en me to his­toric build­ings, stun­ning scenic over­looks, and unique parts of the city I would have nev­er oth­er­wise dis­cov­ered. When­ev­er I give an author pre­sen­ta­tion out of town, one of the first things I do is check to see what geo­caches are in the area. I always dis­cov­er some­thing new.

Panoramic view in Norway
Search­ing for geo­caches in Nor­way brought me to this panoram­ic view.
Geocaching in Madison Minnesota
While vis­it­ing schools in west­ern Min­neso­ta, I found a geo­cache hang­ing on the back of this sign. 
Who knew I was in the lute­fisk cap­i­tal of the country?
Posts covered with padlocks on Lake Superior
One of these locks near Lake Supe­ri­or in Duluth con­tains a geocache…
but which one?

Are you feel­ing adventurous?

It’s easy to get start­ed. All you need is a device with a GPS app, such as a smart­phone. Go to and set up a free account. Then type in a loca­tion and you’ll be shown a map of all the geo­caches in the area. Each geo­cache is rat­ed with a dif­fi­cul­ty lev­el from 1 (eas­i­est) to 5 (most dif­fi­cult) so you can choose the degree of chal­lenge you want.

Fol­low­ing the map should bring you with­in ten feet of the geo­cache. That’s when the hunt­ing begins. Is the cache inside that hol­low stump? On the back of that stop sign? Hang­ing from a tree branch? Clues in the online descrip­tion will help you nar­row your search. And then suddenly…you spot it! I still haven’t grown tired of the burst of adren­a­line I feel each time I dis­cov­er a new cache, hid­den to every­one else in the world except for me and my fel­low cachers.

Retrieving a geocache from a tree
My broth­er-in-law retriev­ing a geo­cache hang­ing from a branch. 
To reach it, he used a 24-foot pole we con­struct­ed from emp­ty card­board tubes.

Once you find a geo­cache, sign the log, replace it exact­ly as you found it, and then search for anoth­er. Every­thing I need­ed to know in order to find my first cache I learned by watch­ing this short YouTube video. Be warned, how­ev­er. Geo­caching can be addic­tive. I know folks who have found more than 20,000 caches and are still going strong!

Geo­caching is a hob­by for all ages and abil­i­ties. My eight- and eleven-year-old great nieces love the lure of find­ing the inex­pen­sive trin­kets locat­ed inside some of the larg­er geo­caches, while retirees have told me it’s a fun way to get exercise.

Ready to dis­cov­er a new park, a new trail, or just a new sec­tion of your neigh­bor­hood? Then try geo­caching! And don’t wor­ry. You won’t have to crawl through a sew­er pipe…unless you want to.

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Aimee Bissonette
4 years ago

I can­not wait to try this! And maybe even cre­ate a cache of my own that you’ll have to track down, David. 🙂

David LaRochelle
Reply to  Aimee Bissonette
4 years ago

You — and your daugh­ters — will have a lot of fun, Aimee! And I look for­ward to find­ing a cache hid­den by YOU!

Lisa M Bullard
4 years ago

What fan­tas­tic fun, David! See­ing the world one hid­den trea­sure at a time!

David LaRochelle
Reply to  Lisa M Bullard
4 years ago

When­ev­er I go any­place now, Lisa, I’m always look­ing around and won­der­ing if there is a geo­cache hid­den near!