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Geocaching 101

Have Fun Exploring Outdoors

Tiffany and Stephen Harkleroad found their 700th cache earlier this summer.

Post & Photos by Tiffany Harkleroad

This is the time of year when many of us want to explore the great outdoors. However, not everyone enjoys hiking, travel options are limited, and many public parks and pools are too crowded. Which is why my summer recreation of choice is Geocaching. I have been geocaching for about 12 years now; this is the 20th year that geocaching has existed!

Geocaching is sort of like a treasure hunt, using GPS coordinates and a system of tracking set up through Here, you can set up a free account, watch some basic instructional videos, and begin searching for geocache listings near you. But what is a geocache?

Cache hidden in a log in Manor Township

Well in the most traditional sense, a geocache is an object that is hidden out in the world, waiting to be found. Caches come in different types, as well as sizes. Traditional caches are physical containers that can vary in size. Smaller ones usually only contain a log, a piece of paper to sign to show you found the cache; larger ones may contain tradeable items.

The smallest cache, a nano cache, is about the size of a pinkie nail. The largest size can be as large as you can imagine! The largest one I have found was a five gallon bucket.

Steve found a cache in the World's Largest Mailbox in Casey, Illinois.

Because caches are hidden outside most of the time, it is important that they are housed in water-tight containers; often the people who hide them camouflage them as well.

Some caches have multiple steps to locating them, and sometimes they are in the form of a puzzle! Some caches are virtual, while other caches are actual parts of the landscape (called Earth Caches), where what you are “finding” is the opportunity to experience natural phenomena.

Caches are hidden all over the world, about 3 million in total.

One of the reasons I really love geocaching is its accessibility; users have the ability to select what caches they seek out, based on the terrain difficulty, their own skill level, and any accessibility needs they have.

Some really challenging caches require things like rock climbing; I choose not to do those ones! Because it is so accessible, and users have the ability to choose the difficulty level, this makes a great family activity. It gets you outdoors, sometimes into nature, and helps you look at the world in a very different way.

A cache I found at the Big Coffee Pot in Bedford, Pennsylvania

Another reason I like geocaching is its affordability; if you have a smartphone, you can get the free Geocaching app, and get started! You can invest in small tradeable items, and some extra pencils or notebooks in case you find a cache missing these things. The Geocaching website does have an option to have a premium account, which makes some premium caches available, but the free account works well for most members.

I was introduced to geocaching by my husband, back when we first started dating. It has now become one of our favorite couples hobbies. Whenever we take a trip anywhere, we include geocaching in the itinerary. Our goal is to geocache in all 50 states; so far we have gotten 32!

A cache we found in Arizona

The most recent state we checked off was Alaska, last fall. A few years ago, we did a cross country road trip, and cached in 15 different states over the course of our two week trip! This summer, we found our 700th geocache. As very casual geocachers, this was a big deal to us, but there are some really serious geocachers that will find that many in a month’s time!

Steve finds a cache in Juneau, Alaska.

Geocaching has led us on some real adventures, and allowed us to discover natural beauty in our own town. I have taken many members of my family and friends geocaching over the years.

We are fortunate to live near two bike trails, The Armstrong Trail and the Butler-Freeport Trail. These trails are a favorite hiding spot for geocaches. So, hit the trail, and find what treasures await you in the form of geocaching.


Tiffany Harkleroad is the Youth Services Librarian at the Butler Area Public Library, in Butler PA. She has long championed graphic novels for readers of all ages. She lives in Butler with her husband, their two adorable dogs, and their very cranky cat. When not reading graphic novels, she can be found playing board games, binging on documentaries, listening to podcasts, and taking long naps.

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