Geocaching is a 'treasure hunt' that's fun for all

Something the entire family can enjoy

Born and raised in Solon, Andy Bartlett has been a park ranger with the Iowa DNR for more than 15 years.
Born and raised in Solon, Andy Bartlett has been a park ranger with the Iowa DNR for more than 15 years. “I love geocaching because it lets me be a kid with my kids.” (Family photo)

Hunting and gathering, humanity’s first and most successful adaptation, is far less necessary in today’s world.

However, some still feel the urge to track treasures across the globe.

Once global positioning was released for public use in 2000, geocaching exploded onto the outdoor sports scene.

Pronounced “geo-cashing,” it’s a derivative of the words geo, meaning relating to the earth, and cache, which is a collection of items that are stored or hidden.

“Literally anyone can participate,” said Andy Bartlett, park manager for the Iowa DNR for 15 years. “The activity itself strives to eliminate any barriers to participation. People who think they would be limited by a physical or economic barrier, will likely find that geocaching is free and easily accessible.”

The popular activity can be done alone or as part of a group. You also can make it a competition or use it for team-building.

“It’s low-cost, easy-to-do and you can put as much or as little effort into it as you want,” said Bartlett, who lives in Solon.

Bartlett suggests checking out www.iowageocachers.org, which has free membership and information on locations to explore and people to connect with.


Eastern Iowa is great for this exploratory activity with cemeteries, parks and trails typically the hottest spots in most communities.

“The closest public space to you probably has a cache,” Bartlett said. “It’s amazing what’s literally right outside of your door.”

You can participate year-round, with most preferring to search during the warmer, more accessible months. Some do, however, enjoy the challenge of tracking in snow and other more adverse conditions.

“I love it because it lets me be a kid with my kids,” Bartlett said. “It’s an outdoor treasure hunt with endless possibilities.”

Most parks in Iowa, when open, have programs aimed at children and families with entry-level, preplanned geocache hunts for visitors to participate in.

“We have intro programs at our parks where we teach you who, what, when, where and why,” Bartlett said. “Then we go out on a hunt and find the equivalent of a happy meal toy for the kids.”

As for life-skills learned?

“We teach navigation and orientation,” Bartlett said of the educational value. “They learn to navigate to a set point, learn directions, geography, and history is tied into many sites.”



Geocaching, according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, “is the activity of hiding a geocache container from public view for the challenge of participants using a global positioning system (GPS) device and internet-published coordinates to then locate. Once located, the participants typically take an item from the geocache, replacing it with one that they contribute.

“There is usually a logbook in the cache that the finder can sign and date.”



You’re going out, essentially, for a hike — or at least a long walk — in the wilderness. So dress accordingly with proper gear, water and snacks.

The most important item, though, is GPS/smartphone and extra batteries/charger, according to geocaching.com. “Don’t lose the juice. Keep your GPS or smartphone charged when going for hikes far away from any outlets.”


1. Use your eyes, hands, and geo-senses — Your GPS or smartphone will only get you within about 30 feet of the cache location. When you’re close, use your eyes, hands and geo-senses to locate the cache.

2. Look for something that seems out of place — Cache containers come in all sizes, shapes, colors. Look in tree hollows, under park benches, inspect that oyster shell in the forest, and yes, look in that one spot you’re 100 percent positive is not the hiding place. Chances are, that’s exactly where the cache is.

3. Geocaches are often disguised — The can look like rocks, bricks, bird houses or other everyday objects, so think outside the (ahem), cache-box.

4. Think like a detective — “If I were a geocache, where would I hide?”

5. Geocaches should never be buried — But they won’t always be on the ground.

6. Look high, look low, look around — Leave no bench unsearched, no stone unturned.

7. Respect your surroundings — Never trample on flower beds, scale walls or damage property trying to find the cache.

8. Check the hint — Many cache pages offer hints that may help you figure out where to look.

9. Check the latest activity — Recent logs from other geocachers may contain valuable information.

10. Be patient — Developing your geo-senses takes time.

One last tip: Always, always ALWAYS bring a pen.


“Remember every single geocacher started out as a brand-new geocacher and had to learn the ropes. And just like getting to Carnegie Hall, geocaching takes practice, practice, practice.”

— geocaching.com



For Iowa state parks and recreation areas, a geocache placement permit application must be filed and approved by the park staff before establishing a cache on any Iowa DNR managed property.

1. The park staff will consider resources management, visitor safety and sensitive sites when determining sites and pathways for approval. A special event permit may be required if the geocache is part of an event of a day/weekend.

2. Caches are not to be placed in sensitive archaeological, historical or ecological areas such as historical buildings, caves or locations that contain rare plant species. Prescribed burn units are generally considered to be off-limits for placement. Consider EarthCaches rather than physical caches in environmentally sensitive areas. Please clearly mark the outside with “geocache” in block letters, along with geocache name if space allows.

According to www.geocaching.com: “An EarthCache is a special place that people can visit to learn about a unique geoscience feature or aspect of our Earth. EarthCaches include a set of educational notes and the details about where to find the location (latitude and longitude). Visitors to EarthCaches can see how our planet has been shaped by geological processes, how we manage the resources and how scientists gather evidence to learn about the Earth.”

3. There is no time limit for placement, however, please be respectful in regards to placement and ongoing maintenance of your geocache. The DNR reserves the right to terminate this approval for placement of a geocache container on state land for any reason at any time.

— Iowa DNR


Here are some of Andy Bartlett’s favorite geocaching sports. Bartlett, of Solon, has been a park ranger with the Iowa DNR for 15 years.

— Squaw Creek Park (Marion) — Squaw Creek Park has something for everyone when it comes to geocaching. There are caches of all sizes and types including traditional, multistage and mystery. From beginners to pros, Squaw Creek Park is the place to go.


— Hickory Hill Park (Iowa City) — Not only does this park offer some more challenging caches, but the adjacent St. Joseph’s and Oakland Cemeteries offer some cool cemetery caches, as well.

— Palisades-Kepler State Park (Mount Vernon) — This scenic state park along the Cedar River has many caches hidden within its boundaries. Here you’ll also find an EarthCache, a unique non-traditional cache with an interesting geological lesson. This year also marks the 100th anniversary of state parks in Iowa and geocaching at any of them is a great way to get out and enjoy nature while celebrating the rich heritage these parks provide.

— Hoover Nature Trail (Ely) — Head north or south (or both) out of Ely on the Hoover Nature Trail and couple a nice bike ride or walk with the adventure of finding caches all along the way.

— George Wythe State Park & Hartman Reserve Nature Center (Cedar Falls) — Combine a trip to the Waterloo/Cedar Falls area with geocaching at these two great parks areas on either side of the Cedar River. They offer caches of all sizes and types for all experience levels of cachers.

Comments: justin.webster@thegazette.com

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