A pinecone. A medicine bottle. A Ziploc bag. An ammo container. What do all of these items have in common? They are all examples of geocaches that can be found across Washington state. A geocache is a small canister that is hidden in public and tracked by thousands of people across the U.S. Welcome to Geocaching in Washington State.
According to National Geographic Education, “geocaching is a type of global treasure hunt of people looking for caches or hidden stashes of objects.” It is unique from other outdoor activities because in order to find the geocache, you are only provided with GPS coordinates, never an exact location. In an interview on the Exploring Washington State Podcast with Bryan Roth, Geocaching founder and president, there are approximately 1.6 million caches in the U.S. and 28,000 in Washington alone.
Typically the geocache or ‘cache’ for slang, contains a paper for hunters to leave a record of when they found the cache. Some even contain items for trading, ranging from trading cards to figurines to jewelry depending on the size of the cache.
President of the Washington State Geocaching Association (WSGA) Chris Bruce shared “the general rule with geocaching is if you find something in a cache that you want to take, you need to trade equally for that item.” So if you’re planning to take an item from the cache try to find an item that is equal in size or value to trade.
Another guideline geocachers follow is to never take a cache, and if you move the item, to place it back in the original position so others can find it. Zahn Shultz, amateur geocacher and Washington resident, explained once he found a cache he would take a picture, write his name down and then move on.
Starting the Adventure
There are a few ways you can get involved in the adventure of geocaching. One common method is utilizing the Geocaching app. Through this you can make an account and track local caches you find.
Reviews and photos are also available from past geocachers to help guide your search. Each cache will be rated based on difficulty level. Bruce recommended to “look for low-rate caches (one star difficulty, one star terrain) … [and] avoid mystery or puzzle caches” if you are just starting out. “Terrain rating one [also] means that the cache should be accessible from a wheelchair,” added Roth. Look through reviews and try to find these types of caches to ease yourself into the search.
Another way to begin is by attending events. “Do not feel intimidated to attend a geocaching event,” Bruce shared. “A new cacher can learn a lot about geocaching by attending events [because] geocachers love to help out new cachers.”
There is a “community or social aspect of geocaching thanks to attending a lot of geocaching events. I have met some fantastic people while geocaching and can safely say some of my best friends are geocachers,” said Bruce.
“Geocaching is very much a social activity, which on the surface, does not appear that way but it really is when you factor in events [or] first to find parties.” The WSGA hosts a variety of events throughout the year to connect community members and educate new cachers.
If you’re not interested in tracking or logging the caches but still want something fun to do while enjoying the Washington outdoors, geocaching can be an added bonus. Shultz explained he usually discovered caches through “chance or by word of mouth, whether that’s family or friends in the area.”
He also shared one of his first experiences finding a geocache involved a family hike where he randomly found one in a tree. “Young me was super stoked, so I just kept looking around” as he grew up and continued hiking.
Thrill of the Hunt
Whether you are tracking caches on an app or finding them randomly, it can still be a fun activity. There are many reasons people get involved, but one that stood out to Bruce is the “thrill of the hunt [and] trying to find a hidden container based on GPS coordinates and clues.”
A similar sentiment, Shultz shared, “The geocaches that I have found, even when I was really young like eight or nine, I still remember exactly where those locations are for every single one of them because it was that exciting.”
Geocaching is also a refreshing way to spend more time outdoors. “Over time, that [reason for caching] has included going to places I have never been to [and] exploring new places in Washington that I have not seen before,” said Bruce.
If you are planning on spending a weekend in White Salmon, exploring Snoqualmie Falls with kids, or scootin’ around San Juan Island this is an outdoor activity everyone can enjoy.
Tips for Beginner Geocachers
- Bring a pen or pencil to write in each cache’s log.
- Invite friends and family to join – it is a social activity!
- Look high and low as well as unexpected places.
- Bring items to trade!
- Leave no trace and always put caches back as you found them.
Hi. I just stumbled upon this well written and very well explained write up on our great states’ adventures in Geocaching. I geocache under the username Winos_Seattle and as a bonus tid-bid, I’m also the President of the WSGA aka the Washington State Geocaching Association. I loved this end of week (for me) read. I’m here if you’ve got questions.
Great article! My partner and I have been Geocaching since 2015. It’s one of our main hobbies and takes us to so many cool places. We often plan our vacations around caches we want to get or caching events we want to attend. Some of my best friends I met through geocaching. The community is really great. I also serve on the board of the WSGA as the Chapter rep for 48North which encompasses Snohomish, Skagit, Whatcom, Island & San Juan Counties. My caching name is paisleykmt. I am always interested in meeting new like minded folks and can be reached through messenger on the Geocaching site.