Geocaching in Urban Parks

July 28, 2011
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Learn the basics of geocaching by reading “Caching In.”

Geocaching is offered as an activity at AMC’s Highland Center. Call ahead for schedule information (603-278-4453).

Nature Caches,” featuring nature trivia, can be found on a trail near AMC’s Cardigan Lodge.

Visit Geocaching.com for a comprehensive directory of geocaching sites.

On May 2, 2000, the U.S. government granted public access to GPS data previously limited to military use. On May 3, 2000, a small black bucket was hidden near Portland, Ore., and its coordinates posted online. A game, then called the “Great American GPS Stash Hunt,” was born. Today, it’s just called geocaching.

This modern-day treasure hunt was a hit from the start. Details spread online and soon caches could be found not just deep in the woods but also in towns and cities, hidden inconspicuously. As the game grew it also became more organized. A database standardized the cache listings and tracked locations of individual caches. Caches typically held knick-knacks or educational information about the area—etiquette calling for participants to add something new when they removed something old. New versions also emerged. Multi-caches involve multiple locations, with clues guiding participants to a final destination, scavenger-hunt style. Still another kind requires code-cracking skills to figure out the GPS coordinates in the first place.

With this growth came concerns about the activity’s impact on the environment. The damage inflicted by frantic searches for a cache even got a name: “Geotrashing.” Within the geocache community, concerned players adapted the seven guidelines of Leave No Trace to geocaching, heavily discouraged hiding caches off trail, and set about removing inactive caches.

Geocaching’s popularity means it can be played almost anywhere, from the backcountry to the city. Here are a few hotspots near major cities in the Northeast. Remember to respect your surroundings while searching!

City Forest
Bangor, Maine

This 680-acre forest between Bangor and Orono holds 24 active geocaches. The land features both dense forest and swampland, with 9 miles of trails, and is a popular haunt for black bears. Among the forest’s hidden treasures are a string of caches in The Great Bangor City Forest Adventure. Participants can learn about the forest’s history while collecting clues for a final puzzle.

Info: Bangor City Forest; Orono Bog Boardwalk

Snake Den State Park
Providence, R.I.

One thousand acres of forest and rolling pasture stretch out across this park, which also features a working farm, the namesake Snake Den rock fissure, and 11 active geocaches. The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management Parks and Recreations Division has plans to develop the land into a traditional picnic area and ball field style park, so get to these caches while the area is still wild.

Info: Rhode Island State Parks

Central Park
New York, N.Y.

These 823 acres may be the most famous parkland in the country. For years, urban planners have looked to this treasure for guidance on building their own parks. Twenty-three caches are currently hidden here, including nine puzzles relating to the history of certain entrance gates. Other caches of note include one requiring viewing of the Beatles film “The Yellow Submarine.”

Info: Central Park Conservancy

Fairmount Park
Philadelphia, Pa.

Ten active geocaches are hidden throughout the Fairmount Park system, which occupies 10 percent of all the land in Philadelphia. One of the caches is hidden in Laurel Hill Cemetery, which features graves dating from the 1830s and holds the distinction of being one of the few cemeteries designated as a National Historic Landmark.

Info: Fairmount Park

Patapsco Valley State Park
Baltimore, Md.

This 16,043-acre state park outside of Baltimore is home to a large number of caches, including one designed specifically for newcomers to the game. Others use the works of Goedel, Escher, and Bach as clues. Some of the caches are hidden along the Patapsco River, which flows through the park for 32 miles.

Info: Maryland Department of Natural Resources

Sky Meadows State Park
Delaplane, Va.

Sixteen active caches are located in Sky Meadows State Park, an hour outside of Washington, D.C. The 1,862-acre park, which offers access to the Appalachian Trail, features a number of caches highlighting historic buildings and scenic views from this property, which was once a farm.

Info: Virginia State Parks

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Alex Schab

AMC Outdoors, the magazine of the Appalachian Mountain Club, inspires readers to get outside and get engaged. Learn more.