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Hiking and Geocaching [An Exercise Activity When You’re Practicing Social Distancing]

Today’s activity is a little different than the others. This one does not involve making something, and it doesn’t involve staying at home. It is an activity you can do with your family during the Covid-19 lockdown, so it’s something I’m including on the list. Plus our family was really excited to leave the house and do something different.

Hiking and outdoor activities are still approved in the United States even in states with fairly strict lockdown measures. Hiking is something we already love doing so adding it to our roster of fun things was easy. While we were out, we also remembered something else we enjoy doing as a family and that’s geocaching! You may remember this as something you did ten years ago when you were graduating college. At least, that’s when we first learned about it.

I really have no idea if geocaching is still a popular thing, but it can be super fun doing it with your kids. Without further ado, here are some tips and ideas for taking your family hiking and geocaching. Some of my suggestions will be Pennsylvania specific because that’s where we live, but many of them will also be more universal to people who live in places with state parks or woods they can explore.

How Can You Hike Safely During the Covid-19 Outbreak?

I wanted to do a little research about hiking safely during this pandemic. I came across an article from Channel 11 news that included an update about state parks.

The article quoted DNCR secretary Cindy Adams Dunn saying, “During the past week we’ve seen many people hiking trails and heading to the outdoors as a way to get exercise and relieve stress. We remind everyone that it’s OK to go outside, but we should still be practicing social distancing to do our part to slow the spread of COVID-19.”

I also lifted the DCNR recommendations directly (this was not written by me)

  • Avoid crowded parking lots and trailheads
  • Use the bathroom before you visit
  • Bring a bag and carry out your trash
  • Clean up after pets
  • Avoid activities that put you at greater risk of injury, as there is limited staff to assist

To help avoid exposure to COVID-19 and still enjoy the outdoors:

  • Don’t hike or recreate in groups – go with those under the same roof, and adhere to social distancing (stay 6 feet apart)
  • Take hand sanitizer with you and use it regularly
  • Avoid touching your face, eyes and nose
  • Cover your nose and mouth when coughing and sneezing with a tissue or flexed elbow
  • If you are sick, stay home

DCNR facilities that are closed include:

  • Park and forest offices and visitor centers
  • Restrooms
  • Campgrounds, cabins and all forms of overnight accommodations
  • All reservable facilities
  • Public programs, events and trainings are canceled through April 30

One thing to note here is this is just the recommendations in Pennsylvania. It may be different in your area. While I was researching this article I noticed that Florida had shut down their state parks. I don’t know if that means partially or fully.

In terms of social distancing, we drove up to one hiking trail but there were a lot of people parked there. That’s why we chose to go to another trailhead where there were fewer people.

General Safety Guides for Hiking and Geocaching

  • Wear bug spray and check for ticks during and after a hike (if you live in areas with ticks)
  • Choose paths that match your fitness ability — doing so will cut down on potential injuries like twisting an ankle
  • Bring plenty of water along
  • Bring a first aid kit
  • Bring along a snack if you plan on hiking a long way
  • Wear sunscreen if you’ll be in the sun
  • Wear appropriate shoes — closed-toe shoes that are waterproof and havegood support are best for hiking
  • Know the area by studying the map and identifying trail blazes
  • Watch for spider webs when searching for geocaches
  • Be careful when reaching into geocaches as you don’t know what’s inside. Some people recommend dumping them out first. That’s up to you but do search carefully.

What is Geocaching?

If you’re not already familiar with geocaching you may be wondering what it is. Many years ago the US Department of Defense developed the Global Positioning System (GPS). It was a technology that was created for the military which meant that it couldn’t be used by civilians. However, in the year 2000, President Clinton and the Department of Defense unscrambled the signal so that even civilians could use the technology.

In the same year, a man named Dave Ulmer hid a bucket of trinkets in Portland, Oregan. He posted the GPS coordinates and that was the beginning of geocaching. Many other people continued the trend — some hiding geocaches that had real value in them — but many with a variety of trinkets.

You can log in your find, take an object, and leave one behind. It’s like treasure hunting and it can be a lot of fun to do with children. You may be surprised to find there are a lot of geocaches hidden in your area.

How Can You Find Geocaches?

The principle of geocaching is quite simple. There is essentially some object hidden on the landscape and you have to go find it. When explaining it to my children I often liken it to treasure hunting. If you’re into land navigation and using GPS’s and compasses you could set up your own geocache by plotting points and navigating to them.

Luckily, with geocaching, you don’t have to do any of the planning or setting up. There is an international network of already established geocaches across the globe. So this is an activity that you can enjoy literally almost anywhere you go. You can access this worldwide database here or on your smartphone by downloading the Geocaching app.

If you use the website you can search for geocaches near your location or a location you plan to travel to and save the GPS coordinates for navigation. But this obviously requires that you have access to a GPS. Now if you download the Geocaching app, your phone will act as the GPS and assist you in navigating to the geocache’s location. The app really is the easiest and most simple way of getting into geocaching and that is what we used on our hike and subsequent treasure hunt.

Our Adventure in Geocaching

We have gone on numerous geocaches in the past and it seems that there is generally a fairly long break between our geocaching adventures. This geocache trek was our first in a long while. And honestly, it wasn’t our intention to embark on a geocache hunt when we started our hike. To our surprise, we had cell phone signal nearly the whole time during our hike so when we talked about looking for a geocache, I was able to open the app and find one relatively close by.

The trail we were hiking was about a 2.5 mile loop. When we decided to go geocaching, we were about to the turn around point of the trail. We opened the app and it said we were about 0.2 miles from the geocache location straight-up fairly steep terrain.

Although we sometimes expect our children to hike the trail alongside us despite the terrain, this was particularly steep and rocky. So we polled the children and asked if they wanted to make the trip and they all agreed that they did.

So we started up the hill and on and on we went. Eventually, it got so steep that it was just me and the three oldest children. Hannah and the youngest stayed behind at the foot of the last and steepest hill.

Once at the top, the app said that we were within twenty feet of the geocache and that it was hidden in the rocky outcropping. We all began to search in and around the rocky hillside. I walked a slight distance away looking for the ammo box as described in the geocaching app when I suddenly heard, “I found it! I found it!” I looked back and the two oldest children were beaming while holding up the old beat-up ammo can found among the rocks and rubble.

Later, Hannah told me that she could hear our kids exclaiming about their found treasure from the bottom of the hill. There are often trinkets and items left behind in the geocaches and if you feel so inclined you can take an item and leave an item as part of the geocaching experience. There is also a logbook located in the caches that you sign, date and leave a comment or feedback. It is common practice to sign your Geocaching username when doing so.

As we were looking through the cache, I had a rush of memories from my college days of having found this cache before. I looked through the logbooks and found my former entry from November of 2008. I was able to share that experience with my children which was a really special moment.

We’ve all been seeing and hearing about social distancing around every corner and this was a unique way of being apart of a community without having to actually interact one on one with anybody. When you find a geocache it is very likely that hundreds if not thousands of other people have found that same geocache before you. Each entry in the logbook tells a story of a previous adventure of another person or group of people searching for that same geocache.

Despite being a fairly rigorous geocache involving some rough terrain, I was thoroughly impressed at how determined our children were to make it through to the end. They trekked up steep, rocky terrain and were rewarded when they finally found the geocache. I think this not only taught them determination but it also proved to be an excellent opportunity for critical thinking as they navigated the steep, wooded hillside.

Geocaching is an activity that the whole family can enjoy and can be incorporated into nearly all every day activities. Geocaches are not only found in parks or in deep woods along hiking trails but are also found in more urban environments as well. Chances are if you download the app and enter your location, you would find numerous geocaches right around you.

Our son took this picture and we tried to gross him out by kissing. Turned out to be one of my favorite pictures of the day.

The End of Our Hiking Trail

In a time of social distancing and uncertainty, getting out of the house and into the woods can be unbelievably therapeutic. Our hike was exactly that for our family. Once we reached the turn around point of our trail we had about 1.25 miles left before getting back to our vehicle. Our youngest child was cold and completely worn out.

The only option for her was to be carried. The rest of the kids took turns being depleted of energy and also took turns being carried or taking frequent breaks. Their pacing slowed down and it was clear that they were ready to finish up the day’s hike.

At the onset of the day’s adventure, I stowed away water and a few snacks in a day pack and carried it throughout the day. But what really made the whole day soothing for my soul was when my two oldest children volunteered to carry the pack the whole trek back to the car while Hannah and I carried the other two tired children.

These types of outings teach us all something. They teach perseverance. They teach hard work. They teach team building. They build strength. They keep us healthy. They build family.

So while we all are feeling stuck in our homes or victims of social distancing and in need of social activities, there are still ways of fulfilling those needs. When you’re feeling stuck inside and not sure how to fix that, getting outside might seem like an obvious answer but you’ll be thankful that you did!




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