Whether you are a visitor to Flagstaff or have lived here for years, the city’s outdoor culture is difficult to ignore. There are innumerable opportunities for hiking, biking, and other forms of outdoor recreation throughout Flagstaff. You may be surprised to learn, though, that an expansive, secret treasure map hidden within the city contributes to another popular outdoor hobby: geocaching. This international treasure-hunting sensation has continued to grow in popularity since its inception in 2000 and is an engaging form of recreation and exercise which allows you to learn more about the community and landscape in surprising ways.
Geocaching can be thought of as an independent treasure or scavenger hunt. As of 2013, there were 2 million registered geocaches throughout the world. This activity is most popular in the United States and Europe; however, caches exist on every continent, making this the perfect hobby for travelers. Participants choose GPS coordinates from Geocaching.com to search for “caches,” which are hidden containers of varying sizes. Geocaches can be hidden almost anywhere, such as along popular trails, by renowned monuments, or mere feet away from your favorite downtown restaurant.
Here are a few basic rules from Geocaching.com to help you on your way to becoming a successful geocacher:
Put the cache back just like you found it. Once you find a cache, put it back in the exact position you found it, or as close as possible. Moving a cache will result in incorrect GPS coordinates, preventing other geocachers from finding it later.
Bring small items to exchange. If you want a physical prize at the end of your geocaching expedition (a great incentive for kids), bring small objects such as toys or keychains to exchange for similar objects which others have left in the cache itself.
Don’t trespass. No properly-registered geocache will ever require you to trespass on private property or otherwise break the law. Check for signage before entering any area, rural or urban, that could be restricted.
Beware of muggles. Non-geocachers are referred to as “Muggles” in the geocaching world and are usually the culprits of stolen or damaged caches. Protect the cache by keeping it a secret. Other geocachers will also appreciate your stealth; the fun is in the finding, after all.
Sign the logbook. Each geocache includes a physical logbook in which you should sign your name and the date so owners know their cache is successful. When you get home, don’t forget to also sign the online logbook and review the cache.
Report any problems. If you have problems finding a cache or notice that it is damaged or missing its log, contact the owner through the geocaching website.
Once you begin geocaching, feel free to visit a cache as many times as you like or even register your own caches. Don’t be discouraged if you cannot find a particular cache; it happens to even the most experienced geocachers as a result of theft, inclement weather, city cleanups, or incorrectly-recorded GPS coordinates, among a variety of other factors.
Types of Caches
Today, there are various kinds of caches which can provide geocachers with a multitude of unique experiences. Here are a few of the most popular types:
Although they can vary in size, traditional geocaches are all the same in their simplicity; they will be found at the exact location of their GPS coordinates. Make sure to read the description before embarking on a traditional cache, as a micro cache is usually much more difficult to find than a medium or large container, and owners often provide hints. Larger traditional caches typically allow for an exchange of small items stored within them.
Multi-caches are a string of caches or locations which are found in consecutive order using numerous GPS coordinates. When progressing through the components of a multi-cache, geocachers are often given clues to reveal the next point in the cache, leading up to a larger container like those of a traditional cache.
Mystery or puzzle caches are one of the most interactive types of cache. They require geocachers to solve a mystery, puzzle, riddle, or similar brain-busters before leading to a final, physical cache. These caches can also be considered multi-caches if they involve many different brain-busters to solve and various locations to visit.
Other types of caches are described here.
How to Get Involved
A basic Geocaching account is free. Once you make your account, there are two ways to begin your adventure:
Using Your GPS system. Go to www.Geocaching.com/map to access the database of geocaches. You can select filters for cache type and use map view to browse for caches in a specific area, such as your hometown or a future travel destination. The coordinates for caches can be sent to your device, which will then lead you to the cache itself according to its operating system.
Using the Geocaching App. The free version of the app—named “Geocaching”—provides access to all traditional caches. Other cache types and certain social features, such as allotting “favorite points”, are locked and will require a subscription to access. Once a cache is selected, either in map or list view, press “Start” and the in-app compass will lead you directly to the cache of your choice, indicating the remaining distance as you progress.
Flagstaff is a prime geocaching location: caches can be found in all areas in and around the city, providing countless opportunities to explore its defining natural and man-made features.
Downtown Flagstaff is a source of numerous caches which can serve to familiarize you with the culture of this historic region. For example, the “Culture Cache” series encourages you to seek out and answer questions about several pieces of local street art and sculptures before you are given the coordinates to each of the three final caches.
Another historic location, Route 66 is home to dozens of hidden caches. Completing them will not only give you the opportunity to explore this famous path, but it may also teach you something new, even if you’ve lived in Arizona for years. Check out the “HistoricAZ66” caches—created by the Historic Route 66 Association of Arizona as part of the Arizona Centennial Legacy Project—which provide historical insight into various points along Route 66, including Old Carter’s Gas, Flagstaff Sawmill, and Walnut Canyon.
Flagstaff Urban Trail System (FUTS)
Before your next walk along the Urban Trail, be sure to check the Geocaching map. You may be closer to a cache than you expect! These diversions are a great way to modify an ordinary walk without deviating too far from the path.
Northern Arizona University’s campus itself also hosts a handful of geocaches in locations ranging from the Skydome’s Louie the Lumberjack statue to the Citizens Cemetery on North Campus.
The most popular location for geocaches in Flagstaff is near parks and natural landmarks. Buffalo Park, Mount Elden, Fort Tuthill, Mormon Lake, and the lava tubes northwest of town, among numerous other locations, each offer several caches which you can complete while you explore these renowned destinations.
Whether you are searching for a new hobby or a way to become more engaged in sightseeing and hiking, consider geocaching. As an experienced geocacher of nearly sixteen years, I can guarantee that geocaching will give you experiences that are unforgettable, memories that are invaluable, and knowledge you never knew you needed.
Let the exploration begin!