No need to chase down the end of a rainbow to find a hidden treasure. What if I told you that you could find unique knick-knacks, rubberstamps and secret messages in parks near you? This spring I challenge you to explore participating New York State Parks and Historic Sites and try out these fun treasure-hunting activities!
Geocaching (geo= Earth, caching= hiding/storing) is a great hide-and-seek activity that started in 2000 with the rise of Global Positioning System (GPS) technology. Geocachers use location coordinates and a GPS device such as a smartphone to find a hidden container.
Inside each container is a logbook, and if the container is big enough there are trinkets that you can see and swap (See Resources below for details about the different kinds of geocaches). Occasionally the “hidden treasure” is the scenic location itself. If searching in a New York State Park, it’s not uncommon for geocaches to be along trails with peaceful waterbodies or iconic views nearby. Bring a buddy or two to serve as extra eyes, especially since GPS location information can vary by a few meters.
Letterboxing is a much older hobby (at least 150 years old) which involves exchanging unique rubber-stamped images instead of trinkets. Traditionally you find the hiding places using clues or written directions, but some hybrid letterboxes may have coordinates as well.
Each letterbox has a special, often hand-made rubber stamp for you to stamp into a journal like a passport; in return, you use your own personal stamp to “sign” the letterbox logbook. This outdoor activity began in the mid-1800s, when a trail guide left his business card in a bottle at Cranmere Pool in Dartmoor, England. Others who hiked through the notoriously rough terrain found the bottle, and they began to place their own business cards inside as a way to say, “I was here.” This turned into travelers hiding boxes in the woods and meadows for postcards and, eventually, stamps. If you like clues, art, traveling and walking through beautiful trails, then I recommend giving letterboxing a try.
Who can participate in these local adventures? Anybody! Both activities are a great way to find new nature trails, historic sites or hidden treasures near you. Are you ready to go letterboxing or geocaching in New York State Parks? Here’s how!
Search for an active geocache/letterbox at a Park near you.
There are different websites and mobile apps to search for letterbox clues and geocache spots (See Resources below). Use the “Search” features to find stamps or caches nearby, in a place you’d like to visit, or at a State Park that you enjoy. Letterboxes and geocaches have been found in every region of the state. Just remember that locations are subject to change, as caches/stamps can go missing or can be retired by their owners. As a courtesy, people often record their findings online to update the status of a letterbox/geocache.
Pack your supplies
If you are geocaching:
- The geocache coordinates
- GPS device or cell phone
- A pen
- (optional) A trinket of your own
If you are letterboxing:
- The letterbox clues/directions
- A notebook
- Your own, “signature” rubber stamp
- (optional) Your own ink-pad, just in-case
- A pen to sign, date and write any comments about your trip in the letterbox journal or your own. Make sure to sign with your trail name and not your real name!
Prepare for the weather/terrain
As with any kind of adventure, consider the weather and terrain beforehand. A few geocaches and letterboxes are indoors, but many others require going out on a trail. If you are treasure-hunting on a sunny day, wear a hat and bring water. Wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts if going out in colder weather, or in an area that might require you to be walking on a path with lots of brush nearby. Wear sturdy, closed-toed shoes, and keep an eye out for poison ivy, stinging nettles, slippery surfaces, etc.
Learn the rules & be respectful of nature.
Stay on trails, and do not trample native plants in search of a letterbox or geocache. If you see any litter while out on a trail, remember, “Cache In, Trash Out.” This is part of an environmental beautification effort by geocachers worldwide. When you find what you’re looking for – whether letterbox or geocache – be subtle. You don’t want to ruin the surprise for others, and you definitely don’t want to draw the attention of folks who might not be letterbox- or cache- friendly. Put everything back exactly where you found it and as you found it, and remember to record your find (or attempt) online! See online communities and resources below for other code-of-conduct guidelines.
You may find yourself discovering new places you never knew existed in your own neighborhood, or trails you wouldn’t have otherwise visited. You can log your experiences at one of the many hobby websites.
Resources and Relevant Links:
For geocache locations & rules: www.geocaching.com, www.earthcache.org, http://www.cachegeek.com/cache-listing-sites.html, and see various mobile apps (search “geocaching” in the app store for your smartphone). For some services, you may need to create an account. As a note, State Parks is not affiliated with any geocaching or letterboxing organizations. And always check with landowners and local rules before creating new caches or routes.
Policy for placing geocaches/letterboxes in NY State Parks: State Parks Geocache Guidance.
Keep in mind that cache/box locations and maintenance statuses are subject to change. Here are a few State Parks and Historic Sites to begin your search for geocaches or letterboxes:
Post by Erin Lennon, State Parks