How to Geocache: A Step-by-Step Guide for Beginners

Updated on May 14, 2017

What exactly is a cache?

What you're looking for - the cache - is usually a small box, anywhere from the size of an Altoids container to a small shoebox. They are hidden out of view so a casual passerby will not see or notice them. They usually have a magnet inside to affix it to the bottom/back of a sign, rail, or fence, or they are wrapped with dark or camouflage tape to keep it dry in the case of rain and also keep it hidden. Inside you'll typically find:

  • a pad of paper with a log of previous visits
  • a small pen or pencil, but not always there so bring your own
  • a collection of trinkets or geocoins left by previous visitors

Geocaching - A modern-day scavenger hunt

Geocaching (GEE-oh-cash-ing) is a great outdoors recreational activity that's similar to a scavenger hunt. There is a hidden object, and you're given clues and GPS (global positioning) coordinates to help you find it. It's incredibly fun, and becoming more and more popular every day.

I began geocaching about 2 years ago and have since found well over a dozen geocaches all over California (including San Francisco, Oakland, Napa/Sonoma, and Southern California). It's a great way to explore an area, even places you're convinced you know very well. People leaving geocaches almost always leave them in intriguing places that they'd like to share with inquisitive, curious people like other geocachers.

Best of all, it's very easy to do for a beginning novice. You only need a few things to get you started.

iPhone app - Geocaching
iPhone app - Geocaching
Android app - Geocaching
Android app - Geocaching

What you'll need

  • a GPS receiver or GPS-enabled smartphone. GPS receivers can be bought for about $100 these days (probably even less used). Garmin and TomTom are the most popular brand of GPS receivers. Low-end ones are monochrome with limited functionality; high-end ones are in full-color with added features such as 3-D maps and the ability to store your entire trip.
    If you have an iPhone or Android smartphone, you can just download Groundspeak's (the company behind app. It's $10 via either the iPhone App Store or the Android Market, and actually does away with several of the Web-based steps below, in addition to providing GPS receiving functionality. (The QR codes for the two are to the right)
  • a pen or pencil. So you can leave a note in the cache to the cache owner.
  • a small trinket. There's a tradition among some geocaches to take a trinket out, and put a new one in. That way, the geocache has some "life" and changes continually over time. You also get something from a stranger, and give something to another stranger.

That's it! Yes, for a beginning geocacher, that's really all you need. And the 2nd & 3rd items above are often optional (many geocaches have their own pen, and others are too small for trinkets)

Full listing of nearby caches, closest ones first.
Full listing of nearby caches, closest ones first.

Step 1 - Find nearby caches

This part is easy. Go to and in the upper-right corner, put in your ZIP code (if you're in the US), or select your country.

You will see a list of available geocaches nearby with:

  • how close it is to you (by ZIP code)
  • the type of cache - traditional, multiple (one cache gives you a clue to another), virtual or mystery caches (no actual cache - just a destination with something interesting about it)
  • a rating of the difficulty and terrain (go for 1/1 for the easiest!)
  • the date placed
  • a short description plus a link for more information
  • when it was last found by someone. This is always cool because some were just found and logged a few hours or days ago; others have been dormant for months.

Pick a cache and click on the link to get some more information you'll need.

Step 2 - Select a cache

Find a cache that's as close as you'd like (or willing to walk, bike or drive to), with the level of difficulty you're looking for, and click on the link for more information. You'll find several things on this page (register for Geocaching for free first - trust me, they don't spam you and don't make you pay for these basic services).

  • the cache's coordinates (you'll need this string of numbers to enter into your GPS receiver)
  • a description of the area and cache made by the person who left it there; some people are proud of the area and give plenty of rich information, others leave just the basics
  • (usually) an encrypted clue, that you can easily decipher near the cache location if you're really stuck and can't find it
  • even a map if you'd like a street corner to home in on; I usually try to ignore this, because part of the fun is following the GPS receiver's directions and seeing yourself approach the target
  • a log of previous geocachers' notes after finding the cache. It is usually full of spoilers, so don't look at this section until you've found the cache and want to report something to the community.

You can either print out the entire page, or scribble down what you need to know on a piece of paper and take that with you.

This page will give you all the information you'll need to have to find your cache.
This page will give you all the information you'll need to have to find your cache.
Enter the coordinates carefully!
Enter the coordinates carefully!

3. Enter the coordinates into your GPS receiver

Follow the instructions of your GPS receiver to enter a new waypoint (a specific location with coordinates) with the cache's coordinates. Believe it or not, those coordinates are specific enough to typically get you within 10 feet of the cache! Double check the numbers to be 100% sure they're right--you don't want to be searching for a cache miles away from where you should!

Note that the default coordinate type, both for the Geocaching site and most GPS receivers, is WGS84 Datum degrees & minutes (MinDec). The format will look like:

N 37° 45.800

W 122° 10.500

Speed is 0.0 because I stopped to take this picture. But you can see I need to head SE, and walk another 4 m or so.
Speed is 0.0 because I stopped to take this picture. But you can see I need to head SE, and walk another 4 m or so.

4. Start moving towards the destination

In your GPS receiver, choose this new waypoint you've entered, and GOTO. Then, go outside, away from tall buildings, and wait for your receiver to get strong signals from the GPS satellites circling the earth. This can take anywhere from a minute to five minutes. You will typically not be able to get a signal inside buildings or between skyscrapers.

Once you've gotten strong signals and hit GOTO, the GPS receiver will tell you which direction to start heading and how far away your target is. Start walking! (or driving, depending on how far you are) The GPS receiver is remarkably good at telling you where you're supposed to go, and even how fast you're going.

A cache surreptitiously hidden behind a metal sign, using a magnet.
A cache surreptitiously hidden behind a metal sign, using a magnet.

5. Use clues & your eyes to find the cache

When you get within 10-20 feet of the cache, the GPS's resolution will not be good enough to help you any further. It just puts you in a 20 foot circle of where you need to look. Now you need to use the clues and your intuition to find the cache.

Look for clues:

  • in the name of the cache
  • in the description that's on the page
  • (if you're really, really stuck) decypher the encrypted clue, but keep in mind this often explicitly tells you where to look, eliminating the fun out of the search

Places to look:

  • the underside or back of metal fixtures and signs; often, the cache is magnetically stuck out of view from casual passersby
  • in the brush or plant cover, often behind or under a retaining wall
  • sometimes covered with rocks or bark

Keep in mind that the cache might be above you or below you. We found on cache in Union Square in San Francisco and after looking around the Christmas tree there for a good 20 minutes, we realized it could be under us, and took the elevator down to the parking garage below us!

This little stapled log has room for thousands of short entries. Be sure to leave yours!
This little stapled log has room for thousands of short entries. Be sure to leave yours!

6. Open up the cache!

Open up the cache carefully, and take a look inside!

There should be a list or pad of paper, which has some general instructions to people unfamiliar with geocaching, or for people who might have found it by accident. There will be a list of people who found them before you. You can leave a short entry in the (paper) log, along the lines of:

8/27/07 {username} TFTC! (Thanks for the Cache)

There might some other small trinkets. If you've brought one of your own, you can leave it inside, and take another one as a memento of your cache.

You should go back to the Geocaching site later, and leave feedback to the cache owner in the (Web) cache log, who typically checks it often.

Geocoins - Track your own coin's movement

Geocoins are custom-made coins that you can leave in caches that you find. The idea is that your coin will travel from cache to cache over time, as people who find the cache take it out and put it in their next cache. Then they log where the coin has been left, allowing you to track where your coin has gone.

Say you left your own geocoin, with its own serial number, in a cache in Tempe, Arizona. Then, someone finds that same cache a week later, and takes it out. He then puts it in the next cache he finds in El Paso, Texas. If he plays by the "geocoin rules", then he'll go to the geocoin Website, look up the coin by its serial number, and register that it is now in a cache in El Paso. You, then, could do a search on your serial number, and see that the coin you left in Tempe has now transported itself across a couple of state lines to the east, in Texas!

There are several companies that sell geocoins. The concept is very similar to Where's George, which tracks dollar bills as they change hands through normal cash transactions.

Not designed to be kept, geocoins should hop from geocache to geocache.
Not designed to be kept, geocoins should hop from geocache to geocache.

News story on geocaching (2m 50s)

Team Tiki gives a brief intro (4m 8sec)

Good explanation of GPS & geocaching (8m 24sec)

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • Matthew Hotaling profile image

      Matthew Hotaling 

      4 years ago from Missouri

      I love geocaching! I have 3 hides and 175 finds so far.

    • Cre8tor profile image

      Dan Reed 

      8 years ago

      I'm ready to start! Thank you!

    • mbruun profile image


      8 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Great hub! I'm sure that its gotten many people started in geoacaching.

    • smcopywrite profile image


      9 years ago from all over the web

      terrific hub. i have heard of this activity but didn't know a lot about it. great information

    • profile image

      Assassin Fred 

      9 years ago

      I have only heard of this hobby in recent months, and I am truly intrigued. I am looking forward to spring so I can get started. Sounds like fun for children as well.

    • Dardia profile image

      Darlene Yager 

      9 years ago from Michigan

      A lot of people are doing this around here. One of the places that Jennyjenny and I wrote about, McCourtie Park is a geocache site. It is also known for being haunted. I know a group of women who do Letter-Boxing and that is where one of their geocache sites are. They went looking for the cache in the evening and took some interesting pictures that night. They got orbs, spirit lights, and ectoplasm pictures.

    • jennyjenny profile image


      9 years ago from Somewhere in Michigan

      This sounds like so much fun! I'm going to try it with my scout troop! Thanks for sharing!

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      i love going geocaching ! [:)]

    • Three-Legged Dog profile image

      Three-Legged Dog 

      9 years ago from USA

      I just started doing this today! While out and about on a shopping trip with some girlfriends. It was SO MUCH FUN. We're hooked. Here's a blog post that I wrote about our experience finding our first ever cache!

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      I've been wanting to take my family Geocaching but thought it was more complicated than it actually is! I read many geocache sites throughout the past year, but it still wasn't clear to me. I just found your site on Yahoo! Thank you for taking the time to put it up. It helped me tremendously. I think we are ready to give it a go! What a great way to bring families together in a healthy, fun, way! I will be sure to keep you posted on our geocache experience! Thanks Again!!

    • profile image


      10 years ago


    • wmd profile image


      10 years ago from South Jersey

      Great hub. I have just discovered geocaching this week and already have found 4 caches. I am enjoying this new hobby very much and started writing about it too.

      I want to get a handheld gps like the one you have pictured, but for now I amusing my Garmin Forerunner 305, which is a running watch equipped with gps.... it works great.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Wanted to find out if anyone was aware service to set up a Geocache birthday party. Daughter 10 years old loves geocaching ... feel that this would be a lot of fun for her and girlfriends. Thanks for any info.

      Robert, SF Bay Area

    • Camping Dan profile image

      Camping Dan 

      11 years ago

      I have been geocaching for seveal years now with my family. It is a fun activity we can do together and a fun treasure hunt of sorts. I recommend it to lots of families and we even incorporate it into our summer vacations when we travel to other states.

    • brawnydt profile image


      11 years ago

      Thanks for the guide, I just put up my own intro to Geocaching too. Love the sport!

    • profile image

      Peter Drew 

      11 years ago

      Great Hub, some friends are into this, and i found this hub in google, with all the answers I was looking for. thanks for taking the time to put it up :)


    • profile image


      12 years ago

      Great post for people starting off.


    • profile image

      Terri Paajanen 

      12 years ago

      The hot weather has kept my household of Geocachers inside this summer, but with the autumn weather arriving, I have dozens of caches lined up for our weekend getaways. It's an awesome hobby, and keeps us all outside. :)

    • livelonger profile imageAUTHOR

      Jason Menayan 

      12 years ago from San Francisco

      Thank you wajay_47. It is a lot of fun, but be prepared for people staring at you quizzically as you dig through brush, look behind signs, etc. Last week, a woman asked us we had lost our keys.

    • profile image


      12 years ago

      Livelonger, great hub. I just did some research on geocaching and hope to be trying it soon. Sounds like great fun. This is catching on all over. Great hub.

    • livelonger profile imageAUTHOR

      Jason Menayan 

      12 years ago from San Francisco

      It's gotten more and more popular, especially as GPS receivers get cheaper (more & more mobile phones have them) and as more caches get hidden. There are about a dozen within a 20-minute walk of our apartment.

    • jimmythejock profile image

      Jimmy the jock 

      12 years ago from Scotland

      looks like great fun Livelonger I can see it catching on big style.....jimmy


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)