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When you're ready to try geocaching, visit one of the major geocaching Web sites and type in your zipcode (or the zip code of an area you plan to visit). You'll be presented with a list of geocaches in the area. There are dozens listed within 10 miles of my house. Plus, new caches are added every week.

Two of the best places to find information on caches are:
  • - The original geocaching site, and still by far the largest, the Official Global GPS Cache Hunt site is the place to go for everything geocaching. Search by zip code to find the latest caches in your area, log your latest geocache find, and learn how to hide and list your own cache. Over 2,000 active caches are listed for the state of Pennsylvania.

  • - Search by zip code to find cache locations in a widening circle from your location. Plus, find forums where you can ask questions or discuss the latest cache locations.

You may find yourself surprised to learn just how many caches are hidden right in your area - some probably in places where you go fairly often!

Selecting a Cache
Caches are rated one to five for difficulty and terrain, with five being the most challenging. A one/one could be a cache located in a city park, while a five/five could be tucked into an underwater cave. If you plan to geocache with younger children, stick to caches with lower ratings for difficulty and location.

Researching the Cache
Once you've selected a likely cache, try to pinpoint its location on a map. If the cache is out in the countryside (instead of a city or building location) a good topographical map (which show features of the land like hills) is best, so you can get a good idea of the terrain you'll be crossing. Maps also make great backups to the GPS in case of battery failure or dropped signals (it happens, believe me).

For your first cache, you may want to read other people's experiences finding the cache or the cache notes. If you're worried that this "cheating" will make the hunt too easy, consider printing these pages out without reading them and bringing them with you on the search. That way you'll have more clues in case you have trouble finding the cache.

The Hunt
Geocaching may seem too easy at first; after all, you just punch the coordinates into your receiver and it tells you which way to go. Each cache has some basic directions to the starting area, and a waypoint, or series of waypoints, which you enter into the GPS to find the starting and ending point of the treasure hunt. Just because the GPS says "go this way" doesn't mean you'll want to or that it's even possible, however. Rivers, cliffs, ravines and prickly bushes have a nasty habit of getting in the way. Here is where a map can save you some potential headaches. Getting within a mile or two of the site isn't usually too difficult, however ? it's the last mile that'll get you every time. If you leave your car to set out on foot, take the time to mark your car's location as a waypoint so you can find your way back.

Some caches are easy to find - visible from as far as 20 feet away, while others in more trafficked areas may be buried under some rocks or hidden in a stump. Using the GPS, you can usually get to within six to 30 feet of a cache. As you get close, concentrate more on the distance decreasing, rather than the direction of the arrow. Once you think you're in the right location, it helps to think like the person who hid the cache. Investigate large stumps, piles of rocks and fallen trees. Some stashes, especially in highly-trafficked areas, are pretty ingeniously hidden - but they can't be buried.

You've Found the Cache - Now What?
  • When you find a cache, enter your name in the log book, along with details of your experience finding the cache. If you wish, you can also take an item from the stash, and leave a comparable item in its place.
  • Seal the cache tightly and place it back where you found it. Replace any rocks or twigs which were covering the cache. Basically, leave everything as you found it.
  • Remember that waypoint you created for your car's location? Use that now to get back.
  • When you get home, post a note to the geocaching Web site to let others know that you have found the cache. You can also post details on your experience finding the cache and information on what you took and what you left behind.

Enjoy geocaching!

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