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Geocaching 101: A Local Guide to a New Hobby

Nov 27, 2014 10:00AM ● Published by Kevin

Geocaching is a game of treasure hunt that is quickly gaining popularity in the United States and Pennsylvania. In light of its growth over the years, we compiled a guide to geocaching in Pennsylvania.

Are you a local geocacher? Share your stories, photos and finds in the comments below.

Basic Things to Know

Membership to the geocaching community is free at the basic level. All you need is a GPS-enabled device and an account, and you can be on your way. There are many levels of the game, but the basic rules remain static: if you take something from the "cache," leave something of equal or lesser value in its place; write about your find in the cache's logbook; and log your experience at geocaching.com.

According to the official website, "Geocaches can be found all over the world. It is common for geocachers to hide caches in locations that are important to them, reflecting a special interest or skill of the cache owner. These locations can be quite diverse. They may be at your local park, at the end of a long hike, underwater or on the side of a city street."

The types of finds vary, including but not limited to: a traditional cache (or container), mysteries and puzzles, multi-location caches, event caches (meetups), EarthCaches (environmental education - a special type of cache), adventure mazes, and many more. Click here for the full list.

Some restrictions to playing the game include not leaving certain items, like explosives, ammunition, knives, drugs and alcohol, as well as food and heavily scented items. You also should not move a cache from its location.

Introduction and full-featured apps can be downloaded to your mobile device. For more information, click here.

For a quick introduction to the geocaching world, watch the video below.

Pennsylvania Rules of the Road

There are certain state laws that each geocaching community must follow. A full list can be found here.

  • Cemeteries - Cemetery caches are OK; however, it is not encouraged to list anything too close to a grave. The more information concerning a cache in a cemetery, the better, including where and how it is hidden.
  • National Park Service - NPS-managed land is off limits in Pennsylvania for geocache placements.
  • National Wildlife Refuges - These are also off limits in Pennsylvania (including John Heinz and Cherry Valley).
  • State Forests and Parks - Caches placed in state parks and forests must have permits from the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources; however, they do not allow "members only" caches on the land.
  • York County - As of April 2004, "Placement of Geo Caches on land administered by the York County Department of Parks and Recreation requires authorization of the Parks' Executive Director or his designee," according to GroundSpeak. Further, "Before authorization can be given, a formal request must be made in writing. The formal request must include: date, name, address, phone number, email address, group responsible for Geo Cache, longitude, latitude of Geo Cache(s), directions to location, website(s) where Geo Cache will be advertised, wording used in all advertisements, type of canister used to hold Geo Cache and a list of materials located inside the Geo Cache. Accompanying the formal request must be a copy of a county park brochure map marking the location of the Geo Cache and a picture showing the exact location of the proposed Geo Cache." There should be no earth disturbance or vegetative impact to any approved site. Nor should the cache be readily discernible by the general public. It should not be placed in a PVC pipe.
  • Lancaster County Conservancy - Does not allow public geocaching hides.

Recreational Reading

A murder-mystery novel was published in September 2012 by Russell Atkinson called "Cached Out." It is the second book in a series of mystery novels based on fictional retired FBI agent Cliff Knowles. Alone after the tragic death of his wife, Knowles takes up geocaching. 

"While looking for a cache in the mountains he comes across a human skeleton and reports it to the sheriff's office. Then a second body is found - a fresh corpse this time - right after Cliff found another geocache nearby. When it turns out the first remains are those of a fugitive he was supposed to arrest years earlier, he becomes a suspect in a multiple homicide investigation. He has no choice but to use his sleuthing skills to identify the mysterious cache owner, known only as Enigmal, and free himself from suspicion" - Plot Summary from Amazon.

The piece received 4.4 out of 5 stars on Amazon's marketplace. Most reviewers say that even someone who knows nothing about geocaching can catch on to the story. Atkinson himself is a former FBI agent and current geocacher. He has three other books, in addition to "Cached Out," available on Kindle.

Click here for more information.

Fun Signature Items

One personalized item to trade at caches is a pathtag. Not exclusive to geocaching, pathtags are single-sided custom metal tags about the size and weight of a U.S. Quarter or a one Euro coin. According to the official website, the precise dimension of Pathtags are 23mm in diameter and 2.0mm thick. Pathtags are made from a solid iron base and are plated in a protective colored plating of either silver, gold, copper, or black nickel.

"When you order your Starter Kit, you will be prompted to upload a design from your computer. Pathtags are really easy to design and many owners design their own tags. If you don't feel up to the challenge, check out our Design Page for tips and links to our Design Partners. Design Partners are professionals skilled in the rendering of Pathtag designs. They will help you by producing your design for a nominal fee (typically $25 or $35)," the website says.

Pennsylvania Groups

If you take up the hobby, are on the road, and want to meet up with groups or find cool locations throughout the state, here is a list of groups/areas that you may want to check out:

What is Geocaching?

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