Growing up as the oldest and only daughter in my family meant my father and I bonded over few things. Our love for intense roller coasters and delicious New Jersey pizza has only grown since I’ve gotten older, but we rarely have time to embark on one of my favorite childhood activities: geocaching. I can recall countless summer days spent with my younger brother and dad marching through trails, scaling rocks, and hunting for hidden treasure in the forests of New Jersey.
As the snow melts and grey clouds give way to a sunshiny spring, New Jerseyians like myself will soon repopulate the multitude of paths and parks offered in the Garden State. But if you’re looking for a fun outdoor activity that will challenge both your body and mind, geocaching is the hobby for you. Our beginner’s guide to geocaching in New Jersey will help prepare you for your first adventure by teaching you what to look for, how to start, and some of the most unique geocaches in the state!
What is Geocaching?
You’re interested in geocaching, but what exactly is it? Geocaching is a real-world treasure hunting game that uses GPS technology to help participants navigate to a specific location. Members can both hide and hunt for these secret containers simply by following GPS coordinates. Geocaches can be hidden almost anywhere, but popular spots include hiking trails, parks, and even road signs or guardrails. Additionally, they can vary in type and size, but more on this later.
Geocaching began more than 20 years ago by computer consultant and GPS enthusiast, Dave Ulmer. Recent updates to GPS technology improved the software’s accuracy, and Ulmer wanted to put it to the test. On May 3, 2000, Ulmer placed the first geocache named the “Great American GPS Stash Hunt” in the woods of Beavercreek, Oregon. In the container, he included a logbook and pencil, as well as various prize items. Ulmer posted the coordinates to an internet GPS users’ group and patiently waited.
Within three days, two different readers heard about his stash and used their own GPS receivers to find the container. GPS-users who already utilized the technology for outdoor activities were the first to play the real-world treasure hunting game. But as the hobby grew in popularity, it became more accessible. Now, there are more than three million geocaches hidden around the world.
With all these hidden treasures out there, where do you start? Prior to beginning your new geocaching hobby, you should learn about what you’re looking for and how the game works.
What To Look For:
The Different Types of Geocaches:
Before you head out on your first geocaching excursion, it’s important to know what to look for. First, beginners need to know the various types of geocaches available. Currently, there are more than a dozen “cache types” within the game, but I’m going to discuss the three most common: traditional, mystery/puzzle, and multi-caches.
- Traditional geocaches: These are the most straightforward and common of the bunch. These geocaches are always containers that are hidden at the given GPS coordinates. While the size may vary, all of these geocaches will include a log sheet to sign. In larger containers, participants may come across additional goodies like trading items; I’ll go into detail about trading swag and trackables later in this article. If you are new to geocaching, I suggest starting with a traditional cache before attempting to find more elaborate types.
- Mystery or puzzle geocaches: For these caches, players must solve a series of puzzles to determine the correct coordinates of the physical cache. You might have to finish a Sudoku puzzle, solve a math equation, or connect with another geocacher for more information. These caches are great for people who live in colder climates like New Jersey because you can solve the puzzles ahead of time. You can always find the physical container when the weather’s warmer.
- Multi-caches: Similar to mystery or puzzle caches, multi-caches provide participants with a string of clues before reaching the final cache destination. The cache page should indicate how many stages you are looking for. Most multi-caches involve two or more locations. If you want to finish in one trip, we recommend playing on a day with good weather.
The Various Cache Sizes
In addition to the various types of geocaches out there, the containers also come in a variety of sizes. Below are the four size categories for traditional caches.
- Micro and nano geocache: the smallest caches one can find. Micro containers are typically less than 100 milliliters, about the size of a film canister, and can hold a tiny logbook or sheet. Nano caches are containers smaller than 10 milliliters.
- Small geocaches: a 100 milliliter or larger container that weighs less than one pound. A common small geocache is around the size of a plastic sandwich container.
- Regular or medium-sized geocaches: the second largest to hide. Most regular caches are about the size of a shoebox; think ammo canisters or Tupperware containers.
- Large geocaches: the most sizable, as they are usually more than 20 liters. Substantial buckets, bins, and even railroad freight cars can be considered large geocaches.
Now that you know more about what you’re looking for, let’s dive into how to start your new hobby.
How to Start Geocaching and What You Should Bring
Geocaching is an awesome pastime because it’s free and accessible to everyone. To start geocaching in New Jersey, all you have to do is create an account through the official website. When you’re ready to go on your first hunt, simply click the “Hide and Seek a Cache” page, enter your current location, and in an instant, you have access to an abundance of geocaches. Once you choose a cache, make sure your backpack is filled with all the essentials. In essence, you’ll only need a device with GPS capabilities and a geocaching account, but it’s always best to keep extra supplies on you. For most geocaching adventures, I suggest bringing extra writing implements, tchotchkes for trading, snacks and water, as well as a flashlight for looking into dark hiding spots.
After plugging in your desired set of coordinates into a GPS-enabled device, members will attempt to find the concealed geocache at that specific location. While this may sound like an easy task, most geocaches are camouflage beneath rocks and leaves, stuffed inside hollow logs, or hidden in plain sight. Additional equipment like a rope may be required for more sophisticated caches in order to retrieve the container. Players who hide geocaches are incredibly creative, so hunters should always be thinking outside the box.
When You’ve Found Your First Cache
You’ve rustled around in the forest floor and voila, you’ve found your first geocache! What do you do next? Whether big or small, every geocache should contain a logbook, a rolled-up piece of paper or a notebook to record your findings. Additionally, some caches will have trinkets and knick-knacks to trade. In my experience, the most popular swag to add to a geocache are small plastic toys, keychains, and trading cards. Most trading items are inexpensive—think dollar store finds or McDonald’s Happy Meal toys.
If you’re a first-time geocacher, you probably have some cool cache goodies laying around at home. Trading items should be suitable for players of all ages, as geocaching is a family-friendly activity. Do not add perishable or messy prizes to a container. While kids love a bottle of bubbles, geocache owners don’t want this soapy solution ruining the contents of their cache.
If you’re lucky, your geocache may contain what is called a geocoin or travel bug. Like the other treasures, these special trinkets are meant to be taken by geocachers and placed in the next cache location they visit. Just note that if you take a trading item, you must leave something of equal or greater value. Remember to return the cache to its exact hiding spot and try your best to camouflage the container (i.e. if it was originally under a rock, replace the rock on top).
Once you’ve returned home, you must log your experience on the geocaching website. Documenting your geocaching trips is a great way to keep track of your own finds, but it also helps the geocache owner see if the container needs updating.
Congrats, you’ve just completed your first geocache!
Unique Geocaches in New Jersey
Whether you’re a beginner or an expert, geocaching in New Jersey is always an exciting experience. With more than 1,000 hiking trails to explore, you will totally find some really unique geocaches. Here are some of our favorite geocaches in the Garden State that stand out from the rest.
- Gerbil Cache: We had to add one of the oldest caches to our beginner’s guide to geocaching in New Jersey. Located in the Ramapo Reservation, this traditional-style cache was hidden more than 20 years ago and remains active to this day. The container is hidden among one of the park’s hiking trails and is an easy trek for first-time players.
- Rock Islands Frying Pan Tree: This cache is one of the more quirky spots I’ve seen while geocaching. Hidden in October 2016, this regular-sized traditional cache is concealed near tall trees whose branches are adorned with a plethora of hanging frying pans. Yes, you read that right, frying pans! These trees sit atop a small, rocky hill near Route 15 and in the wintertime, the floating skillets can be seen from the highway.
- Needful Things IV: During the summer, we highly recommend visiting Tourne Park in Morris County to look for the Needful Things IV cache. With more than 500 acres to explore, this hidden gem includes a wildflower trail with nearly 250 species of native plants. The regular-sized cache is also a great find for newbies geocaching in New Jersey.
- Secret Trapdoor: Once you’ve advanced your geocaching skills, you must search for the Secret Trapdoor cache in the Watchung Reservation. This micro-cache was first hidden in February 2008 and is based on the Greek mythology of Hyprieus, King of Boeotia. It is said that Hypreius hired the two famous architects to build a treasure chamber to hide his treasure. While building the contraption, the men added a trapdoor, so they could steal the valuables later on. Geocachers should keep this tale in mind when trying to solve this unique cache!
What will YOU find while geocaching in New Jersey? Tell us about your first adventures, unique discoveries, geocaching tips, and more in the comments below.
Main image by Martin Lostak