Geocaching and Letterboxing
May 9, 2012

Anyone who has ever gone on a scavenger hunt or loves stories about pirates searching for treasure can understand the joys of geocaching or letterboxing.

What Are They?

While the two activities differ a bit, the principle is the same with both: Find the hidden box. Both are excellent ways to get kids excited about exploring the outdoors. The adults in the party no doubt will enjoy themselves too.

In a nutshell, geocaching involves using a global positioning system (GPS) device to find a hidden container, or cache. Inside the cache you might find anything from trinkets for trading to a logbook in which you sign your name.

The terms "letterboxing" and "questing" are often used interchangeably with geocaching, but they are different. Letterboxing has a much longer history, dating back to the 1800s, and usually involves solving puzzles or elaborate clues. Participants use rubber stamps to record their discoveries.

Where Can You Find Them?

Getting started for either adventure is simple. Geocaching.com is the largest website dedicated to the outdoor sport, and it’s free to join. Search for geocaches by general location, degree of difficulty, or when the cache was last found. Letterboxing.org, also free to join, breaks down letterboxes by neighborhood. Looking for the most recent ones will make it more likely that you’ll be able to find them. If your kids are old enough, have them do this research and pick ones that appeal to them.

Plugging in my Roslindale neighborhood on the letterboxing site revealed ones in Franklin Park, the Arnold Arboretum, and Millennium Park, all popular places for children to have fun anyway.

The Mass Audubon Society offers what it calls quests at several of its properties, as does the Trustees of Reservations. The Trustees even has a new Quest Detective booklet where kids can record their visits.

Geocaching.com has an enormous inventory of caches, numbering in the thousands---when I put in my zip code, I found more than 2,000 within 20 miles! Fun themes include a toy car trading cache, one designed by Boy Scouts, and one where you have to be very stealthy so people don’t see you find the box near Jamaica Pond.

Before You Go

Be sure your kids understand that sometimes you won’t be able to find the boxes. Hiders often go to extremes to disguise them. Sometimes the boxes may have been put back in the wrong place, animals may have dragged them off, or vandals may have taken them. Geocache.com suggests that you plan on looking for several caches in the same region in case you can’t find one or, better yet, because it’s so much fun. Same goes for letterboxing.

Also, though not every adventure will involve rubber stamps and ink, having your child keep (and bring along) a journal to record their adventures is an excellent idea and makes a wonderful keepsake.

As always, parents should remind their children to respect the environment and follow Leave No Trace principles.

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