Geocaching Adventures in New York City
May 10, 2012

If your children like scavenger hunts or stories about pirates searching for treasure, geocaching is a great way to get them excited about exploring the outdoors. Or so we had heard. On a recent weekend, we decided to give the popular activity a try.

Our adventures in Manhattan’s Sakura and Riverside parks began, somewhat incongruously, on the Internet. We visited geocaching.com and set up a free account so we could peruse the 128 geocaches—or treasures hidden outdoors—that are within a 3-mile radius of our Morningside Heights apartment. (As of last count, there are more than 1.7 million active geocaches and more than 5 million geocachers worldwide.)

Riley, our 9-year-old son, is obsessed with maps, GoogleEarth, compasses, and all things related to geography, and Halina, our 6-year-old daughter, is a thrill-seeker who is always up for hide-and-seek adventure. Geocaching, which relies on a global positioning system (GPS) device to find a hidden container, or cache, seemed to tap into both their interests perfectly. 

Getting Started

We selected two nearby caches to start: one called World Coin Trading Post that invited successful seekers to leave a foreign coin and sign the log book, and another called NYC Alpha Jr., which billed itself as a revival of the first-ever cache in New York City.

We downloaded the coordinates and description into Riley’s Garmin eTrex 10 GPS device, and away we went! At the end of our block, we realized that it is impossible to follow the compass arrow precisely in a city. Doing so would have had us leaping over elevated subway tracks or climbing fences. As you modify your route for these realities, the compass readjusts to get you back on track. 

Homing in on the Cache

We first went in search of the international coin purse, which was described as being in “gorgeous Sakura Park,” a sentiment we wholly agree with. Sakura is a green space on West 122nd Street, between Claremont Avenue and Riverside Drive, nestled within some of the major institutions and monuments that make Morningside so distinct: the General Grant National Memorial, International House, Manhattan School for Music, and the majestic Riverside Church. Since the park is manicured, we thought it would be relatively easy to find the cache: no brambles to pick our way through, stumps to navigate around, or slippery rocks to climb over. 

While all that is true, we still couldn’t find the cache. The introductory video, What is Geocaching, on geocaching.com explains that your GPS will take you only so far. It will lead you to a general area, but then your own eyes and ingenious searching must kick in. We kept finding ourselves looking down, although the video is clear that caches can be hidden among tree branches, in bird feeders, and in other elevated places. On future expeditions, we will need to train ourselves to look up and look all over. 

After nearly an hour (with breaks for tree climbing and other distractions) we set out in search of Alpha NYC Jr., the coordinates for which brought us to Riverside Park and ultimately to a small path through a Forever Wild site, one of 51 city-designated nature preserves in the five boroughs.  We were looking for a fairly large, green metal box. According to several commenters on the geocaching website, once you find it, you can hardly believe it was there in relatively plain sight. We wouldn’t know: We wandered a small network of paths up a hillside, over many stumps and rocks, and through some thickets for a good 45 minutes to no avail, unless you factor in the fun we had doing it. 

Our Verdict

Altogether we logged 3.1 walking miles on the GPS that afternoon. Ordinarily we would have gone to a playground, to the rock climbing area in northern Morningside Park, or to an open space to throw a Frisbee, but geocaching proved to be a wonderful alternative and one that we will return to as part of an outing or as an outing unto itself.  Despite our lack of success, Riley and Halina loved it—especially navigating the slick, sloping obstacle course in Riverside Park.

For our next attempts, we will choose caches that are specifically marked for beginners.  You can tick a box at the bottom of the geocache list to have the beginner caches highlighted in green. Since we knew the parks we were searching in, we didn’t think it was necessary to choose beginner caches, but now we know better!

Before You Go

Visit geocaching.com and search for geocaches by general location, degree of difficulty, or when the cache was last found.

Be sure your kids understand that sometimes you won’t be able to find the boxes. You might want to look for several caches in the same area in case you can’t find one or, better yet, because it’s so much fun.

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



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