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My Love Hate Relationship with Geocaching


Over the years I’ve developed a love/hate relationship with geocaching. Lately I’ve been drifting more towards the hate side, although I’m still an active participant. My biggest issue is that people don’t seem to think about where the place caches. The impact I see caused by the location of certain caches is turning me away from wanting to be an active participant.

That isn’t to say that geocaching doesn’t have a number of notable positive impacts too. ‘Cache-in Trash-out’ type events promote being good to Earth and help people think about their impact. Geocaching gets people outside– and pardon the stereotype but many geocachers I see are people that might not otherwise spend a lot of time outdoors. That is a wonderful thing and great to see.

Geocaching is also educational, teaching people about the coordinate system, how to read a map, and navigation. People often reflect about how they found a “new to them” area not too far from where they live. It gets people out exploring their own area more completely as well as discovering new areas outside of their neighborhood. Geocaching has a number of worthwhile benefits.

But lately I’ve become a bit turned off by caches placed in places where they simply shouldn’t be. While each area is different, I’d say more than half of the geocaches I’ve visited in recent years are located in places where I just don’t think a geocache belongs. Here are a few reasons why.

Stay on Marked Trail

As a hiker, a sign I come across often reads ‘Stay on Marked Trail‘. The sign isn’t simply a warning that you could get lost if you wonder off the trail– it most often means the nearby soils and vegetation are highly sensitive to foot traffic. Even without the sign a number of geocachers in one area can have a significant impact on the soils and vegetation. Popular caches often end up developing their own “trail” that leads from a marked, established trail into the woods towards the cache. My belief is that geocaching shouldn’t be inadvertently creating new trails.

Geocache Density

While grabbing dozens of caches in one day can be fun, I also dislike the density of caches popping up in certain areas. The geocaching guidelines suggest caches be placed at least one tenth of a mile apart (about 528 feet) however that hardly seems enough in my opinion. Geocaching seems to have turned into a numbers game for many people where the number of caches they find is far more important than the experience they have. To each their own. But I can’t help but look at some of the geocache maps and think to myself “each box on the map shows where someone has left a metal box or tupperware container out in the natural environment”.

Bomb Scares

For awhile this Spring/Summer it seemed like every couple of weeks an article would appear in a local paper somewhere about a someone stumbling upon a geocache, thinking it was a bomb, and the bomb squad being called in. I thought the trend had diminished, but just as I was drafting this article another report appeared. These types of incidents place the hobby in a negative light and cause unnecessary scare and inconvenience. Regardless if the cache was well placed and marked it is too bad that tax dollars are being wasted when the bomb squad gets called in to dispose caches.


Ironically, just yesterday I had a few minutes of time to kill and decided to stop by a small park that was nearby. I thought there must be a geocache in the area so I pulled out the iPhone app. Sure enough, there was a cache I hadn’t found a few hundred feet away. The cache turned out to be near the top of a steep embankment made of sandy soil. Sure enough in a line straight up to the cache (and nowhere else on the embankment) the embankment was crumbling and eroding away into the pond. The cache was also placed about 100 feet from a cemetery. While the Geocaching Guidelines don’t seem to prohibit that, they do mention that caches shouldn’t be placed in areas highly sensitive to extra traffic and cite cemeteries as an example.

Final Fix

Many of the issues I’ve mentioned don’t specifically go against any of the official Geocaching Guidelines, so I hardly ever “report” a cache. And I do enjoy geocaching as a hobby when I discover caches which are well placed. It just seems that as the hobby grows in popularity the number of poorly placed caches is rising quickly and with it my enthusiasm and excitement dropping just as fast.

10 Responses

  1. I agree with many of the things you have listed here and I often feel the same way. The thing that has made the difference for me is that I now put more effort into deciding which caches to find. I am making more of an effort to hit the nice parks, the rural areas, the mountains. I have almost entirely given up on urban caching.

    I’d love to see the cache saturation guideline increased. Sure, it means less caches to hunt, but that only matters to those motivated by numbers. I’d much rather spend the entire day getting one “good” cache than an hour bagging ten “lame” caches.

    Dan Overes - October 20th, 2010
  2. I’m glad there are others who feel the same way I do. I have cut way back on my geocaching, from a dozen a week to about 3 dozen in the past year. My area (Suburban Chicago) became congested with parking lot hides and other hides that undoubtedly lack the necessary permissions to be placed. Geocaches weren’t in interesting places anymore and put me at risk for contact from law enforcement or curious muggles. I concentrated on bicycling instead, repurposing my GPSr for mapping the local trails. However, I still enjoy geocaching. On 10/10/10, I took a three mile walk around a nature preserve and found five caches. That’s how caching should be.

    Marty - October 20th, 2010
  3. I believe Marty has touched on the real problem: The nudge-nudge-wink-wink attitude that seems to prevail about having obtained permission to place a cache. If hiders actually had to demonstrate that they had obtained permission for their hides (as they must do with earthcaches where no physical placement is involved!), most if not all of the problems you describe would evaporate. But Groundspeak wouldn’t touch that liability exposure with a 528-foot pole.

    Steven - October 21st, 2010
  4. I don’t often go out for the express purpose of geocaching; I usually do it while I”m out for something else. But I’m always disappointed when I get to the cache and I find it in a place I definitely don’t feel that I should be entering, be it dangerous, overtly conspicuous, or on obviously private property.

    Joshua - October 21st, 2010
  5. I agree with the premise of your post but what to do about it? I think that when you log a cache you should be able to rate location, hide, container. Geocachers could then avoid caches that are poorly rated.

    Cachemania - October 30th, 2010
    • I’m not sure that rating and then avoiding would work– once a problem like erosion develops it is too late to report that it is happening. Also I don’t think enough geocachers would filter caches based on the reports to make a difference.

      I’m not sure what the solution is, but I think it needs to happen before the cache is placed. There needs to be more education placed on people creating new geocaches as well as more oversight over land-ownership issues on the part of Groundspeak. The current oversight process for approving new caches doesn’t seem to go far enough.

      Tim - November 2nd, 2010
      • @tim I agree that there is no perfect solution. Education is always a good starting point. For may geocachers this is their first foray into the wild so to speak. The notion of tread lightly does not come naturally to all people.

        Strong advocacy groups are what is needed. It is not a surprise that organized sports tend to have some kind of Independence governing body. Groundspeak can’t be impartial so they make a poor choice to govern the rules of play. Make no mistake there will be more rules in the future, land managers will demand it or forbid cache placements. It’s not like you can hide that you’ve place it somewhere you shouldn’t have 🙂

        Cachemania - November 24th, 2010
  6. This reply is by [i]Firefishe, Caching In On The Journey[/i]

    Hello, everyone! My name is Stephen. I’ve been an active cache finder for the last nine years. I have not placed any caches, but plan to do so when I am able to stop moving 😉 The fact is that I just have not stayed put long enough to be able to attend to keeping up a cache; and truly, is that not responsible geocaching behavior?

    The above ssid, please let me segue into my response to Tim/Cachemania: — Tim, first thing, nice to meet you! It’s always nice to meet a fellow Cacher :-). Now, as to a rating/avoidance system not working, I tend to ‘slightly agree’ with this premise. I feel that, one, that this should be pursued a little bit different than the current method of cache approvals.

    Those who, as I see it, ‘Pursue Geocaching For The Journey, The Seeking, Itself,and The Experience,’ are going to be the ones to use such a system; ie, those who are, at least as it applies to geocaching, ‘spiritually involved.’ If you look me uo on the main website, you will see I’ve logged 122 caches total since I started in 2002. I can say, with confidence, that I’ve enjoyed each and every one of those hunts, and have not destroyed any land in the process.
    –which brings me to a point: Erosion, when found to be occurring relative to geocaching, must immediately cease.

    Contacting those responsible for a particular area’s upkeep–and offering to assist with any rebuild projects–especially the affected area–will do wonders for how geocachers and geocaches are portrayed to others by those in authority over public lands. Private lands owned by the placee, not so much, but still important as ecology is concerned.

    So what to do about it? Perhaps GroundSpeak could set uo the website with a form that would have a click-by-click list of things that need to be done before placing a cache. One salient item could be something like: \Have You Contacted The Land Manager/Official Responsible for Permission To Place The Cache? If ‘Yes,’ then there could be a place for the Land Manager/Official’s contact information; the local cache approver could make a quick inquiry during the approval process if he or she feel that something doesn’t look right, and contact the cache placer directly.

    Additionally, I think that all geocache placers should be held accountable and be possessed of a working communications system–preferably phone–and be able to be reached on a moment’s notice; this, and the aforementioned, would foster, in my eyes, an aiir of ‘desiring to be compliant’ with the local caching policy of the land managers, would build professionalism, and help geocaching to evolve into an activity whose goals are to eliminate any adverse impact–through cache pre-assessment and ardent follow-up on the part of everyone involved–before any cache is placed.

    I Love Geocaching! It is my favorite outdoor recreational pasttime! I have seen places that I would not have seen, otherwise. I am one who has chosen to avoid some caches, due to them being in what I felt to be in ‘fundamentaly stupid places,’ I base these on my own opinions, values, and experiences.

    I have logged 122 total geocaches to date. Some of them were Event Caches (MOGA, as an example). Most have fillied my life with incredible experiences, Journeys I would not have taken and experienced during any other type of outdoor adventuring. How we take Geocaching to the next level is entirely up to us.

    Warmest Regards From,

    Caching In On The Journey[/i]

    Stephen - November 30th, 2010
  7. Other geocache bomb scares are bookmarked at:


    George - January 5th, 2011
  8. I started in the first year of geocaching.com. Quantity has spoiled the quality. But, I’ve had my run at it. Many hundreds of finds and some hides. I’ve stated my thoughts with the state organization. I was an officer and a board member but they didn’t care to see into the future. Growth is not always a good thing.

    Steve - July 17th, 2011

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