The Ins and Outs of Geocaching in National Parks

On the Search for Park-Sponsored Caches

tirc83/Getty Images/E+ Collection

If you're unfamiliar with geocaching, it's time to grab your GPS unit (or a smartphone with a GPS app) and hit the trails. Geocaching is like a worldwide treasure hunt - people create caches of hidden goodies that they hide in a public spaces, then they leave the GPS coordinates of those goodies for other people to find. Geocaching etiquette stipulates that if you find and remove a goodie from a hidden cache, you replace it with a new goodie to keep the game going.

In a nutshell, geocaching gives new excitement to a standard hike, and it's a fun twist for kids and teenagers who might get bored with family walking excursions.

The only catch? Most national parks don't want random people hiding caches of unknown goodies on federally protected public land. As such, most national parks don't allow geocaching within park boundaries.

That said, there are a few exceptions. Some parks have developed park-sponsored virtual geocache programs where specific GPS coordinates help park-goers find interesting facts or markers within the park. Other parks have created their own special caches where participants find commemorative cards they can collect and keep. The point is, when you're on park land, you need to play according to park rules. Check out the parks where geocaching programs can be found.

1. Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, California

There are six "ParkCaches" located within the Santa Monica National Recreation Area.

These caches are available year round and offer one of the only approved physical caches within national park land. Each location offers a commemorative card, and when all six cards are collected, they form an iconic image of the park. Check out the park's site to find the GPS coordinates and start searching.

2. Gateway National Recreation Area, New York & New Jersey

The virtual geocaching offered at Gateway National Recreation Area encourages visitors to discover some of the most significant cultural and natural resources located within the park. There are 14 possible sites to uncover, all located along park trails and walkways around Floyd Bennett Field. While it's possible to walk to all areas, the park's website suggests bringing a bike if you want to visit all 14 sites.

After locating at least six caches and answering questions about their locations, you can turn in your info to the ranger station and receive a commemorative pin.

3. Everglades National Park, Florida

In 2013 Everglades National Park launched its first geocaching program on park land titled "Park Employee for a Day Geocaching Trail." The intent of the program is to guide park guests to locations within the park that represent real-life problems to park employees, asking guests how they would solve the problem or concern. It's a unique way to tour the Everglades, and provides a fresh look at what it takes to be a park employee.

Check out the geocaching locations here to get started.

4. White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

Explore the dunes of White Sands National Monument by tracking the 12 virtual geocaches developed by the park. Answer questions at each location to further your knowledge about the area. You can download and print your activity sheet and coordinates here.

5. Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site, New York

While there's not much information about the virtual geocaching program available on the website of the Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site, you can access the links to's official coordinates for 10 different locations within the park. These will take you to significant landmarks within the site, including the Ice Pond, Italian Gardens and FDR's Bird Collection. offers a free basic membership, so don't hesitate to sign up to find even more geocaching opportunities.

6. Badlands National Park, South Dakota

The barren landscape of Badlands National Park might not seem very kid-friendly, but the park staff has put together a family-friendly GPS Adventure Activity Book to add some spice to your next vacation. Families can work together to find special GPS coordinates within the park to complete the activities offered within the book. After completing at least three activities, kids can show their book to park rangers to receive a special patch. If the whole activity book is completed, a GPS Adventure certificate is awarded.

7. Mississippi National River and Recreation Area

The Mississippi River Geocache program includes a series of park-approved and managed caches located within specific parks within the federally protected land. These are actual caches with actual "goodies" you can take with you when you find the cache. There are currently eight caches in play throughout the area - check the park's website to download the GPS coordinates for currently playable caches.

8. Acadia National Park

To complete the full Acadia National Park "EarthCache" virtual geocaching program, you'll need roughly 4-6 hours. Each geocache location provides clues for you to solve the final clue, so you will need to bring paper and a pencil along. When you complete the final clue, you can turn your information in to park rangers to receive a hand-carved Acadia National Park EarthCache Program stamp imprint and enter your name in the program logbook. If you complete the program with kids, you can also print a certificate of achievement to commemorate the day.

Continue Reading