Geocaching in Alberta

Geocaching has grown in popularity since it first appeared 14 years ago and with over 19000 geocaches across Alberta it’s an easy outdoor activity to include in any road trip. For the unfamiliar think treasure hunt but with GPS co-ordinates instead of a pirate map and trinkets instead of gold.

The easiest way to get started is to create an account on geocaching.com then find a cache by searching your location’s postal code under Hide and Seek a Cache. That will generate a list of caches in the area — choose the one you want and plug the co-ordinates into a GPS device.

When you arrive at the location look for a hidden plastic container. Traditional caches contain a logbook for finders to sign and depending on its size and difficulty level the cache may also contain a collection of prizes. The prizes are usually small family-friendly trinkets like toys and novelty geocoins . But if you plan to take a prize you have to have something to trade for it so you don’t leave the next person empty-handed.

Not every cache follows the same format. In Alberta they range from the micro-cache which features nothing but a logbook inside to the virtual cache which leads people to a location rather than an item such as the summit of Sulphur Mountain.

That’s just one of almost 1000 geocaches that can be found in provincial parks. Alberta Parks ( albertapark.ca ) offers public geocaching programs the newest being Geocache the Corridor in David Thompson country which launched on May 1 and features 10 geocaches hidden in 10 different provincial parks along Highway 11 west of Rocky Mountain House. Each cache will contain information about the park a logbook and a stamp for the Geocache the Corridor passport. Those who complete their passports will receive an Alberta Parks Trackable Geocoin to drop off in a cache at another Alberta Park. Trackables are “game pieces” which include a special code for finders to log onto the website and follow the coin as it moves from cache to cache around the globe.

“It’ll take people to places they’ve never been to or seen before” says Alberta Parks visitor services supervisor Graham Thursfield of the geocaching program. “It opens you up to new experiences as well as an invitation to go and visit a brand-new park with a goal in mind.”

Geocaches are common in the urban environment as well with thousands of hunts in Alberta’s towns and cities. Calgary has over 6800 sites and Medicine Hat has an entire club called SEARCH (Southeast Alberta Region Cache Hunters) which organizes and promotes geocaching and events in the city. August 2014 will see the fourth annual Southern Alberta Weekend a social event that attracts geocachers from far and wide.

Clinton Polec chair of SEARCH says his favourite type of geocache is the puzzle cache which requires an extra step. For example he says there is a series of 49 caches called Rock [and] Roll hidden around Saamis Teepee a Medicine Hat landmark and the first in the series is a puzzle cache. For this particular puzzle the co-ordinates on the website are in another language so users must translate the numbers into English before they can use them to locate the cache. “It’s kind of a game within the game” he explains.

Polec has found over 3000 caches with his family since they started geocaching in October 2009. He has two kids and says it’s a great way to get away from technology and out of the house.

Polec and other experienced hunters recommend using a handheld GPS over a smartphone app as the GPS tends to be more accurate. “A friend of mine used her phone while I used my GPS. Her phone said to go one way and my GPS said to go the other” says Karla Williamson a geocaching co-ordinator for Girl Guides in Calgary with eight years of experience. She also encourages beginners to do their research and bring along someone who knows what they’re doing.