Richmond has a claim to fame you might not know about: it’s the first Canadian city to host an official GeoTour—which makes it a magnet for locals and visitors who love geocaching, an all-ages pastime enjoyed by millions of people around the world.
But what exactly is geocaching and how can you try it out for yourself? We chatted with a couple of experts before giving it a spin.
“It’s basically a high-tech outdoor treasure hunt using your smartphone or other GPS device,” says Jay Kennedy, a BC-based geocacher who blogs and vlogs about the popular activity under the LANMonkey moniker. “Most people start by downloading the official app and creating a free account at geocaching.com. You then use the online maps and clues to hunt down hidden caches in the area you’re visiting.”
A cache hidden in a log. | Photo: John Lee
In Richmond, there are hundreds of caches concealed throughout the city. Many of these are small containers, but some can be as large as suitcases, Kennedy says. “You open the container, sign the paper inside—that’s why you need to bring a pen—then you log your find using the app.”
Most players, he adds, carefully peruse the online maps before leaving home, so they can create a plan of where to head and see how many caches it contains. But in Richmond, instead of figuring out your own course, you can also follow two popular GeoTour series specially created and maintained by the City.
“Richmond is an excellent destination for geocaching, with lots of interesting terrain and cache variety,” says Kennedy, who helped the City develop its GeoTours and who is also working on a dedicated guidebook for regional players, due to be published this fall. “I’d recommend geocaching to everyone: it gets you outside and it also engages the brain.”
Don't forget to record your discovery on the paper log inside each cache. | Photo: John Lee
Trying it out
Keen to fire-up my fading neurons, I headed to the Richmond Nature Park for a hands-on 101 lesson with City Community Facilities Programmer Rich Kenny, an avid geocacher who spearheads Richmond’s official GeoTours initiative.
“We started this a few years ago to encourage locals and visitors to explore hidden gem areas of the city,” says Kenny, adding that their twin GeoTours include an original Geo-Quest series of 30 caches and a newer Canada 150 series of 20 caches, each covering parks, green spaces and historic areas throughout the city.
After creating a geocaching.com account and accessing the app as usual, players can then download and print a free Richmond GeoTours passport to record their finds. Those who complete the Geo-Quest series in their passport can claim a free travel tag, while those who finish the Canada 150 series can snag a free commemorative coin—just bring your completed passport to the Richmond Nature Park (there’s also a mail-in option). And there’s no need to rush: you can take as long as you like.
Exploring the Richmond Nature Park
Kenny told me that the Richmond Nature Park has several caches hidden along its easy-access, tree-lined trails, making it an ideal spot to try geocaching for the first time if you have an hour or so to spare.
We looked up the location of the first one on the map, then moved towards it along the trail. When we were a few metres away, we re-checked the online notes and clues, then put the phone away and started looking around to match the written hints to the terrain, searching for anything that might stand out. “I call this ‘phone down, eyes up’ time,” says Kenny.
Without giving too much away, let’s just say that we discovered a narrow pipe, a small cylindrical container, and a secret word that you record in your passport. The cache also contained a paper log to record the fact that you had found it; you also need to record your discovery online by clicking the app.
Many caches are quite small—and fiendishly well-hidden. | Photo: John Lee
As we moved around the park, I was surprised by the diversity of the caches—from containers tucked into old logs to small boxes hidden alongside boardwalks. The best one, though, was a clever creation where you had to pour some water to reveal the container: you need to have water with you, though, which is why it’s important for geocachers to browse the clues in their chosen area before leaving home, just in case there are any special requirements.
Another reason to check ahead before you go is that caches are occasionally cleared away by unsuspecting non-geocachers—this is called being ‘muggled.’ Fellow players can report this in a cache’s online record so you can see if it’s still active and discoverable; the vast majority usually are. The containers themselves may also include extra treasures: the City adds pins or stickers to some caches, says Kenny, and the idea is that you can swap these with your own little prizes for the next person to discover (pins or tiny toys are ideal).
The Richmond Nature Park is a great place to try geocaching. | Photo: John Lee
With Kenny’s help, I tracked down all the caches in the Nature Park, at the same time as spotting some cool birds and butterflies and enjoying the sun-dappled trails. And while I didn’t have enough finds to claim a passport prize at this stage, I couldn't wait to head back out and find a few more on my next day out in the city.
That’s a response Kenny often hears from first-timers who suddenly find themselves hooked on an activity they’d only vaguely heard about before. “Geocaching is such a great way to get everyone—kids included—off the couch and engaging in the great outdoors. It becomes quite addictive, and you find yourself visiting parts of Richmond you’ve never seen before.”