Written and Photographed by: Megan Pasche
Geocaching: it is the perfect mixture of hiking and treasure hunting. If you enjoy both these things, and let’s be serious, treasure hunting is awesome so who doesn’t, you’ll love the worldwide game of geocaching. I mean, I admit it’s a tad nerdy, but I fully embrace it, and love it for what it is: a really fun activity that can quickly turn into an addiction, a constant need to up your “caches found” tally, and to see just how adept you can become at finding these hidden containers. I’ve gotten so into it that whenever I am out somewhere and see a particularly cool spot, I’ll think to myself, ‘that’d be a great spot for a cache’.
The game basically involves getting a handheld GPS device (the one I have is an Etrex by Garmin, it was relatively inexpensive and works well) or downloading an app for your Smartphone, plugging in the latitude and longitude of hidden caches and then hitting the road. Cache is the geocaching word for the containers that hold a logbook and if they are large enough, other goodies and trinkets. Cache sizes can range from tiny to large, and containers can be anything from your basic plastic Tupperware to well, let’s just say, more creative ones. Caches are rated according to difficulty with some being easy finds, and some taking a little bit more patience, ingenuity and endurance.
First things first though, if this is something that piques your interest, go to www.geocaching.com and sign up for an account. Come up with a username, but keep it relatively short, as you’ll be signing it on all the logs that you find, some of which can be very tiny. This is the official geocaching site and on it you can also read all you will ever need to know about geocaching in the section appropriately named “geocaching 101”.
In brief, there are a couple of basic rules that every good geocacher must follow: always put the cache back exactly where you found it, if you take something out of the cache, you have to put something back in, sign the logbook, and log your find at geocaching.com. Also, you can’t mess with nature to accommodate a cache. There is no digging up the ground and burying a cache, and you can’t break branches and remove things to find the perfect hiding space. Cachers work with what nature has created.
You can search out caches in many ways, but the easiest is probably by postal code. Niagara-on-the-Lake only has one postal code (L0S 1J0), so once you type that in on geocaching.com, all the caches will pop up on a detailed map.
Another important geocaching rule: make sure to employ stealth. This is especially important in a place like Niagara-on-the-Lake that is often crawling with people. You don’t want the muggles (geocaching speak for a non geocacher, expropriated from Harry Potter), to notice you. You have to blend. However you can figure out how to make looking in and out, over and under things non-suspicious, you have to do it. Therein lies half the challenge!
Geocaching is the perfect way to not only discover entirely new destinations around the world, but new spaces in and around your hometown. Since starting geocaching in Niagara, I’ve discovered some really cool places I never even knew existed before. Some of my favourite Niagara geocaches include one that took me to a huge shoe tree, one that took me to an abandoned ship, and one that took me to a hidden island And that’s just a few: compared to some other geocachers, I’ve only found a pittance of the caches that are hidden out there.
A lot of the items you find in a cache are small toys, but sometimes you will come across what is known as a trackable. A trackable has a unique code and can be traced as it is moved from cache to cache, often with a goal of travelling to specific places (i.e.: one that I found was meant to visit different lakes around the world). Official trackables can be purchased online or at geocaching meetups.
Even in the small town of Niagara-on-the-Lake, there are numerous caches to be found. I went searching for some of them recently and found some that took me not only past the most popular places in town, but also a little out of the way, to places I might not have discovered otherwise. That’s the beauty of geocaching…people find cool places and want to share them with other people.
One took me to the site of Fort Mississauga, a National Historic Site and a relic from the War of 1812. These days, the site exists on outskirts of the grounds of the NOTL Golf Club, so if you decide to go seek the cache, you have to make sure to watch for golfers. This cache is what is referred to as a multi cache, so that means the cache is set up in more than one stage. Often with multi caches, you’ll need to find some information at the starting location, and then do some math in order to find the actual cache.
Another cache will take you to a historical culvert, a neat little tunnel with an unknown history. While you are there, you’ll get one of the best views of Fort Niagara, which is just across the river in Youngstown, New York. Just down the street from the culvert, you’ll find a nice little park with benches, a great spot to enjoy the view. Oh, and find the cache that is hidden there.
Another multi cache will take you to the grounds of St. Mark’s Church, where you will need to answer a series of questions before getting the location of the final cache. Other caches in the area will also take you along historic Queen Street, to the outskirts of Fort George, to the Methodist-United Church, and on a fun tour of the Niagara Parkway that delves into the history of the War of 1812.
And these are just some of the caches in the area; there are tons of them hidden out there, not only in Niagara-on-the-Lake, but also in the entire Niagara Region, and really, throughout the entire world. Pretty much anywhere you go you’ll be able to find a cache. Geocaching is a great activity for adventurers of every age, and as the idiom goes, getting there really is half the fun.