At the end of a dead end road just north of the Santa Fe River, a steep, unmarked path leads to hidden treasure and a spectacular view of the city. The prize is hidden in a place you’d likely never find if you didn’t know it was there and on a hill you’d likely never traverse if you didn’t live in the area. That’s part of the fun of the high-tech treasure-hunting activity known as geocaching—it takes you off the beaten path while providing a unique way of getting to know the place you live or are visiting. It’s also a smart way to get kids and the whole family outside, and more difficult caches wind up hidden deep in the wilderness or require complex problem-solving skills that can offer a challenging adventure for adults as well.
How to Start Geocaching:
1) Create yourself an account at geocaching.com and download the app to access a map of geocaches in your area. The description for each cache includes its GPS coordinates, the size of the cache you are looking for, the terrain and difficulty as rated on a scale from 1-5. The app includes a compass view of the cache that should direct you within 30 feet of where it is hidden.
2) Treat geocaching like any other outdoor activity—wear comfortable clothes, sneakers, a hat and sunscreen. Bring water and snacks. You should also make sure your phone is fully charged and bring a flashlight, a pen, a long stick or hiking pole plus trinkets or other small treasures to trade. If you go alone, tell someone when you plan to leave and when you should return.
3) Try out a few level one caches at first so you can get the hang of the game before moving on to more difficult finds. Easier caches are also more likely to be geared toward kids and contain small toys for trade. Caches are usually waterproof containers that can be any size or shape. They can be camouflaged to look like their surroundings and are often hidden in dark crevices that could contain critters, so use your flashlight and your stick to safely retrieve them.
4) The golden rule of geocaching is to leave the cache and its surroundings in the same or better condition than you found it. That means if you take something, leave something of equal or greater value in its place, and make sure to hide the cache exactly where you found it. If you find trash at the site, pack it out with you.
5) Be patient! Geocaches can sometimes be hard to find. Take the time to really search before you give up.
Geocaching along the Santa Fe River
At least 17 geocaches are hidden under bridges dotting the Santa Fe River. If you want to spend a day treasure-hunting along the stream, we suggest parking at Patrick Smith Park on the east side of the city, then following the Santa Fe River trail through the heart of downtown and onward toward Agua Fría Village. The trail breaks off just after Siler road and doesn’t pick up again until further south, so this might be the perfect place to stop. However, there are plenty of caches hidden along the lower half of the river too. The final cache lies a few miles past the Santa Fe Municipal Airport.
Take the Classroom Outside with Earthcache
An earthcache is designed as a lesson in geology and the surrounding landscape. Unlike a traditional geocache, an earthcache does not usually lead to a physical treasure. Instead, you may be required to take pictures at the site and use the geological information provided in the cache description to answer a geology question and “claim” the cache. A registry of earthcaches is maintained by the Geological Society of America and can be found at geocaching.com. For a day trip, we recommend heading to the Jemez Mountains to check out the Valles Caldera and Jemez Falls earthcaches.
Santa Fe National Historic Trail GeoTour
Want to take the kids on a summer road trip? Try the Santa Fe National Historic Trail GeoTour created by the Santa Fe Trail Association. This epic tour guides travelers along the historic trade route in the footsteps of traders, Native Americans, frontier military personnel, homesteaders and bandits. There are 70 geocaches hidden along the way from Santa Fe to Old Franklin, Missouri, and each contains a history lesson and some swag.
The Next Level: The Mystery Cache
If you are up for a challenge, try searching for a mystery cache. These are often the most difficult caches to find because they will require you to solve a series of complex puzzles or problems to reach the ultimate location of the hidden treasure. The mystery cache is the ultimate geocache wildcard, and there are at least a dozen hidden in the Santa Fe area.