Orienteering, Letterboxing, and Geocaching

Is your family looking for something new to do together? If you like the outdoors and are up for some adventure, a locating game might be just the answer. These activities engage kids both mentally and physically and a provide a new challenge every time you participate. The only hard part may be finding with type of locating game is your family’s favorite.



Geocaching is an outdoor treasure hunt to search for hidden caches, or containers, using GPS. The caches can be fairly obvious, or creatively hidden, and there can be hundreds within a short drive. When you’ve found a cache, you may take something if you leave something for the next person.

To participate, you need a hand-held GPS unit or cell phone that can add apps. For a handheld unit, you must access a website, such as geocaching.com, to get information on caches in the area. The site gives the size of the cache, the difficulty of finding it and the nearby terrain. It also provides maps and possibly clues to aid in finding the cache. Most importantly, the site gives the geographic coordinates of the cache’s location, which can be manually entered, or downloaded, into a GPS unit.

When you find a cache, write down the date it was found in the logbook provided. And don’t forget to bring some items to trade. Some caches involve solving a puzzle or problem to find the cache. A multi-cache is a series of caches where one leads to another. To learn more, read about geocaching at the Great Parks of Hamilton County website at www.greatparks.org/recreation/geocaching and visit www.waymarking.com for interesting sights and locations.



Letterboxing is a no-tech activity similar to geocaching. It combines artistic creation with a hunt for containers in local parks, forests and cities. “It’s basically the same thing as geocaching except there is a stamp exchange, and you follow directions or clues rather than use a GPS device,” writes Randy Hall, author of The Letterboxer’s Companion.

The containers include rubber stamps, usually a unique, hand-carved creation, that are used to stamp a sketchbook, called a personal log book, which letterboxers carry to record their finds.  Letterboxers also carry a personal stamp to use on a log found in the box. Usually participants make their own stamps, but commercially made stamps can be used as well.

Websites such as www.atlasquest.com  are used to obtain the clue sheets. Different types of boxes can be used – some give straightforward directions but involve puzzles or codes. To learn more visit, www.letterboxing.org.




Orienteering, described as “cunning running,” uses a map and compass to find hidden markers in a wooded area. It can be a race or a walk and done competitively or for recreation.


In this activity, locations are marked on the map and the object is to find all of them – faster than anyone else if you are competing. Participants can walk casually using the map to follow trails to the markers or run through brush and up hillsides where there are no trails. Variations include traveling on a bike or finding the markers in the dark.


Orienteering clubs, including one in Cincinnati, organize events in county, city and state parks.  If you choose to compete, competitors are grouped by age. Orienteers usually go out on the course alone, but you can go with someone else, especially if you are a beginner.


All that is required in orienteering is an inexpensive compass (which can be rented) and a map purchased from the organization setting up the event. Courses offer various levels of difficulty, with harder courses involving more distance, elevation changes and more complex decision-making. Events are usually on weekends from November through April. Permanent courses have been set up in Butler County for year-round orienteering. To find out more about orienteering and upcoming events, visit the Orienteering Cincinnati website at www.ocin.org.

Gary Crouch is a teacher and writer who first learned about orienteering in the mid-70’sHe participates in orienteering events whenever he can, even in the rain, snow and sub-zero weather. In 2004, Gary began geocaching and letterboxing, and has taught the three activities in the Locating Games Class for the University of Cincinnati’s Communiversity program and elsewhere. 

Similar Articles



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here


From our Sponsors