an unearthed box in the forest

Hide and seek across Muskoka

Summer at the cottage has always included being active outdoors. Most of that time is spent in or on the water, but every now and then it’s nice to step away from the lake, go inland, and see what there is to find.

The cooler days that we sometimes get in August can be an ideal time to explore some of the amazing trails in Muskoka. They’re appealing enough on their own, but to really make the most of it, why not add in a bit of geocaching?

Geocaching is a global treasure hunt, where the goal is to find small packages dotted around the area. There are over two million caches around the world, including well over a thousand in Muskoka!

The sport began around 20 years ago, when hand-held GPS units became widely affordable. These days most people use their smart phones, although GPS units still work perfectly well.

To get started, you just download the geocaching app onto your smart phone, create a free account, and log in – either directly into the app or online at www.geocaching.com.

Then it’s just a matter of looking at the map and deciding where you want to go. Each cache has coordinates and a description of its location. These will get you to within about 30 feet of the cache, and after that it’s a matter of looking around – sometimes interpreting clues or decoding hints to help you get to the exact location.

How you get there is up to you. Caches are always located on property that is publicly accessible – trespassing is not allowed. They vary greatly in degree of difficulty. Some are in locations you can drive to, or even boat to (there are several caches in Muskoka located on islands, placed there by property owners who generously welcome visitors). Others require a hike down a public trail, or a trip by canoe. There are caches in city parks, museums and libraries. And there are others for serious backcountry adventurers only, requiring extensive hiking or paddling to reach. All of that information is contained in the description of the cache, so you can ensure that you’re not seeking a cache that’s beyond your group’s abilities.

This is a great activity to do as a group – children can really get caught up in the thrill of looking for the cache. But you can also do it on your own. Just be sure to practice all the safety precautions you normally would when heading out on a hike.

Caches can be a small plastic container like a sandwich box or a film cannister, or they can be cleverly disguised – there are fake rocks and plastic pinecones and a wide array of other tricky-to-spot items used to contain caches. They’re usually hidden in plain sight – there’s no digging required on this treasure hunt – and the app rates each cache based on how difficult it is to see.

What’s inside? Sometimes nothing but a piece of paper where you can sign your name. Others might contain a small trinket which you’re welcome to take as long as you leave something of equal or greater value in return. In this kind of treasure hunting, the pleasure comes from the hunt rather than the treasure.

Once you get into geocaching, you can start to explore more complex kinds of caches. There are puzzle caches, requiring you to solve a puzzle before you can find the cache. One near Minett requires you to visit three different locations, solving a puzzle at each one before you get to the cache; another near Three Mile Lake begins with an animated video that you watch online to get the clue you need to find the cache. Other caches have “trackables” – special items that are meant to be moved from one cache to another.

You can even create your own caches, and be notified each time someone finds it.

The beauty of the game is that you can start and end it any time you wish, and get as involved as you like. Set yourself a goal, like finding every cache in Port Carling, or visiting a cache on a lake you’ve never seen before. Or just use it as an excuse to get out and see a bit more of Muskoka.

Posted in Connecting with Nature.