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GPS Recreational Activities (Geocaching) Toolbox

The GPS Recreational Activities (Geocaching) Toolbox is a 'work in progress' and represents only the information available. In addition to the resources provided here, you may also be able to obtain advice and recommendations through discussion on Wilderness Connect. Date of last update: 2/29/12.
  1. Overview
    Geocaching is the practice of designating a geocache site, determining the GPS location, and then advertising the location for others to find. The ’cache’ can be either a container or maker placed on site- or a virtual ’cache’ found by traveling to a specific point identified by the GPS coordinates.

    Geocaching on public lands, and in designated wilderness, is a growing activity as evidenced by the number of locations and trends documented at: www,geocaching.com. Many people enjoy downloading information on a geocache site and then using their orienteering skills and GPS units to find the site. Both urban and remote geocache sites exist but in many cases the more remote locations, such as those in wilderness, are the most popular with those seeking to enjoy the outdoors.

    Wilderness managers have seen an increase in geocaching activity in many areas. And, while wilderness is for the ’use and enjoyment’ of the public the practice of locating geocaches in wilderness can lead to social trail development and resource degradation that would not otherwise not occur. In addition, many managers consider geocaches as abandoned property or litter and therefore, not allowed in wilderness.

    Information and education efforts have proven successful in some areas where managers have contacted cache owners or worked with web site providers to discourage geocaches in wilderness and encourage use of Leave No Trace techniques when visiting wilderness.
  2. Agency Policy/Guidance
    1. BLM Policy
    2. FS
      1. National Policy, Regulations, and Management Practices
      2. R8 Geocaching Policy Supplement
    3. FWS Guidance on GPS-Related Recreational Activities in the National Wildlife Refuge System
    4. NPS Policy Review: GPS-based Recreational Activities in Park Areas
  3. Regulations
    1. National Park Service
      1. 36 CFR 1.5, 1.6, and 1.7, establish procedures for allowing or prohibiting certain activities, issuing permits, and informing the public.
      2. 36 CFR 2.1, regarding the preservation of natural, cultural and archeological resources, prohibits digging, destroying, or injuring park resources. This would apply to digging holes to bury caches, manipulating vegetation to conceal caches, creation of unauthorized trails, and other damaging behavior incidental to GPS activities.
      3. 36 CFR 2.22 prohibits abandoning property, which includes leaving property unattended for longer than 24 hours. This regulation also authorizes superintendents to designate locations where, or conditions under which, longer time periods may apply.
      4. 36 CFR 2.31 prohibits trespassing, tampering and vandalism, which might occur as participants search for caches.
  4. Examples
    1. FS R2 2002-2005 Geocaching Statistics
    2. FS R2 Talking Points
    3. FS R5 Example of Unit Geocaching Letter
    4. San Juan NF DRAFT agreement
    5. Superior National Forest/BWCAW Web Page and Registration Policy
    6. FS R3 Guidelines
  5. Other Information
    1. Leave No Trace Techniques for Geocaching
      The essentials of responsible geocaching:
      • Never bury caches.
      • Never leave food items in a cache.
      • Avoid sensitive areas such as wetlands, steep slopes or archaeological sites.
      • Leave caches only on durable surfaces along existing trails.
      • Keep vehicles on designated roads and trails.
      • Replace rocks or other natural objects lifted during a search.
      • Find routes that minimize impact.
      • Leave places looking as if the seekers had never been there.
      • Check with local land managers for restrictions before placing or seeking a cache.
    2. Earthcache
      1. LNT Support Letter
      2. NPS Support Letter
    3. Geocaching.com
    4. Backpacker Magazine Destinations
      To learn about what GPS-related activities visitors in your area are engaging in, search the Backpacker Magazine Destinations website. On this site, hikers/backpackers/mountain bikers/ATVers/dirtbikers/etc. post attractions or trips by uploading a .gpx file.
    5. Safety and Vehicle Intrusion Issues Due to Bad GPS/Online Maps
      In this Wilderness Connect forum thread, learn about how to: 1) check GPS company (TomTom, Google, NavTeq) basemap data to see if there are inaccuracies found in your area 2) contact GPS companies to facilitate correction of errors.
    6. Articles
      1. Draper, E. (8/21/2006). Cache or trash? GPS hobby packs issues. Denver Post.
      2. Frawley, J. (2005). Geocaching. Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics' Forest Magazine, Spring 2005.