Geocaching for Family Night

Our neighbor, Paula, is spontaneous. She likes to borrow our children and introduce them to new activities and adventures in Minnesota. She’s been trying to get us to Crow Wing State Park along the Mississippi River for years. Still, our family has visited at least ten other state parks but not this one which is less than 10 miles away. (Maybe it is because most of her invitations to that one seem to involve winter camping in one of the sleeper cabins.)

She called with her latest scheme for an evening activity just as I started fixing dinner—to go geocaching in Crow Wing State Park. I had no idea what geocaching is; she had to explain. Apparently we were going to use a handheld GPS, global positioning system, to locate a hidden box at certain coordinates. (I found this informative explanation for GPS novices like me).

I think I caught on, but I always have to learn by doing. When I told my kids where we were going, they had to explain to me that it is not geo-CATCH-ing. Yes, I knew we weren’t going to try to catch a GEO, but rather than look even more dense, I just piled in the car with Paula and Mark (her husband) and my family.

They had printed out the coordinates and clues at and the kids unscrambled the clues on our way to the park. Once we were on the riverside trail, I never had the chance to look stupid; everyone wanted to be the leader who figured it out. Several of our family members, who will remain anonymous, took hold of the GPS with exuberant confidence and began walking in the “right” direction, until we had to turn around and head the other way. At one point I succeeded in slowing them down long enough to teach me how it all really worked.

We swatted and scratched at mosquitoes along the right path and the lead searchers lightened their interest so that we all walked together down this historic trail, which was originally the Red River Ox Cart Trail, used by fur traders traveling from Canada through primitive Minnesota to St. Paul. Even earlier, “according to historian William Warren, this was the scene of a major battle between the Dakota and Ojibwe Indians in 1768,” (see Crow Wing history).

The history markers about Crow Wing, a 19th-century frontier town at the confluence of the Crow Wing River and the Mississippi, attracted me away from the other searchers. I lagged behind with my camera reading the signs and taking pictures of the restored Clement H. Beaulieu mansion. That was fine since they had sent NH running back 1/2 mile to the car to grab a Minnesota state quarter to put into the box when they found it.

When NH and I caught up to them, the explorers had just discovered that they had been following the minutes and seconds, not degrees, and overshot the correct coordinates by a mile or so. Oops. We all turned around and retraced to the right site where we searched and searched like we were little kids playing hot potato at a kids party.

NH spotted some flattened grass. And he and Paul waded through waist-high tick-infested grass to discover the box together inside a hollow log. The contents of the box disappointed KH—random trinkets and a 40%-off coupon for a new GPS at Best Buy.

True, we came away with coupons and a a mess of mosquito bites, but this grown-up version of seek and find not only taught us a history and geography lesson along the banks of the Mississippi but how fun it can be to solve something together.


  1. Rebecca
    Jul 7, 2008

    What a fun thing to do! I love the picture of the mansion. I would frame something like that to hang in my house.

  2. Michelle
    Jul 8, 2008

    We have just taken up this activity. We got our GPS about a month ago. Kipp and the kids were so excited when it arrived that they immediately looked up a cache site and set off only to find it empty, how disappointing. I’ve come to find out it is quite a popular sport in Central Oregon, so I’m sure we’ll be doing much more of it this summer as there are so many caches out there!

  3. Rachel Corbett
    Jul 8, 2008

    Fun, I’ve always wanted to do geocaching. I used to see lots of people doing it in downtown San Francisco. what a fun family activity. Maybe we’ll try it out soon!

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