An outdoor treasure hunt, geocaching appeals to people from all walks of life, as well as all stages of life, from toddlers to grandparents. And this time of year, when the thermometer so easily convinces many of us to stay indoors, geocaching can serve as inspiration to bundle up, walk out the door and breathe some fresh, albeit cold, air.
For those new to geocaching, it’s a simple worldwide game. In a nutshell, participants around the world have hidden little containers called geocaches, or caches, in public places, such as trail networks, parks and historical sites. Each cache contains a logbook, and some caches also contain little treasures.
Finding these caches is usually done by searching online, on websites such as geocaching.com, where GPS coordinates for caches are listed, as well as pertinent clues. Then, using a GPS device (or an application on a smartphone, such as the geocaching.com mobile app), participants search for the caches.
Upon finding a cache, participants usually sign the logbook it contains, as well as their own personal logbook. If the cache contains “treasures” — items placed inside by other participants such as collectable coins — the general rule is that a participant can only take a treasure if they replace it with a treasure of equal value.
While geocaching is simple and easy to start, it’s important that new players brush up on geocaching guidelines and etiquette. For more information, check out past stories that I wrote about the activity “Let’s go geocaching!” and “Hunting for treasure in Maine and beyond: The art of hiding, maintaining a geocache.” Plenty of information about geocaching is also available at geocaching.com.
Some places are better for geocaching than others. The following are eight Maine trail networks that are just loaded with geocaches waiting to be discovered.
1. Sears Island in Searsport
More than 20 geocaches are scattered on the 936-acre, uninhabited Sears Island, which is easily accessible by causeway and features a network of public trails and roads for hiking, biking, horseback riding and more. While searching for the island’s many caches, take the time to enjoy the shoreline, which is a mixture of sand, gravel and rock beaches, and check out some of the island’s historic features, including old rock walls, house foundations and wells, all left over from a time when people lived and farmed on the island. For more information, including driving directions, click here.
2. Wolfe’s Neck State Park in Freeport
Wolfe’s Neck State Park is just one of eight Maine state parks and historic places that make up the Maine State Park Geocaching Challenge. At each location is one geocache that contains a special stamp for geocachers to use to record the find in their logbooks. The other locations in the challenge are Allagash Wilderness Waterway, Aroostook State Park, Cobscook Bay State Park, Colburn House State Historic Site, Colonial Pemaquid State Historic Site, Mount Blue State Park, Vaughan Woods Memorial State Park and Wolfe’s Neck Woods State Park. It’s important to note that the challenge is seasonal, running from mid-May through September each year. However, there are many other Maine state parks that include plenty of geocaches that are technically available for discovery year round. For example, at least a dozen geocaches are located at Reid State Park in Georgetown. For more information about Wolfe’s Neck State Park, including driving directions, click here. For more information about Reid State Park, click here.
3. Thurston Park in China
More than 10 geocaches are hidden on the trail network of Thurston Park, which is located in the northeastern corner of China, Maine, and features more than 5 miles of intersecting trails. The park is an interesting combination of history and nature, featuring small waterfalls and stands of giant white pine trees, as well as cellar holes of early settlers and the cornerstone monument placed in 1888 where the towns of China, Palermo and Albion meet. That last point of interest must explain the geocache in the park with the name of “How can you be in three places at once?” Though I won’t even hazard a guess at the story behind the caches in the park that go by the names “Troll Land” and “Sometimes I feel like a troll.” For more information, click here.
4. Rolland F. Perry City Forest in Bangor
Known by locals simple as the Bangor City Forest, the Rolland F. Perry City forest is home to dozens of geocaches. In fact, within the city forest and surrounding preserves, there are at least 50 geocaches listed on geocaching.com, and according to the website’s cache spacing rules, there is hardly any room for new caches to be added to that area. So if you’re looking to log many caches during one outing, the Bangor City Forest trail network is the place for you. Covering 680 acres of forest and wetlands, the city forest features more than four miles of access roads and more than nine miles of trails that are well mapped out and maintained. In addition, the adjacent Walden-Parke Preserve covers about 410 acres. For more information, click here.
5. Great Pond Mountain Wildlands in Orland
Several geocaches have been hidden in the Great Pond Mountain Wildlands, which is broken up into two parcels in Orland. In the Dead River Parcel, which is home to the popular hiking trail up Great Pond Mountain, there are at least nine geocaches hidden, along a cache located at the nearby Craig Brook National Fish Hatchery. And in the larger Hothole Valley Parcel of the Wildlands, you’ll find a geocache near the hiking trail on Flag Hill, a geocache near the hiking trail leading in to Holthole Pond and a few geocaches located along Valley Road, which is a dirt multi-use trail that runs through the center of the property. For more information about Great Pond Mountain, click here; Hothole Pond, click here; and Flag Hill, click here.
6. Messalonskee Stream Trail in Oakland
More than 10 geocaches are hidden along the 2.5-mile Messalonskee Stream Trail, a beautiful, easy walking trail that traces the banks of Messalonskee Stream. The trail opened in 2007 and has since become a popular spot for local residents to hike, run and walk their dogs. It’s also a great place for picnicking and wildlife watching, since the stream attracts a variety of waterfowl and wading birds, as well as bald eagles, and the forestland is filled with songbirds and woodpeckers. For more information, click here.
7. Branch Lake Public Forest in Ellsworth
You can uncover more than 10 geocaches in the 239-acre Branch Lake Public Forest in Ellsworth. Located off the busy Route 1, this forest features a number of hiking trails, as well as a gravel road that’s great for walking. The trail network is still expanding, but to date there’s more than 3 miles of hiking trails in the forest, including the 1.6-mile Loop Trail that leads hikers to the shore of Branch Lake. Geocaches on this property include “Over the Bridge and Through the Woods” and “Tree-rific Parking.” For more information, click here.
8. The Kennebec Highlands in Rome
Located in central Maine, the Kennebec Highlands is 6,800 acres of conserved land that contains the highest peaks in Kennebec County, as well as a number of streams, wetlands and five undeveloped ponds. It’s is a great area for outdoor recreation, including geocaching. In fact, one of the most popular hiking destinations in the Kennebec Highlands, Sanders Hill, features a dozen geocaches. And nearby, French’s Mountain has three geocaches, Round Top Mountain has eight, and Mount Phillip has five. For more information, click here.