Geocaching In National Parks: Can or Can’t?

In a couple of weeks, ESP Boss & I will be taking an overnight kayaking trip on the Colorado River. We’ll start at Hoover Dam and head down to Willow Beach.

Like any business trip, we’ve got out fair share of agenda items. One of which was to hide a geocache along the way.

But then I got to thinking:

Isn’t that section of the River in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area?

A quick glance at Google Maps and yep, the whole route is inside a National Recreation Area. (The green area on the map!)

That means that I won’t be able to place my geocache on the trip after all because geocaching is not allowed with in ANY area governed by the National Park Service (NPS).

Unfortunately, that’s kind of a blanket statement that isn’t exactly accurate. So I’m here to clear up any confusion about if geocaching is or isn’t allowed inside America’s National Parks.

What areas are governed by the National Park Service?

Just because an area doesn’t say “national park” in the title doesn’t mean that it might not be managed by NPS.

Wupatki National Monument Sign

Yep, the national monument is run by NPS too!

  • National Battlefields
  • National Cemeteries
  • National Heritage Areas
  • National Heritage Corridors
  • National Historic Sites
  • National Historic Trails
  • National Historic Trails
  • National Lakeshore
  • National Memorial
  • National Monuments
  • National Parks
  • National Parkway
  • National Preserves
  • National Recreation Areas
  • National Recreation Trails
  • National Rivers
  • National Scenic Trails
  • National Seashore

Can you see why just saying “No geocaching in National Parks” doesn’t really begin to cover it?

Why doesn’t the NPS allow geocaching?

Though rugged, unspoiled natural areas may seem to be desirable spots for geocaching, cachers can cause unintentional damage to the areas. Cachers can inadvertently develop social trails when they leave established trails to look for a cache. This can result in serious impacts on a park’s natural, historical, and cultural resources.

Can you place a #geocache in a National Park? The answer is here! Share on X

Because federal National Park regulations prohibit abandonment of property, disturbance or damage of natural features, and, in some areas, off-trail hiking, that means that most units of National Parks can’t allow geocaching.

In our post-9/11 world, the fear of terrorists and “mystery” objects is high. By prohibiting caches, it cuts down on the potential for bomb scares.

But I did a Google search and a whole bunch of National Parks say they offer geocaching. What does THAT mean?

When the NPS says that they don’t permit geocaching on National Park Land, what they really mean is that they don’t allow TRADITIONAL caches in the parks. That means NO cache with a container, including nanos and micros.

When you see that NPS offers “geocaching” it isn’t really a traditional type of caching. Most parks have Virtual caches or EarthCaches. Sometimes, the park itself even sets it up!

But the confusion sets in when cachers don’t realize that NPS isn’t really using our terminology correctly. When I did the search, I saw headlines like:

‘Petrified Forest National Park – Geocaching’

Yeah, they mean EarthCaching or Virtual Caching. These are both a type of geocache, but unless you have some familiarity with exactly what those terms mean, then I can understand the confusion.

If you’re just getting started in geocaching then you hear ‘geocaching’ and assume ammo cans and film canisters. I know I did!

*** UPDATE 9/30/10 ***

Oh, and I forgot to mention: Virtual geocaches are a grandfathered type of cache. You can still place them, but they’re not available on Virtual caches are now considered a waymark.

How would they know if I placed a traditional cache anyway?

Come on, now! YOU would know you were placing a cache where you shouldn’t. Be responsible! is a whole game built on the honor system. However, there are those critics of the game out there that claim that geocachers are disrespectful and the game should be shut down. And if the geocaching community is placing caches in National Parks, after we’ve been asked not to, then that lends a lot of credibility to the critics claim.

Do I need to ask for permission before I “place” an EarthCache or Waymark?

Technically, you probably should clear it with the Park’s superintendent before you “place” an EarthCache or Waymark cache. It defeats the purpose of having a container-less cache if seekers would still have to travel off-trail to log the find.

If you were requesting that a waymark cacher send you a photo of a sign or landmark that is accessible (visible) from an established trail or parking area, you’re probably okay. But if it were me, I’d get the okay a head of time anyway. I’m thinking of “placing” a waymark cache while I’m out and you can bet I’ll give Lake Mead National Recreation staffers a heads up first!

Readers Weigh In:

  • If you were going to “place” a waymark or EarthCache inside an area governed by the National Park Service, would you ask for permission first? Why or why not?
  • Do you think we should be allow to place traditional caches in national parks?