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 EatStayPlay.com 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.
- 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! Click To Tweet
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 geocaching.com. 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!
Geocaching.com 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?
September 29, 2010 @ 10:00 pm
I thought virtual are a grandfathered cache type? http://www.geocaching.com/about/guidelines.aspx#grandguide or are you placing it with another geocaching site?
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September 29, 2010 @ 10:29 pm
[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Gregory Gelfond, EatStayPlay. EatStayPlay said: Geocaching In National Parks: Can or Can’t? http://t.co/jComNQ6 #geocaching #NPS […]
September 30, 2010 @ 6:55 am
Virtuals are grandfathered, you cannot place any new Virtual Caches. So the only cache that could be placed in a National Park is an Earthcache (or I suppose CiTO/Event cache).
September 30, 2010 @ 9:41 am
ErikaJean & Bret —
You guys are right about Virtuals being grandfathered. Thanks for the clarification. I went a head and updated the post to talk about Waymarks.
And Bret, as for a CITO or Event, you’d probably WAY have to get permission for those. Although why NPS might complain about a CITO I couldn’t figure out…
October 2, 2010 @ 5:38 pm
You most certainly need permission before placing an Earthcache in a NPS area. Actually you need permission (and in writing, no less) to place an Earthcache anywhere. There are specific guidelines to Earthcaches, and from what I’ve seen they are much more strict than regular caches.
We always try to get the virtuals or Earthcaches in National Parks. They are usually very interesting and take you to places you might not ordinarily stop at. There is a fantastic Earthcache program at Acadia NP in Maine that takes you all over the park and teaches some interesting lessons. I am glad, tho, that the NPS doesn’t allow regular caches. National Parks are great places for taking pictures, making memories, and leaving nothing.
October 2, 2010 @ 10:23 pm
I was up at Mt. Shasta and advised that indeed, no caches were in the park. I could see the logic in that as there is an issue with someone going off-trail/ damaging the flora and fauna. By the same token, I saw any numbers of structures in the parking lot that just screamed “geocache”. I would limit caches to traditional and multi-stage in the parking lots/ resort areas, etc. And yes, I think there should be any number of earth caches. This is a great time to teach a new generation about the history of the parks/ the beauty of the landscape in front of them.
October 3, 2010 @ 5:22 pm
We took a trip to Yellowstone last year. I printed off the cache pages for all the caches in the park (all Virtuals and Earth Caches). Of course we didn’t have enough time to get to all of them, but what fun! It was like having our own tour guide telling us places to see, and information about those places that might not be as obvious to the regular visitor.
In many ways, Virtuals and Earthcaches are great for this type of activity whether you’re in a National Park, downtown in a city, or anywhere else.
October 5, 2010 @ 8:12 am
Yep, I’ve seen places that just scream micro as well. I can understand the whole post-9/11 fear of people getting too cozy with strange-looking containers though. I totally agree with you about the earth caches although maybe it’s not just teaching a new generation about it. I know plenty of “adults” who have forgotten how to LOOK for beauty!
October 5, 2010 @ 8:17 am
Brian — Isn’t it cool? I love knowing that I’m getting the “inside” scoop on something; especially when I don’t have to walk around carrying one of those talking-stick recorded tour guide things.
November 14, 2015 @ 7:54 am
I know this is an old source but as it still comes up in the top google search results to NPS geocaching so i feel a need to reply and correct the inaccuracies. Actually you can place geocaches in many national parks[the NPS even has a geo recreation policy that can be found on their website]. yes the traditional, physical geocache. It requires more effort and thought than i’ll place it on a buisnees trip[which is actually against geocaching.com’s policy for placement no matter who manages the land] Placeing a geocache on a day trip on a buisness trip means you cant properly evaluate the area you are considering for the cache before hand, and makes it extremely unlikely you will be able to preform regular maintenance on the cahce[so you would simply be abandoning property there]. However those that wish to spend the time considering the impact of the potential cache and that are able to regularly check on it and preform maintenance as needed, can approach the park with there idea and request a special use permit. Caches with interpretive potential in line with the parks founding legislation should have a better chance than the LPC’s with no description. Good luck and happy caching.