Imagine traveling to a new city in search of treasure—treasure that could be as small as a pill bottle or as large as a filing cabinet. It might be hidden under a rock in a remote wilderness or beneath a mailbox on a busy street. And when you locate it, rather than taking the bounty with you, you explore its contents, log your discovery and leave it for the next treasure hunter to find.
This, in a nutshell, is: a growing hobby that’s essentially a modern-day treasure hunt facilitated by GPS. It’s become my favorite way to explore new places, whether I’m traveling to a state park, a big city or just a part of town I haven’t been to before. With millions of geocaches worldwide, the recreational activity serves as a way to help people get outside, connect to other geocachers and explore new places as well as their own neighborhoods.
How it Works
A “geocache” is typically a container, usually waterproof, that a player is seeking. A geocache can be very small or very large, depending on the hiding spot. All a player needs to do to start geocaching is create a free account on an app that contains a database of all geocaches worldwide. If I open the app right now, it will show me all of the geocaches within a 10-mile radius of where I’m sitting. (Keep in mind there are also “virtual” caches, which are locations. Instead of a container, you seek out a place, such as a national park, a landmark, or a natural feature, such as a waterfall.)
In the app, each geocache has a description of what type of container you’re looking for (ammo can, tupperware, etc.), and instructions on how to find it. After selecting the geocache that you want to seek, your phone or GPS device will take you to the cache’s coordinates, but it’s up to you to find it from there. The cache might be easily identifiable or require some searching. I can spot some geocaches as soon as I’m in the area, and others have me with my nose to the ground—but that’s half the fun.
A geocache can contain different things based on its size, but most have a logbook and a pen at the very least. (When I go geocaching, I like to carry a writing utensil just to be safe.) Larger geocaches might contain tradable nicknacks, which a player can examine and swap for items of equal or greater value. Some even contain “trackables,” which are items that can be traced by serial numbers as they move from one geocache to another. For example, I might place a trackable coin in a geocache in Tennessee with a note that says, “The goal is to get this coin to Canada before Christmas.” Then, I can go online and watch the coin’s progress as geocachers move it northward to reach its goal.
Sounds pretty far-fetched, right? But this growing pastime has taken off as a form of adventure travel that helps players explore new places with a local’s eye.
What’s a GeoTour?
A GeoTour is a series of geocaches that are connected by a common theme, such as regional history or national parks, but can be sought in any order you like. While most geocaches worldwide are standalone treasures, more and more GeoTours are popping up all the time as geocache travel becomes more popular.
South Central Tennessee has created two GeoTours to help locals and visitors explore the best that the region has to offer in everything from music and food to history and nature. These two GeoTours, the Jack Trail and the Discover South Central TN tour, dig into the nooks and crannies of Tennessee and promise to take you to hidden gems that you might have never discovered otherwise.
To begin one of South Central Tennessee’s GeoTours, simply download the geocache app and the passport for the tour. The passport is how you’ll keep track of the geocaches you’ve found and your visits to the GeoTour’s local business partners, which include restaurants and lodging. These two GeoTours use a special point system: one point for each geocache you find, two points for each restaurant partner you visit, and three points for each stay with a local lodging partner. Players who accumulate at least 55 points can submit their passport to receive a special commemorative coin for the GeoTour.
Jack Trail GeoTour
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The Jack Trail GeoTour is made up of almost 70 geocaches spread throughout the small towns and backroads of Middle and South Central Tennessee. If you think this GeoTour is going to take you to the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Grand Ole Opry, think again. The Jack Trail is designed to help geocachers explore the lesser-known charms of the region, like the lovely park in the little town of Bell Buckle and the Lynnville Railroad Museum.
If you’re like me and enjoy sipping and savoring local spirits, don’t miss the geocache stops at Arrington Vineyards, Leiper’s Fork Distillery, Mill Creek Brewing Company and Beans Creek Winery in Manchester.
If you have history buffs in your midst, there are dozens of geocaches along the Jack Trail that are sure to pique their interest. For example, find a geocache at the Matt Gardner Homestead Museum in Giles County (which also happens to be the Wild Turkey Capitol of Tennessee), take a trip around the Trail of Tears Interpretive Center, and locate an ammo can cache at the Stones River National Battlefield, along with many other tastes of the region’s rich history.
Nature lovers will also find plenty to enjoy on the Jack Trail, as it makes its way through two of South Central Tennessee’s state parks and several other gardens and natural areas. You’ll have to keep your eyes open for a matchbox geocache at Bedford Lake, and be on the lookout for the magnetic keyholder cache at Tims Ford State Park, which also happens to be one of the South Central Tennessee’s top bass fishing destinations.
Trail partners on the Jack Trail GeoTour include Miss Mary Bobo’s Boarding House, a historic home and restaurant, The Governor’s Table at Henry Horton State Park, Martin’s Barbecue in Nolensville and several Legends Steakhouse restaurants, which can be found in five towns along the trail. Each trail partner has a geocache on its grounds and will offer points on your passport.
Discover South Central TN GeoTour
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If the Jack Trail seems impressive, then the Discover South Central TN tour is downright remarkable. Born out of the popularity of the Jack Trail, the second of Tennessee’s two GeoTours sports 80 geocaches and spans 13 counties. Just like the Jack Trail, the Discover South Central TN GeoTour ensures that geocachers will find unique, off-the-beaten-path glimpses of the history and culture of the region.
One of my absolute favorite things about this geotour is that it has stops in each of South Central Tennessee’s five state parks. At David Crockett State Park, you’ll need to decode the hint on the app to locate the water bottle that acts as this geocache. Scurry along to Mousetail Landing State Park and check out the geocache on the Spring Creek Trail, then stick around for some fishing or paddling on the Tennessee River.
Lace up your hiking boots at Henry Horton State Park for the 1.5-mile Hickory Ridge Trail that will lead you to both of the park’s geocaches. And visit Tims Ford State Park to track down a geocache near one of the state’s most picturesque lakes. Finally, discover fascinating Native American history and your last state park geocache at Old Stone Fort near Manchester.
The Discover South Central TN GeoTour will lead geocachers to some destinations that are uniquely Tennessean, as well, like the Walking Horse Celebration in Shelbyville, the world-famous Jack Daniels Distillery in Lynchburg and to the beautiful Buffalo River in Lobelville.
Trail partners for the Discover South Central TN GeoTour include the Clifton Marina, the Commodore Hotel and Cafe, Amber Falls Winery and Cellars, Smokehouse Lodge and Cabins and many more. Remember to stop in at as many partner businesses as you can to earn passport points.
If you’re ready to explore the twists and turns of South Central Tennessee in a new and exciting way, a geocaching adventure might just be the perfect getaway. You’ll enter into a world of treasures and small town charm that often eludes the average traveler. Geocaching promises a new adventure around every corner, and these two Tennessee GeoTours are the perfect places to begin.
Written by Madison Eubanks for RootsRated Media in partnership with South Central Tennessee.