A different kind of hunt in southeastern South Dakota.

Chad Coppess

South Dakota’s Geocaching Trail – 188 geocaches arranged across farm country to spell out the word GEOCACHING in letters four miles high by 30 miles wide. Finding them all sounded like a formidable task, but I was determined to tackle as many as I could in a day.

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Geocaching is the search for and discovery of hidden containers across the world. The location of each cache is marked and listed on Geocaching.com. Each container holds a log sheet for finders to note their successful search and sometimes includes surprises like small trade items. Handheld GPS units or smartphones can be used to seek out the physical location of each cache.

The Geocaching Trail is located in southeastern South Dakota, roughly between the towns of Freeman, Menno, Parker, Hurley and Viborg. The shortest possible distance to drive the entire trail is 180 miles, so make sure you have a full tank of gas before hitting the road.

Geocaching Trail Map

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Day 1

Unfortunately, the day I scheduled to hit the trail was forecast to be a rainy one, so I decided to see what I could accomplish the evening before. After a quick supper I drove 4.5 miles southwest of the town of Freeman. My plan was to find the caches in numerical order and the first one went well. My find for Cache #1 was posted at 6:11 p.m. It was a small plastic canister that previously contained camera film, but now holds a Geocache log. I signed the log, took a photo and carefully replaced it where I found it.

Cache #2 was a half-mile down the road and another easy find. This was going to be fun and should easily provide me with my personal best for most caches found in one day.

For comparison’s sake, I was using both my Garmin GPS unit and iPhone with the official Geocaching app. I found the distance to each cache matched precisely on both pieces of technology, but the compass arrows did not. That was no problem on this trail because it was easy to follow the straight roads that the caches are positioned on.

Pheasants, geese, meadowlarks and many small songbirds could be heard each time I got out of the car to search for another cache. They provided a beautiful soundtrack as I was on my search.

Cache finds
GPS for geocaching

By 7 p.m., I had found the first eight caches on the GEOCACHING Trail and was falling into a rhythm. I had roughly the first half of the “G” found in less than an hour! If the weather cooperated tomorrow and I could continue at this pace I should be able to make the finds on the entire trail!

Most of the caches on the trail are designated as “small” or “micro” on the website. They tend to be the fore-mentioned film canister or smaller. They are hidden at pretty much regular half-mile intervals along the trail, so it was easy to take a guess where the next one would be as I drove to it.

Uh-oh. I hit a snag at Cache #10. Both GPS devices put the cache directly in the middle of the gravel road I had parked alongside. That did not seem logical at all, but from reading the descriptions of other people’s finds on the website, I determined it might be that I needed to get my feet wet in the rain-filled ditch nearby. Rather than that, I made the decision no cacher really wants to – I declared a “Did Not Find” and moved on.

Cache #11 was an easy one and I was back “on trail.” However, Cache #12 was another “Did Not Find.” Oh well, with 188 caches on the trail, I wasn’t surprised to come up empty on at least a few. (Checking www.geocaching.com later showed that other cachers have found both #10 and #12 since I was there, so I just didn’t look hard enough.)

I hit a personal milestone at Cache #13. It was my 200th find overall since starting geocaching in 2003. Many cachers have finds in the thousands, but I was happy to hit my second hundred.

It was 7:42 p.m. and my hiker’s headlamp was already coming in handy for cache searching. At the nice round number of 200 finds and at the bottom of the first “G” on the GEOCACHING Trail, I decided to call it good for the evening. 

Cache in a tree
Cache in a tree
Geocaching log
Geocaching at night
Day 2

Drat! The forecast was right. A steady drizzle had started sometime in the night and looked to continue throughout the day. There went my optimistic plan to find all the caches on the entire trail. I didn’t need to get wet that bad, so it would have to wait for another trip.

My evening on the Geocaching Trail did provide that personal best for finds in one day at 11. It was a great introduction to a geocache trail concept, which I had not attempted before. It also made me not only want to go back and finish the trail, but find more caches anywhere I could.

There are more than 8,000 caches in South Dakota, with more being added all the time, so plenty out there to find beyond the Geocaching Trail.

Geocache location
Geocache location
Illustrated image of three bison grazing in Custer State Park. The Needles rock formation is visible in the background.
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