Chesapeake Insider

Susan Kelley


Susan Kelley is an expert in the adventure game of geocaching, with over 3,300 logged finds, and holds “Platinum Master” status in Earth Caching, and Director, Maryland Geocaching Society. Geocaching is a real-world, outdoor game where people use GPS-enabled devices to navigate to a specific set of coordinates and attempt to find the geocache container hidden at that location. A “GeoTrail” is a thematically-linked, curated collection of geocache locations. In 2011, Susan Kelley launched the GeoTrail for the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail which now includes 54 locations in three states.

How can people learn how to go geocaching?

Geocaching is easy to learn. Go to and click on “learn”. They have a great series of videos you can watch. A GPS device is desirable, but not necessary. You can use your smartphone. And you can learn almost anywhere. There are more than two and a half million active geocaches worldwide, and a basic membership is free.  You can enter your zip code to find geocaches in your community.

What do you need to go geocaching?

After a GPS, the best tool is a sense of adventure, with some common sense and logic. Some caches are straight forward – travel to a spot that your coordinates give you, and then look around. But others, like puzzle caches, require that you read some information, and solve a problem to get additional coordinates you need. You will not need a shovel or other tools because caches are never buried. They may be disguised, but not buried.

What tip can you offer for newcomers?

When you select a cache to go find from, pay attention to that cache’s difficulty rating both for terrain and difficulty of the hide. Each cache is rated on a scale of 1 to 5 with 5 being most difficult. When beginning, pick a level 2.5 or less. And notice the cache type. You might want to start with traditional caches instead of the very small ones.  On each cache’s webpage, you’ll notice that a cache can earn “favorite” points. Look for the caches with a lot of “favorite” points. Those will be the hidden gems of any region.

And don’t attempt to hide a cache yourself until you’ve found at least 50. That way, you’ll be very familiar with the game and more likely to create a cache that others will enjoy finding.

What do you do when you find a geocache?

Caches come in all shapes and sizes. The larger containers usually have trinkets or swag to exchange. Your kids will especially enjoy looking through that. Remember the rule: you can take an item, but you have to leave something of equal or greater value in exchange.

Also, every cache has a log to sign. Do sign your name, and then go to the website and record your find, post a picture, and make a comment. Cache owners are responsible for monitoring their caches and they depend on the comments to help monitor the condition of their geocache.

Tell us about one of the most challenging geocaches you’ve ever seen.

There are some that people refer to as “evil hides” or “mean caches”. They are very cleverly disguised. For example, someone took a real pinecone, hollowed it out, placed a cache in it and then put it back under a pine tree where the ground was littered with other pine cones. That was evil.

Where’s the strangest place you’ve geocached?

Geocaching can be physically challenging as well as mentally challenging. I’ve gone caving to find geocaches; I’ve climbed Mount Washington in New Hampshire, and I’ve been out on the Chesapeake Bay.

What is your most favorite Chesapeake place?

I loved the Lower Eastern Shore of Maryland and Virginia. We explored that area when we hunted for the new caches on the Captain John Smith GeoTrail. There, around Onancock and Cape Charles and the Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge, the Bay just has a different look and a different feel. The water has a clarity I’ve not experienced anywhere else.

But it’s hard to pick just one area. The Chesapeake Bay is vast. It’s different in different areas. For different reasons, I love the Susquehanna River, the Historic Jamestowne-Williamsburg-Yorktown part of Virginia and the Patuxent River close to home.

What are you looking forward to in your geocaching adventures?

We love to go geocaching with our grandchildren. Last weekend I heard the six year old say “You walk pretty fast for a grandma.” And I am really excited about the upcoming expansion of the Captain John Smith GeoTrail caches that get people out on the water. Combining history with geocaching is very exciting!

What do you have to say to people who have never tried geocaching?

Geocaching has something for everyone. It will amaze you because you’ll discover beauty, excitement, and interesting things in your own neighborhood that you didn’t know existed.

Onancock Historic District and Town Wharf

Explored by Captain John Smith in 1607 and chartered in 1680, Onancock is one of King James' original 12 royal ports in Colonies. Today it remains a working port for watermen and waterborne commerce and recreational boaters.

Cape Charles Historic District

With structures built between 1885 and 1920, Cape Charles has one of the largest concentrations of late-Victorian and turn-of-the-century buildings on the East Coast. Visitors come to Cape Charles to experience its history and architecture.

Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge

The Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge, located at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, contains 1415 acres of maritime forest, myrtle and bayberry thickets, grasslands, and fresh and brackish ponds.

Historic Jamestowne

Site of the first permanent English settlement in North America (1607) along the James River, near the Bay. Explore the remains of the "Old Towne", as well as the "New Towne" where colonists built more substantial homes after 1620.

Jamestown Settlement

Jamestown Settlement is a historical site and museum at the site of the first successful English settlement on the mainland of North America. Expansive exhibits trace Jamestown's beginnings in England and the first century of the Virginia colony.

Cindy Chance

Cindy Chance is the cultural anthropologist and trail administrator for the Captian John Smith Chesapeake National Historic trail. She lives in Annapolis, MD and works closely with the NPS Chesapeake Office.

June 1, 2015

Main image: Image courtesy: Cindy Chance
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