Geocaching, Fairfax County Park Authority
Geocaching, letterboxing, and other similar activities are allowed in many Park Authority parks. Guidelines have been established to assure good stewardship of the natural and cultural resources in the parks.
Download the approved list of parks where geocaching, letterboxing, and other similar activities are allowed. If a park is not on this list, geocaching is not allowed unless written permission from the Park Authority has been given. The typical reasons for not allowing a cache are safety or good stewardship – lack of trails or parking, sensitive natural or cultural resources, nearby schools, size of the park or the park’s topography.
Geocaches may be placed in one of the approved parks as long as they adhere to the following guidelines:
As with any activity on parkland, the Park Authority reserves the right to place reasonable restrictions on the time, manner or place in which an activity is conducted. Although most park visitors value parkland and resources, there have been many instances where individuals left private property on parkland as part of illicit activities and there are frequently unauthorized uses on parkland that could pose a threat to public safety, or damage property and/or cultural or natural resources. For these reasons, the Park Authority needs to regulate all activities on parkland.
- Geocaches shall only be located in developed park areas that have existing uses, trails and established access points. Geocaches shall not be placed more than 25 feet away from a maintained trail or developed area in a park.
- Developed areas may include parking lots, roadways, athletic fields, tennis courts, picnic areas, etc.
Established/Maintained trails are typically asphalt, concrete, or
gravel and are usually maintained six to ten feet wide. Casual
(beaten footpaths) or wildlife trails are not considered
The Park Authority is most concerned with trails that are not
in the right place in the landscape -- e.g. go directly up a
slope as opposed to across a slope, are on the banks
of a stream as opposed to further away, trails that show
obvious signs of flooding and abuse (e.g. a 4 foot trail that
widens to 8 feet due to a wet spot isn't a good
A general rule of thumb for defining an established trail is:
Would a really determined geocacher be able to get a
trail-use stroller to the site (and no cheating by lifting it
up and walking over non-staired sections of the trail)? If
the trail being considered meets this test, it meets the
intent of the guideline.
- The intent of this and other guidelines is to protect the park’s natural and cultural resources. Trails are a disturbance in natural ecosystems. Any additional disturbance by going off trail can increase the dispersal of invasive plants, cause damage to underlying vegetation, and disturb wildlife. From the protection of cultural and natural resources perspective, the Park Authority generally does not authorize people to go off trail. Established trails within the parks are usually sited far enough away from sensitive resources in order to protect them -- going off trail encourages users to go into the sensitive resource areas.
- The Park Authority is most concerned with trails that are not in the right place in the landscape -- e.g. go directly up a slope as opposed to across a slope, are on the banks of a stream as opposed to further away, trails that show obvious signs of flooding and abuse (e.g. a 4 foot trail that widens to 8 feet due to a wet spot isn't a good trail).
- Geocaches shall be a minimum of 50’ from private property.
- Geocache locations must be accessible from a safe and legal parking location whether that is along a public street or within a public parking area. If not readily evident, cache owners should include recommended parking directions on their cache page.
- The movement of already downed leaves, twigs and pieces of bark to conceal geocaches is allowed. The Park Authority prohibits the movement of rocks to make a cairn, removing bark from a tree to use as camouflage, and/or relocating a living plant. It is prohibited to excavate soils, cut vegetation, move or remove archaeological or natural objects (including living plants, animals, minerals, fungi, archaeological artifacts or features, etc.). Human-made objects of non-archaeological significance (e.g. a plastic water bottle) are considered trash and may be removed without prior notice to (or permission from) the Park Authority.
- Geocaches shall not be attached to any living or non-living natural resources in such a way that there is any possible damage to the resource. Loosely attached containers that do not restrict growth or cause damage to the resource may be used. Any attachments such as string, twine, wire, or tie wraps that cinch tightly to the resource are prohibited.
- Geocaches shall not be attached to any man-made park amenities in such a manner as to damage the object or to impede its proper usage, the physical placement or attachment of caches to any buildings, sheds, regulatory signs or informational signs is prohibited. The use of data printed on the signs as offsets for coordinates is allowed. Alteration of the sign in any way is prohibited.
- Geocachers must abide by all Park Authority rules, regulations, and other restrictions. This specifically includes park access times. Unless posted otherwise, all Park Authority parks are open from Dawn to Dusk. Night Caching in Park Authority parks is expressly forbidden. Cache Owners should include wording stating the acceptable caching hours, etc. in their cache pages.
- Caches shall only be placed in safe locations not unduly causing patron risk. Geocachers must review the topography of the location where the cache is to be placed and the potential safety risks to the patrons trying to find the cache.
- Geocachers must strive to cause no damage to the ground or vegetation that may result from cache searchers accessing the location. If damage is noted, the geocacher must contact the Park Authority for further information.
- As with all activities on park land, the geocacher assumes some risk in undertaking their activity. The Park Authority is in no way responsible for any damage to or loss of caches or equipment that is caused by others. Park Authority reserves the right to have cache owners or Park Authority staff remove any non-compliant caches. The Park Authority will remove and dispose of all unauthorized caches if unable to contact the owner of the cache to remove it themselves.
- Caches placed on Park Authority land without written permission prior to March 2008 are subject to review and may be removed if they are found to be non-compliant with Park Authority Guidelines.
Geocaching Approval Process
The Park Authority grants blanket permission for the placement of geocaches within the Fairfax County Parks specifically named in the approved list of parks. Even though blanket permission is being granted, all geocaches must be placed in accordance with Park Authority guidelines (see above). The placement of geocaches that are not in compliance with Park Authority guidelines are prohibited.
If a specific park is not listed on the approved list of parks, geocache placement is prohibited in that park unless written permission has been given. One or more of the following reasons are why a park may not be listed as an approved site:
- Lack of developed areas within the park, to include the lack of established/maintained trails.
- Lack of available safe and legal parking in reasonably close proximity to the park.
- The presence of cultural and natural resources that precludes the use of the park for this type of activity.
- The park’s proximity to a public school or public safety facility.
- The size of the park and the proximity of the surrounding residential properties precludes the use of a park for this activity.
- The general topography of the park makes it potentially unsafe for geocachers and/or use of the site for this type of activity is likely to lead to damage occurring to the ground or vegetation.
Exceptions to Approved List of Parks
Geocache placement needs at parks that are not contained in the approved list of parks must be individually approved by the Park Authority. The Park Authority will attempt to respond to requests for exceptions within 30 days. The special approval process is as follows:
Please fill in all of the fields below: