NATURAL AND CULTURAL wonders aren't the only treasures protected by Parks Canada. After a two-year ban on the activity, Parks Canada is now touting geocaching as a way to explore its national parks, historic sites and marine conservation areas.

Geocaching is like a scavenger hunt using GPS units. Participants hide small waterproof "caches” that contain a logbook and often a small trinket, record its location and then upload the coordinates to an online database. Since the activity first caught on in 2000, more than 500,000 caches have been hidden worldwide, with about 41,000 in Canada, and numbers increase daily.

But in 2005, Parks Canada removed some of the geocaches hidden within its jurisdiction, including seven in Banff National Park. Ed Jager, Parks Canada's manager of visitor experience, products and service, says that as geocaching exploded in popularity, an interim policy was put in place to give staff time to learn more about the activity and research its impacts on park environments and operations.

After two years of review, including comments from more than 100 enthusiasts and Parks Canada-sanctioned workshops, geocaches will again be allowed within park boundaries this year. The catch is, park officials must approve them first, making sure that they are accessible from trails or other public areas and that they contain only a message instead of the usual trinket.

Edmonton resident Dave Hughes, who participated in the Parks Canada review, says he's eager to once again search for hidden treasures in the backcountry of Elk Island National Park. But he isn't sure how enthusiastic his geocaching partners - his eight- and nine-year-old children - will be about the news.

"For the kids, it's all about the hidden trinkets,” says Hughes. "I'm afraid now it will be more like, 'We'll humour Dad on this one.'”

Find Parks Canada's geocaching guidelines at www.pc.gc.ca.