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Treasure Hike

  • Ages: 3+
  • Time: 20 minutes (plus 30+ min prep)
  • Materials: Treasure clues (see sample), treasure (up to you) and storage for treasure (ziploc, rubbermaid, etc.)
  • # of kids: 1 or more

kids listen closely to clues
Explorers listen to Treasure Hike clues with rapt attention.

The hunt for hidden treasure is an excellent way to engage even the most reluctant explorer. By design, it also supports kids in developing a range of critical skills. We were inspired to do this activity after we followed clues to find a "letterbox" in a Pennsylvania state park. Letterboxing is a popular way to enjoy time outdoors together. Our Treasure Hike is a good way to test out that kind of adventure. And, it's been a big hit with the kids and parents with whom we tinker!


Here are just some of the critical skills that kids develop as they read and follow clues on a hunt:

  • Curiosity—Drawn into the hunt for treasure, kids get even more hooked on the joy of wondering and finding things out—the key to being lifelong learners.
  • Self Control/Focus—The challenge to solve a mystery holds kids’ attention and gives kids, especially young ones, genuine motivation to stay “on task.”
  • Problem Solving—Using the incomplete information in clues to locate treasure is perfect practice for developing strong problem solving skills. Plus, if you also have the kids hide their own treasure (see "Option"), they have to build a problem from scratch...sophisticated stuff!
  • Literacy Skills—Whether you channel Shakespeare as you write your clues or simply jot them down, kids will need to read or listen (depending on their age/ability), make sense of the words and their meaning and act upon the clues. What better way to practice how to be a great reader?!
  • Connection to Nature—Include some of their favorite landmarks or natural phenomena that you’ll know they’ll love (e.g. boulders, trees that are great to climb, mud pits, cool looking or feeling trees, etc.) in your clues, and kids will connect all the more to the outdoors.
  • Orienteering & Navigating—Depending on the clues you use, you can challenge kids to use a compass and directions, measure distances (use steps, strides, etc), consider elevation, and other key navigation concepts.


Part 1: Set up the hunt.

  • Pick a place outdoors to do the hunt.—First, you need to pick the park, woods, beach, etc. where you’ll set up the hunt. Be mindful that the area is not too big and spread out or too small to be challenging for your kids.

kids hunt for clues
In search of clues, explorers peek under one of our favorite landmarks, the "Lumpy Bumpy Tree."

  • Pick landmarks or spots to use as markers for each clue.—This will take some scouting, unless you are using a park that you know like the back of your hand. It can be fun to pick a day before you set up the hunt and bring kids to the site you’ll use. They can explore with you as you, unbeknownst to them, jot down ideas for landmarks to use in the hunt. Either way, be sure to plan out how far you want kids to travel (again, totally depends on age and enthusiasm of your kids) and pick landmarks that are a good distance apart for your kids. Finally, if you are in a familiar place, reference things that you’ve done there with kids before. For example, we put rainbow-colored string on a tree as one clue to help kids connect back to the time we did a “Camo Hunt” together. This just helps reinforce those memories and the benefits they got from those experiences.

  • Write up clues.—In our sample hike (set up in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, NY), we used rhyming poetry, but you don’t need to do that. You just need to give enough information that kids know where to look next. I also decided to have one sheet of clues that kids followed one-at-a-time. They had to find each spot to understand what to do next. You can also hide a new clue at each spot, which can mean more hunting and, possibly, even more fun. Whichever you find easiest. (I feared that my clues might walk off in such a busy public park).

Check out samples from our August, 2012 hunt in Prospect Park, Brooklyn.

  • Hide the clues.— I rolled up my sheet of clues in a ziploc bag and tucked them in a hole at the base of the first landmark I used, “the lumpy bumpy tree.” If you are hiding a clue at each landmark/spot, make sure that, at each spot, you hide the clue that leads to the next spot. Sounds simlpe, but trips me up every time!

  • Hide the “treasure.”—First, you have to decide what the “treasure” is going to be. For those who like to do letterboxing, the treasure is just in finding the box, adding your “stamp” to the book (a sort of “Meghan was here”) and adding that letterbox’s stamp to your log book. For a treasure hike like ours, here are some ideas about fun things to include as the “treasure.” We recommend putting any treasure in a sealed container (ziploc bag, rubbermaid, etc.).
    • Treats—Healthy snacks are always a treat, especially when you;ve designed a hunt that really got kids moving.
    • Fun & Games—Fill the treasure bag or box with outdoor game props like frisbee, wiffle ball/bat, sidewalk chalk, jump ropes, balls, etc. Then, spend some time playing together!
    • Art stuff—Fill the treasure bag or box with art supplies like sketch pad, crayons, colored pencils, paints, etc. and spend the time after the hunt making pictures of the outdoors.
    • Make your own treasure hunt!—Soon, we will post this as an activity, but you can make the “treasure” a kit to make your very own treasure hunt. When we do this, we include one little box for each explorer. Each kid then explores the area, gathering his or her own treasures (e.g. acorn caps, rocks, small sticks, clovers, flowers, etc.) in his or her treasure box. Then, we put all of the treasure boxes in a bag and work together to hide the bag. Our last task is to identify landmarks we could use to remember where our treasure was hidden.

Part 2: Introduce the hunt, then let them go!

kids run and hunt for clues
Explorers RUN to find the next spot in our treasure hike.

  • Kick it off—You can either make up a story (great for kids ages 3-5) or let the kids know that you’ve devised a hunt for them. I told my kids (again, ages 3-5) that the rangers told me that someone had hidden treasure and that the rangers had given me the first clue to find the treasure.
  • Let them hunt!—Give them the first clue and send them on their way. We usually encourage them to work together, as many problem solvers make lighter solving. If kids are too young to read, we also read the clues along the way, making sure they can all hear. We also ask questions (trying never to give away answers) if they need help making sense of the clues.

Part 3: Celebrate and Talk.They have found the treasure! Now, Meghan takes it down so we can all see it, talk and celebrate.

  • Celebrate—When you finally find the “treasure,” make a big deal of its discovery and huddle together as you open up the bag or box...this is the payoff moment!
  • Talk—Kids should be pretty excited about the experience, so it’s a good time to get them chatting. Here are some ideas for prompts you can give to get them talking:
    • Job well done! What did you think of that treasure hike?
    • Which do you think was the trickiest clue? What was tricky about it?
    • How well was the treasure hidden? Do you think it was hard to see? What else could they have done to make it even harder to find? (e.g. put more green or brown over it)
    • Would you like to hide treasure for someone else someday? OR Would you like to try to hide our own treasure and then come back to see if it’s still here? If so..What kind of treasure should we hide? Where would be a good place around here to hide it and why?

OPTION: Have the kids hide their own treasure. As we mentioned, we like to do our “Hiding Treasure” activity (write up coming soon) together with this Treasure Hike. We find that after kids have experienced a hike, they are ready and excited to create one themselves. We’ve also found, though, that each is super activity all on it’s own!

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