How to Plan a Scavenger Hunt for Kids

July 27, 2015
how-to-plan-a-scavenger-hunt-for-kids
Ethan HippleKids love the thrill of discovery of an outdoor scavenger hunt, when even everyday items earn a second look.

Who doesn’t love a scavenger hunt? Perfect for young and old alike, this activity—also known as a treasure hunt in some family circles—lends itself to camping trips, birthday parties, even your own backyard. From close-to-home forays to summer-long hunts all over New England, an outdoor scavenger hunt introduces a healthy dose of competition and discovery while giving kids a chance to try new experiences. As a family, we’ve made them a part of our outdoor adventures for years. Here’s how to plan your own scavenger hunt.

During a down day on a multi-day paddling trip, the kids were restless and looking for something to do. Solution? A nature-based treasure hunt around the island we were staying on. The quickest and easiest way is to make a list of items to find, and whoever finds them first wins. If you have cameras or smartphones handy, you can add a documentation element to the hunt.

Armed with their lists, the kids raced around the campsite and the surrounding woods for an hour, checking items off their lists. Whoever got their list checked off first got an extra piece of chocolate at dessert. A sampling of what they had to find:

  • Birch bark
  • Frog
  • Bird
  • Moss
  • Mushroom
  • Acorn
  • Squirrel
  • Pine cone
  • Animal scat
  • Animal print
  • Snakeskin
  • Natural object colored blue
  • Piece of trash

Unlike the previous items, whose locations they noted but left in place, the kids picked up pieces of trash and added them to our carry-out bag: a game and LNT lesson, all in one.

Clue- and Route-based Teamwork
When you want to take a team-based approach, you can hide a list of clues, one leading to the next, with a prize waiting at the end. You can do this right in your backyard or on a camping trip or outing. The kids work together to solve the clues; for example, in a backyard hunt, the first couple of clues might go like this:

“This tree has white bark that burns easily and makes an excellent fire starter. Go here for your next clue!” (Destination: birch tree.)

And the next clue: “Now that you’ve found the birch, look for the home of earthworms, vegetable scraps, and grass clippings.” (Destination: compost pile.)

Tailor your clues to your kids’ age group and interests—and get creative with your prizes: s’more fixings, birthday presents, fishing gear, or just simple bragging rights.

Season-Long Treasure Hunts
These are the granddaddies of all outdoors scavenger hunts: the season-long activity accomplishment checklists! These involve visiting a string of locations and/or accomplishing a certain set of activities within a season (summer vacation, for example) or beyond. Items might include:

  • Spend the night out under the stars
  • Catch and release a fish
  • Go surfing
  • Reach the top of a mountain
  • Build a shelter out of natural materials
  • Spend the night on an island

Ready to take it to the next level? Your treasure-hunting team could win prizes when you enter the excellent Venture Vermont contest, sponsored by Vermont State Parks, or the Wild Outdoor Wolfeboro hunt. (The latter could easily be tailored to suit your town or community.)

Or start from scratch and write your own rules with a group of families and friends. The best part of these hunts is they usually require photo or video documentation, so you end up with a hard drive full of amazing memories from a season together in the outdoors.

Whether you spend a Saturday morning or a whole summer bagging adventures, your family will spend quality time outside trying new experiences and making great memories. Happy hunting!

Get advice on raising the next generation of outdoor enthusiasts in Great Kids, Great Outdoors and find trip ideas in the AMC’s community for families, kids.outdoors.org

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Ethan Hipple

Along with Kim Foley MacKinnon, Ethan Hipple writes AMC's Great Kids, Great Outdoors blog. He fell in love with the outdoors as a teenager, when he worked on a Student Conservation Association (SCA) trail crew. He has directed the New Hampshire Conservation Corps and is currently the Parks Director for Portland, Me., where he lives with his wife, Sarah, and their two kids. His latest book for AMC is Outdoors with Kids Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont, cowritten with Yemaya St. Clair.