Twin Cities Quests, Scavenger & Treasure Hunts for Families During Times of Social Distancing

I originally wrote this article in response to Pokémon Go. I’ve sat on the fence for years on whether to download the app. I think this would be a particularly good app to download to get kids out and about right now. However any good treasure hunt is so much fun for everyone. Kids love collecting things. They love searching for these things they collect. There are endless ways to indulge this passion. While we are at it maybe we can create a happy family memory and learn something new.

The following is a list of several ideas for treasure hunts in the Twin Cities metro and greater Minnesota modified to fit our current circumstances. 

DIY Treasure Hunts

Treasure is what you make it. Why not create your own family treasure hunt? Last summer, FFTC declared a pink flamingo treasure hunt. We had a ball finding pink flamingos everywhere we went. Pick something your kids love — flamingos, gnomes, bears, frogs, turtles — and start watching for them in your own neighborhood. How many can you collect and photograph?

Gianna shared a step-by-step guide for creating your own scavenger hunt here.

Three Rivers Park District has created the PDF — Mystery Mapper, with step-by-step instructions for kids to draw a map, hide a treasure and see if a buddy can find it in.

Quests & Tours

Mill Ruins Park Quest

The Mill Ruins Park Fabled Falls Forgotten Walls Quest (PDF) defies easy categories. It’s not a scavenger hunt and its not exactly a treasure hunt. What it is: a four-page adventure through Mill Ruins park where you will find some of the most interesting features and learn a little about Minnesota history as you go. Download the document and get out with your family on a quiet afternoon to explore the ruins.

Indian Mounds Regional Park Tree Trek

Find 28 different kids of trees on a self-guided trek through Indian Mounds Regional Park. Download and follow the map created by St. Paul Parks and maybe take home a photograph and/or a fallen leaf from each tree? Find the map here, and enjoy a mile hike around the park while you gather your treasures.

Not close to St. Paul? That’s okay, Hennepin County made a Tree Bingo Game for walks around any neighborhood! How many trees can you find in your own neighborhood?

Savage City Parks – Where in the Park is Luke?

Follow weekly clues to find The City of Savage’s Recreation Coordinator, Luke. He’ll be hidden in a different city park each week, follow the clues on Facebook to find him, take your picture  and post it on Facebook. 

Self-Guided Tours of Public Art

The City of Minneapolis has put together a series of self-guided tours of public art by region of the city. This could make a fun walking scavenger hunt. The app was a bit clunky to begin with, but once I got the hang of it, it worked pretty smoothly. Each stop on the tour offers a description, directions, and usually a photo. These tours would be a bit on the long side for walking with small children, but would make a decent weekend bike ride or car trip.

The City of Eagan also provides an interactive map of its public art, and if you can’t get out, you can take a virtual tour.

Geocaching – Treasure Hunts with GPS

Like Pokémon, Geocaching is an addictive hobby and people — adults as well as children — take it very seriously. Both require the use of GPS technology. Families can go all out, choose to dabble in the hobby, or try it once and move on. Here are some places to start:

Geocache in State Parks – My daughter and her classmates tried this out during a visit to Fort Snelling State Park. They said it was easier to just go for a walk and stumble on the caches. We’ll call these “beginner level”. You may want to sign up with to get the coordinates for these and other sites. Normally, many state parks would offer free loaner geocaching kits, but while park buildings are closed, this won’t be an option. You can probably get by with your phone.

Passport to Maplewood Parks – Another good starter program would be Maplewood’s program, since all the 29 sites are in one city. Families can start by picking up a passport packet at City Hall or by downloading it HERE. With each cache, you’ll find a secret word to write in your passbook. Once it is full, return it to claim a prize.

Geocaching for S’mores – Three Rivers Park District may win the award for the best idea to get beginners interested in geocaching. They regularly offer one-time programs that end with s’mores. This may be the perfect way to pique the interest of children. These programs cost $8.00 per person (with a 20% discount for groups of 4 or more) and require pre-registration. Find them by searching keyword “s’mores”.

Scavenger Hunts

Scavenger Hunts can be conducted just about everywhere plus they are really easy to make on your own. The following is a list of places where you can find scavenger hunts or adventure packs that generally contain a scavenger hunt.

Where You Can Go:

  • Nature Centers – Check the websites of Twin Cities nature centers to find one that suits you.
  • Libraries – Check the children’s section at libraries. Our favorite libraries change out scavenger hunts frequently. While indoor scavenger hunts are temporarily out, here are some library-sponsored options.
    • Sun Ray Library in St. Paul offers nature backpacks available to check out. Order one from Sun Ray Library to pick one up and use it to create a nature scavenger hunt.
    • Participate in St. Paul Library’s Great Outdoors Scavenger Hunt in your own neighborhood, on your own time.
  • ParksEloise Butler has adventure packs to check out, so do several Three Rivers Nature Centers. Just ask at the visitors desk. Most of these packs include scavenger hunts. You won’t be able to take advantage of the pre-made adventure packs until the buildings open, but Moms & Munchkins has created a park scavenger hunt you can print and do on your own.
  • Washington County Parks Nature Packs – Include scavenger hunts and other fun nature activities. Download them here.
  • Three Rivers Park District offers this creative scavenger hunt that you can do anywhere.

What’s Out Right Now:

  • Museums – Many museums have pre-made scavenger hunts. Just ask at the front desk. Museums are currently closed until further notice.
  • Grocery store & errands – You may have to make these scavenger hunts up yourself based on your shopping list, but it’s a good way to keep kids busy while you shop. While grocery stores are open, we should probably be getting in and out quickly and leaving kids behind when that is an option.
  • Zoos – The Minnesota Zoo offers this PDF Scavenger Hunt for K-3rd graders. Como Park Zoo’s Visitor’s Guide makes a good scavenger hunt – just find all the featured animals on the map. Both zoos are currently closed.
  • Malls – Like grocery stores, you could make your own scavenger hunt by printing out the logos of some easily identifiable stores and having your kids watch for them as you walk the perimeter. However, if you are at Southdale, the kids play area has a scavenger hunt they can do with you or while you sit. Malls are currently closed.

Twin Cities Quests and Treasure Hunts for Families

Fossil Hunting – The Adventurous Treasure Hunts

I have fond memories of fossil hunting at my Grandma’s farm in Indiana as a kid. I never actually found anything until my last visit, when I found my first piece of petrified wood. It didn’t matter, I had a good time following my dad through the freshly plowed fields in the spring or down by the dried out creek in the late summer.

I was hoping to offer you some really great fossil hunting locations here in the Twin Cities based on this Minnesota at a Glance PDF, which I picked up at the Science Museum of Minnesota. The problem is that this article (written in 1999) is largely outdated. The most popular fossil hunting site listed, Lilydale Brickyards, is closed indefinitely. In fact, St. Paul is not issuing fossil collecting permits for any site. Other sites on the list are further away and rumored to be cleaned out or are just difficult to find. I did find a lot of dead links and old information, but no solid references. I would still print out the PDF. It has pictures and useful information regarding the types of fossils to be found in Minnesota.

Never fear, I have ideas — two road trips, a perhaps, and a compromise.

Road Trip #1: Quarry Hill Nature Center in Rochester encourages fossil hunting in its two quarries. Park guests can carry out any fossil that can fit in the palm of their hands. This appears to still be open.

Road Trip #2: Hill Annex Mine State Park in Itasca County offers Fossil Hunt tours on Friday and Saturdays during the summer. The cost is $10/adult;$6/child 5-12; free/child under 5 and participants can keep what they find. We did this on the last day of the season in 2017. The drive was long, but the bounty was plentiful. We even found a more rare fossil — the big one below is a clam. Read more about that adventure here. If we are still under restrictions this summer, this will likely fall under the category of events that are cancelled.

Treasure Hunts for Fossils

Yes, we drove three hours both ways to find these, but it was the highlight of our summer!

The following weekend, we went to the Science Museum’s Collector’s Corner, where my first-grader gave a report on where and how we found the fossils, traded one of his less-favorite pieces and received points to “purchase” other fossils. It’s a fun program and you can do it with natural collections – leaves, rocks, fossils, skulls*. You just have to give an age-appropriate report to earn points. *Be sure to review the list of restricted items before you go in. Dead animals aren’t allowed, but apparently that doesn’t extend to their skulls? This will have to wait until the Science Museum reopens, but you can do extra research and prepare ahead. Kids with more details get more points.

Perhaps you know someone who would give permission to search on their land? While reminding us that fossil collecting is not allowed in State Parks, the DNR does offer tips for collecting elsewhere (with permission).

A compromise, especially if you have little ones, is the Lyndale Park Peace Garden. The large boulders placed throughout the garden are actually older than the dinosaurs and contain prehistoric fossils. Of course you can’t take these home, but you could bring paper and crayons and collect them with crayon rubbings.

More Treasure Hunts

Treasure Hunt for Waldo Every Summer on Grand Avenue

Historically during the summer the stores on Grand Avenue participate in a Where’s Waldo hunt. Watch the Red Balloon Bookshop each summer for a new hunt. Other local bookstores have also hosted these hunts. They tend to happen in summer, so keep an eye on your favorite bookstores. Sometimes the Linden Hills Shops do their own Where’s Waldo. Watch Wild Rumpus for these announcements. 

Winter Carnival Medallion Treasure Hunt

Anne has the scoop on how to participate in the Winter Carnival Medallion annual Treasure Hunts. Although, she cautions that it is probably best done with older kids who have some stamina.


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