I originally wrote this article in response to Pokémon Go. I’ve sat on the fence for two years whether to download the app. While I like the idea in theory — a treasure hunt for invisible creatures –, I’m not an app person, so I am unlikely to get around to downloading and then using it. However good treasure hunts are 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 including FFTC’s very own mid-summer Treasure Hunt Contest.
Geocaching – Treasure Hunts with GPS
Like Pokémon, Geocaching is an addictive hobby and people — adults as well as children — take if 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 • This is a good place to start, because several state parks offer free loaner geocaching kits. 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 cache’s. We’ll call these “beginner level”.
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 Maplewood Nature Center 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 are 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.
- Museums • Many museums have pre-made scavenger hunts. Just ask at the front desk.
- Libraries • Check the children’s section at libraries. Our favorite libraries change out scavenger hunts frequently. Sun Ray Library in St. Paul also has nature backpacks available to check out. Stop by Sun Ray Library to pick one up.
- Parks • Eloise 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.
- Nature Centers • Ask at Nature Centers. For Instance, Wood Lake Nature Center has created a environmentally-friendly scavenger hunt for kids.
- Grocery Store/Errands • You may have to make this yourself based on what you need, but its a good way to keep them busy while you shop.
- Zoos • Minnesota Zoo offers this PDF Scavenger Hunt for K-3rd graders. • For Como Zoo, their Visitor’s Guide makes a good scavenger hunt – just find all the featured animals on the map.
- Malls • Like grocery stores, you could make your own by printing out the logos of some easily identifiable stores and have 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.
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. The problem is that this article (written in 1999) iis largely outdated. The most popular site, Lilydale, 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.
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.
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?
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.
Self-Guided Tours of Minneapolis 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.
Treasure Hunt for Waldo Every Summer on Grand Avenue
Each 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.
Treasure Hunt in the Winter – 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.