Twin Cities Quests, Scavenger & Treasure Hunts for Families

Twin Cities Quests and Treasure Hunts for Families

I originally wrote this article in response to Pokémon Go. I’ve sat on the fence for years on whether to get the app. While I think this would be a particularly good app to use to get kids out and about right now, I’ve found so many alternatives that we could go on different local treasure hunts weekly and not get bored. 

Kids love collecting things. They love searching for these things they collect. There are endless ways to indulge this passion. While we are out on these quests, maybe we can create a happy family memory and learn something new.

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    Current Twin Cities Treasure Hunts

    Arb the Tree Gnome Hide-and-Seek Game

    April 30, 2021 -October 17, 2021
    Tour the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum’s tree collections throughout the season to search for gnomes playing hide and seek. The gnomes hiding spots will change each week throughout the summer. Collect the letters found on each gnome and unscramble them to find an answer. Collect all 24 answers for a chance to win Arb the Tree Gnome or one of his friends at the end of the Season of Trees. Learn more here. The Landscape Arboretum requires reservations and admission fee $15/adult; Free for children 15 and under. We recommend purchasing a membership if you plan to collect all 24 answers.

    School’s Out Scavenger Hunt

    Friday, June 18, from 10 a.m.-noon at Fish Lake Regional Park in  Maple Grove
    Friday, June 19, from 10 a.m.-noon at French Regional Park in  Plymouth
    Drop in for a self-guided scavenger hunt around the park to meet a live animal that shares the outdoor summer months with you. Children 13 years and younger must be accompanied by an adult. FREE.

    Twin Cities Self-Paced Quests & Hunts

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

    Mill Ruins Park Self-Guided Exploration

    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. Print the document and get out with your family on a quiet afternoon to explore the ruins.

    For the summer of 2021, the The Minneapolis Parks Foundation is adding a new “Walk & Talk” Self Guided Tour each month through August. Print a PDF or use an Online StoryMap.

    Two children in front of Mill Ruins Park sign in Minneapolis Minnesota
    Grab your water bottles and explore Mill Ruins Park.

    Indian Mounds Regional Park Tree Trek

    Find 28 different kids of trees on a self-guided trek through Indian Mounds Regional Park. Print 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.

    Stop along the Indian Mounds Regional Park Tree Trek in Saint Paul Minnesota

    Scott County - Self-Guided Walking Tours

    Explore the historical sites of three Scott County cities at your own pace with these walking tours created by Scott County Historical Society. Click on the city of your choice to go to the tour map.

    Self-Guided Tours of Public Art

    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. Find a Public Art Passport here.

    Saint Louis Park has 27 public art pieces on its interactive Public Art in St. Louis Park map as well as a list of past pieces and their descriptions.

    Minneapolis:

    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.

    Minneapolis Parks Foundation offers printables and a digital StoryMap to take a Walk & Talk tour of interesting places in the Minneapolis Parks district.

    Minneapolis Drinking Fountain Quest. I used to love creative drinking fountains as a child when my family traveled.  In 2008, Minneapolis commissioned four really cool artist-designed fountains. Can you find them all?

    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:

    Child's hands holding GPS

    Geocache in State Parks 

    My daughter and her classmates tried the Minnesota State Park Geocaching Program 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 Geocaching.com to get the coordinates for these and other sites. When park buildings are open, many state parks would offer free loaner geocaching kits. If closed, you can probably get by with your phone.

    Passport to Maplewood Parks

    Another good starter program would be Maplewood’s geocache program, since all the sites are in one city. Families can start by picking up a passport packet at City Hall or get 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.  

    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”. Learn more about Geocaching in Three Rivers Parks here.

    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. Some of these options may not be available when park buildings or businesses are closed. We recommended calling ahead if in doubt.

    Nature Centers & Parks

    Check the websites of Twin Cities nature centers or larger parks to find one that suits you. Many offer explorer backpacks to be checked out, which often include scavenger hunts. Some of our favorite offerings include:

    Libraries

    When open for browsing and hanging out, many libraries offer scavenger hunts in the children’s area.  Even when visiting is out, we still have these library-sponsored options:

    More Places That offer Scavenger Hunts

    • Museums – Many museums have pre-made scavenger hunts. Just ask at the front desk.
    • 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.
    • 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. 
    • 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. 

    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. 

    June 2021 Update: Reader, Andy B. tells us that the Shadow Falls location in St. Paul is still a great place to find fossils. However, since, St. Paul is not issuing permits, you may choose to bring a camera to “collect your fossils”.

    If you are looking for fossil hunting in the Twin Cities, I recommend Shadow Falls in St. Paul. … {M]y kids and I immediately began finding Ordovician era fossils – mostly simple marine life in the form of bryozoans (corals), crinoids (sea lilies) and bivalves (clams). I have a few small cephalopods that I’ve found also. Once you know what to look for you see them everywhere in the muddy limestone just below the monument. My 3 year old had no problem finding them once I showed her a few.

    Andy B.

    Other sites on the At-A-Glance 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 still recommend printing and reading the PDF. It has pictures and useful information regarding the types of fossils to be found in Minnesota.

    Imagine Childhood I See Nature Box Subscription

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

    Road Trip #1Quarry 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

    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.

    DIY Treasure Hunts

    Get Outside Club - Backyard Adventures

    We love the Get Outside Club. This subscription program delivers adventures by mail that you can do in your own backyard or a nearby park at your own pace.

    If you purchase through our affiliate link, Family Fun Twin Cities receives a small commission.

    How to Create Your own Treasure Hunt

    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?

    This article contains affiliate links to related products. Family Fun Twin Cities receives a small commission on sales through our site.

    2 thoughts on “Twin Cities Quests, Scavenger & Treasure Hunts for Families”

    1. If you are looking for fossil hunting in the Twin Cities, I recommend Shadow Falls in St. Paul. I recently became a fossil enthusiast and that is the best local place I found. The Minnesota at a Glance PDF you link to in the article mentions this location and I went there fully prepared to come away empty handed. Instead, my kids and I immediately began finding Ordovician era fossils – mostly simple marine life in the form of bryozoans (corals), crinoids (sea lilies) and bivalves (clams). I have a few small cephalopods that I’ve found also. Once you know what to look for you see them everywhere in the muddy limestone just below the monument. My 3 year old had no problem finding them once I showed her a few. I’ve gone back several times and always come home with new and interesting specimens.

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