I originally wrote this article in response to Pokémon Go. I’ve sat on the fence for years on whether to download the app. While I think this would be a particularly good app to download to get kids out and about right now, I’ve found so many alternatives that we could go on a local treasure hunt weekly.
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.
Current Twin Cities Treasure Hunts
April Showers Bring May Flowers – Umbrella Hunt
April 1, 2021 – April 30, 2021
MAPLE GROVE RUBBER DUCKY SCAVENGER HUNT
April 5, 2021 -April 11, 2021
The City of Maple Grove and OMNI Brewing Company will be hosting a Rubber Ducky Scavenger Hunt in Maple Grove parks in April. Find details and register.
TC Indie Bookstore Passport Contest
April 18, 2021 -April 24, 2021
Visit Twin Cities independent bookstores to get your passport stamped. This event will be a little harder this year as not all the stores are open and all have reduced capacity, so you have a week to get all your stamps. Learn more here.
Earth Day Eco-Dash
April 24, 2021 -April 25, 2021
The City of Fridley is offering an Earth Day weekend scavenger hunt for teams of up to 8 people. Pre-register to participate in this interactive, ecological-themed scavenger hunt through the city. $25/team. Registration begins March 1st.
April Showers Bring May Flowers – Flower Hunt
May 1, 2021 – May 31, 2021
Brooklyn Park has hidden 12 umbrellas around Hartkopf Park and the Environmental Nature Area. Search for and photograph all 12. Then post them pictures with the hashtag: #BPAprilShowersBringMayFlowers.
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 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.
Self-Guided Tours of Public Art
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.
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 downloads 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:
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 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.
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 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:
- Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden has adventure packs to check out when open during the warmer months. If these are not available, City of Lakes Waldorf School shares a downloadable scavenger hunt created by one of its families.
- Maplewood Nature Center closed in 2020. However, the trails are still open to visitors and families can still download the following hunts:
- Springbrook Trail Experiences – Check this page for current scavenger hunts, story hikes and activity backpacks. Downloadable hunts include:
- Common Bird Scavenger Hunt
- Nature Walk Scavenger Hunt
- Color Scavenger Hunt
- Winter Scavenger Hunt
- Three Rivers Park District offers this creative scavenger hunt that you can do anywhere. Many Three Rivers Nature Centers also offer Explorer Backpacks. Just ask at the visitors desk during open hours. Most of these packs include scavenger hunts.
- Washington County Parks Nature Packs Include scavenger hunts and other fun nature activities. Download them here.
- Wood Lake Nature Center offers several scavenger hunts that families can print and bring along when the go for a walk along nature center trials.
- At any local park, Moms & Munchkins has created a park scavenger hunt you can print and do on your own.
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:
- St. Paul Public Library loans nature backpacks. Order one to pick 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.
- Ramsey County Library offers a Bookshelf Scavenger Hunt, use it:
- At the library, to explore new areas;
- At home, to get your kids excited about your own shelves;
- On a Little Free Library walk.
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. 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 still recommend printing and reading 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.
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
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?
- 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.