Want a simple outdoor activity to engage your kids while hiking? Try a hiking treasure map to make your next nature adventure into an epic quest!
Hiking is one of my favorite summertime activities. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…the mountains are my happy place. Being in nature feeds my soul and brings out the best in me.
We go hiking pretty regularly during the warmer months, and as much as I love it, I’ll be the first to admit that hiking with kids can sometimes be…challenging.
To make hiking more enjoyable for kids, I’ve found it’s essential to add elements of fun and excitement.
I’ve shared a bunch of ideas for hiking games and activities before, but I have a new one for you today:
A hiking treasure map!
How the hiking treasure map began: an origin story
The idea for this activity actually came in the middle of a hike to Battlecreek Falls (a popular hike in Utah) one day a few summers ago.
We had never hiked this particular trail before, and it was a HOT day. After hiking for about a half hour, mostly in the sun, the whining began.
I did my best to encourage, distract, and bribe, but my little hikers were struggling. As I started to wonder if this hike had really been such a good idea, we passed an older lady on the trail. Our fatigue must have been obvious, because she smiled encouragingly at us and said to my boys, “You’re almost there, guys! You just have to cross the bridge, and then you’ll see a cave on the left. After that, you’ll climb up a short hill, and you’ll see the waterfall!”
It took her less than a minute, but her words gave us all a renewed burst of energy. We hunted for her landmarks during the last stretch of the hike, and each time we found one, my boys shouted excitedly, “There it is!” and hurried to search for the next one. Even the steep hill at the end was no match for their now-strong little legs because they knew the waterfall was right on the other side.
As we sat by the falls a few minutes later, resting our weary legs and eating granola bars and goldfish crackers, I thought of how the landmarks this woman had given us were like clues on a treasure map.
How fun would it be, I thought, to create an actual treasure map for the kids to use on one of our hikes?
How we used our treasure map
The next time we came back to that hike, we did just that! It wasn’t anything fancy. I just drew a simple map on a piece of paper with labels for several landmarks I knew we would see along the way.
I gave the map to my kids when we got to the trailhead, and we decided that they would take turns carrying the map. Each time we reached a landmark, we’d pass the map to the next person.
The boys loved playing along with the treasure hunt storyline, and the game kept their minds occupied while we walked. When we got to the end, I pulled some special snacks out of my backpack as their “treasure” and they were thrilled!
Want to make your own hiking treasure map? Here are some tips:
How to make your own hiking treasure map
- Choose your hiking location: The first step in planning your hiking treasure map adventure is selecting the perfect location. Look for a nearby trail or park that offers a moderate difficulty level suitable for kids. Choose a trail you know well (but ideally that your kids are less familiar with) and that has at least a handful of identifiable landmarks.
- Design the treasure map: Your treasure can be as simple as a piece of paper drawn with marker, or you can get fancy and make your map look more authentic by drawing it on crumpled brown paper or burning the edges. Start with a blank piece of paper and draw a path from the trailhead to your destination. Include landmarks, such as caves, bridges, and benches, and mark an “X” at your final destination. Add arrows, dashed lines, and other symbols to make the map visually appealing and easy to follow. If you’re feeling extra creative, you can come up with imaginative names for your landmarks. For example: troll bridge, craggy cliffs, enchanted stream, etc.
- Prepare your “treasure”: This can be as simple as choosing a special snack to pull out of your pack and give kids at the end of the hike (that’s what I did). Or, you could plan some other fun surprise. Just remember, kids don’t need much to make them happy. Even a package of fruit snacks or a lollipop will likely make them as excited as a chest of gold.
- Go on your adventure: When you get to the trailhead of your hike, give each child a copy of the treasure map (or have everyone share one) and show them how to use it. Encourage kids to work together as a team, supporting and guiding each other throughout the hike. As you hike, be sure to help your kids identify the landmarks on the map. If your kids love to make believe, you could even create a storyline for for your quest and let the kids imagine they are on an epic hero’s journey.
- Finding the Treasure: When you read your destination, you have a few options for giving your kids their treasure. Option 1: Congratulate your hikers on a successful quest and hand them their prize. Easy! Option 2: Have your hikers sit and rest with their eyes closed for a minute while you hide their treasure. Once it’s well concealed, invite your kids to open their eyes and hunt around for their treasure. If they need help, you can play hot and cold, or give them clues to help them find it. Once they have their treasure in hand, celebrate together!
A hiking treasure map adventure is a fantastic way to encourage kids to explore nature and ignite their imaginations. For your next family outing, try creating a simple treasure map for an unforgettable family adventure!
Want more outdoor ideas for kids? Try these:
- 10 simple activities that will make hiking fun for kids
- 6 fun kids activities to inspire lots of outdoor play
- Outdoorsy gifts for kids who love to explore