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Blog header: Photo of kids getting ready for a scavenger hunt, text reading "How to Create a Scavenger Hunt"

Ready for Outdoor Fun? Learn How to Create A Scavenger Hunt

Looking for a fun outdoor activity to get kids thinking, moving, playing, and practicing teamwork? Do you have a space (large or small, public or private) where they can run around? Then you might be ready for a scavenger hunt.

The concept behind the scavenger hunt is simple: kids get a list of things to find, then run around looking for them. Endless opportunities for variations hide within that idea. Kids can participate alone or on teams. They can go on a springtime nature hunt. They can take an engineering-themed hunt for the machines that make the world go around. Or they can go on a backyard hunt at a party and solve a series of fun riddles.

The flexibility of scavenger hunts might explain why they’ve been popular for so long, in so many places, in so many different formats. The hunts have their roots in games played in ancient times, but were popularized in their modern format in the 1930s by an American gossip columnist named Elsa Maxwell. Today they’re played by kids and adults around the world. The largest scavenger hunt on record involved 2,732 people trying to complete 150 tasks in Ottawa, Canada, in 2017!

A hunt can help kids learn to cooperate by working in teams to find everything on the scavenger hunt list in a limited amount of time. It can stoke friendly competitiveness by offering prizes to top-finishing teams. It can be educational, silly, or both at the same time. Ready to get started? Great. Let’s talk about how to create a scavenger hunt.

Types of Scavenger Hunts

Four kids outside in a backyard holding clipboards, receiving instructions for a scavenger hunt

Your first task when creating a scavenger hunt is picking what kind you want. Are you trying to teach something? Do you need to break the ice for a group of kids who just met each other? Do you just need to get your family outside to run around for a while? How much time do you have, and where will your hunt take place?

The answers to these questions will help you decide what type of scavenger hunt you need. You can start by considering the list below.

Backyard Hunt

If your space is limited to a backyard (say at a birthday party or an after-school get-together), your options for a hunt are limited too, but you have more control than you would in a public area. Even a small backyard can host a fun scavenger hunt with a little preparation. Consider hiding objects around the backyard to spice it up and control the difficulty level. Include some big, bright, easy-to-find targets like colored balls or outdoor toys, but also work in some challenges like small toy cars or a single gold plastic coin. Make sure your hunters know the boundaries of the space, put together your list, and turn them loose for a good time!

Neighborhood Hunt

A neighborhood scavenger hunt can be a really fun way to get kids in the same area playing together. This kind of hunt works best if you can coordinate with other families in the neighborhood and come up with a list of objectives to hunt together. You might put one object on someone’s porch, hang another from someone’s front door, and stick another to the back of a mailbox. You’ll likely need to provide good scavenger hunt clues (see our section on riddles below) as well to help kids know where to look for each item. 

Because a neighborhood hunt takes place in public over a wide area, it’s best for older kids and requires a group of adults to supervise. Set clear boundaries for the kids, come up with safety rules appropriate for your neighborhood, and station adults around the edges of the hunt area to keep the kids corralled.

Nature Hunt

Many scavenger hunts for kids focus on finding objects or animals in nature. Whether you’re exploring a backyard or poking around in a park or open field, these hunts are great for encouraging kids to pay more attention to the natural world. Use them to help kids notice seasonal changes, challenge kids to find something they’ve learned about in school, or just play in the wonders of an outdoor space. The sky’s the limit!

Themed Hunt

Scavenger hunts can be extra fun when they’re grouped around a theme. Those themes can be educational (Can you spot three birds or insects that drink nectar? What about five examples of a simple machine on a playground?). They can also be just for fun (Can you find a car, bike, and backpack with stickers on them?). Themed hunts are especially enjoyable around holidays (Can you find an inflatable Santa, a snowman, a menorah, and a kinara among the neighborhood holiday decorations?).

Nine Scavenger Hunt Riddles for Kids

Girl holding clipboard for scavenger hunt

Scavenger hunts can be even more fun if you come up with clever hints and riddles that point the kids toward the objects on their list. Most kids love solving mysteries and finding things that are out of place, and tapping into that natural inclination can help them develop their problem-solving and logical thinking. Here are nine examples of scavenger hunt riddles to get your creative juices flowing.

Backyard Riddles

  • Swim, splash, and float around. Behind the house is where I’m found. (Object: Kiddie pool)
  • I’m hiding close to the back door. Watch out or you might hear me ROAR! (Object: Dinosaur toy)
  • Look up high and you’ll find me in the branches of your favorite tree. (Object: Hat hidden in the branches of a tree the kids often play around)

Neighborhood Riddles

  • You’ve been doing well so far, but can you find something pink on the Li’s family car? (Object: Pink fuzzy hat tucked under the windshield wipers of a car)
  • Just to the left of a big green rocker, I’m on a front door—a big, brass ______ (Object: Door knocker next to someone’s green porch rocking chair)
  • You all know me, but I’ve moved today. Find my pointy red hat across the way. (Object: Neighborhood lawn gnome moved to a yard across the street from its usual spot)

Nature Riddles

  • Smooth and tumbled, that’s my theme. You’ll find me with friends near the edge of the stream. (Object: A rounded rock from a stream)
  • Chirp, chirp, chirp, but please don’t touch. I’m in a tree, hiding a big blue clutch. (Object: A robin’s nest in a tree)
  • I’m soft and live on the bark of trees. Look where it’s shady and you’ll find me! (Object: Moss on tree bark)

Pro Tips for Creating a Scavenger Hunt

With your theme picked out and some riddle ideas, you’re almost ready to kick off your scavenger hunt. Here are a few pro tips to help you when it’s time to start.

  • Pick a goal for your hunt, and share it with the kids (even if that goal is just to have fun!).
  • Set a time limit, create clear boundaries for the hunt area, and write out any rules (for example, “Don’t move the objects you find so that other teams can find them too.”). Make sure the kids understand everything before you start.
  • Have adults on hand to provide guidance when kids get frustrated or aren’t working as a team and to keep everyone safe.
  • If you have kids with a wide range of abilities, form teams you think will work well and have fun together.
  • If you hid things yourself, do a test run of the hunt before starting to make sure everything is where you left it when you created the clues.

Even More Fun

Printable checklist for a  backyard scavenger hunt

Need a scavenger hunt that’s ready to go right now? Try our Backyard Scavenger Hunt printable for a fun nature-themed hunt that’s great for kids of all ages.

You can also jump into one of our other outdoor activities. Try backyard games from around the world. Hold your own edition of the Summer Games. Or turn your family dinners into a foods of the world scavenger hunt. There’s always lots to do with Little Passports!