Do your kids complain that there’s nothing to do?
Want to liven things up with a fun activity that can be done anytime, anywhere, for the cost of a few trinkets or treats?
Send them on a scavenger hunt! Whether you have one child or a large group, it’s an easy way to add fun to an ordinary day and beat the boredom blues. And you can turn almost anything into a scavenger hunt!
In this article you’ll find 10 scavenger hunt ideas (with printable checklists) that you can do right now with your kids. And I’ll share tips and tricks to help you create your own scavenger hunt anytime, anywhere.
Why a Scavenger Hunt?
Scavenger hunts are fun! They add something extra to ordinary events and make them memorable.
They’re easy to create and can be tailored to any theme, any age, any place. Scavenger hunts are usually thought of for parties or other large groups, but they’re just as fun for small families or even individual children.
A scavenger hunt adds an element of competition, urgency and excitement to any everyday event and makes it something special. They’re great for parties, but equally fun for rainy days, car trips, visits to new places, meeting new people or any time kids get bored. You can make almost anything—even chores—into a game by turning it into a scavenger hunt.
I’ll show you how…
What’s the Difference Between a Scavenger Hunt and a Treasure Hunt?
Both treasure hunts and scavenger hunts send players (often in teams) on an exciting search that leads to a prize, but there’s a slight difference between the two.
In a treasure hunt, players follow a series of clues, often posed as riddles, along a predetermined path that leads to a treasure. The player or team who follows all of the clues and finds the treasure first wins. Learn more about treasure hunts in the Ultimate Treasure Hunt Guide by Lisa Mason.
Treasure hunts lead players from clue to clue until they find the treasure. (Image Source: Lisa Mason)
Scavenger hunts start with a list of things to find (or do) and a time limit. There is no set path as players scavenge around and search for all of the items on the list. The player or team who finds everything on the list first or finds the most items before the time is up wins.
Scavenger hunts give players a list of things to find. The first to find them all wins. (Image Source: Holly Smith)
One of the great things about scavenger hunts is that you don’t have to spend time making and hiding clues. The players search for things that already exist.
All you have to do is make a list and provide a prize for the winner.
You Will Need
- Scavenger hunt list (print one of the PDFs below or create your own)
- Pen or pencil
- Clipboard (optional)
- Bag or box to collect items in
- 5 minutes to print lists and gather materials
- Or 15-20 minutes to brainstorm and create your own list, print it and gather materials
- Add 10-15 minutes if you need to “plant” some items for the players to find
Varies—they’re usually over in 15 minutes
We’ll start with some scavenger hunt tips and tricks and then I’ll show you lots of specific scavenger hunt ideas down below.
Divide the group into two teams. (If you’ve only got one player, that’s fine. He or she can go on a solo scavenger hunt and have just as much fun.)
If you’re planning a scavenger hunt for a birthday party or other large group, assign teams as evenly as possible. Avoid placing all of the big kids or more dominant kids on one team and all the little or more timid kids on another.
Make sure there’s a good mix of big kids and little kids on each team.
With a mixed-ages team, make sure the little kids don’t get left behind in the excitement. Assign buddies to help them keep up.
Or place all of the little kids on a team together and give them a separate (easier or shorter) list.
Explain the Rules
Look at your scavenger hunt list before gathering the kids to play. Think about rules you want them to follow during the hunt and be sure to explain the rules before you hand out the lists to your teams.
Once you hand out the lists, you’ll lose their attention, so set the ground rules first.
Set boundaries. Establish clear parameters and make sure all players understand them before you start. Where are the start and finish lines? What are the physical boundaries for the hunt? By what time must players return to the finish line?
Review the things on the list before you start.
Make sure everyone understands what’s on the list. Show samples or give clear descriptions of each item.
Define how to “collect” items on the list. Are players supposed to gather the items and bring them to the finish line, take a picture or video of each item, obtain someone’s signature or initials or just check items off the list once they’ve been found?
Establish rules for hunting. Can items be gathered in any order or do players need to stick to the order on the list? Is it OK to collect multiple items from a single place, or is each location limited to one? Can the team split up, or do they need to stay together and collect everything as a group?
Explain how the lists will be verified at the end of the hunt. Who will check the lists and determine a winner? Is there anything that would disqualify an item?
Note: Avoid using weighted point systems for the items on the list. These may work for adults or teenagers, but they’re confusing for younger kids and may lead to arguments.
Give Them the Tools
Give each team a copy of the scavenger hunt list and at least two pens or pencils. A clipboard is helpful, too.
Provide something to carry the scavenger hunt items in. This can be anything from a sandwich bag to a wagon. It depends on the size of items on the list.
If you use a paper bag to collect the items in, you can write the list directly on the bag.
Assign a reliable timekeeper to each team so they’ll know when to return to the finish line.
If you’re hiding some of your own items for scavenger hunters to search for, mark them clearly as part of the game so players know that they’re part of the hunt (and so they don’t take something that belongs to a neighbor or a public place by mistake).
Be courteous to neighbors, businesses, etc. Warn them in advance that you’ll be having a scavenger hunt. Instruct kids to stay off of landscaping and to keep voices down.
Assign teams to opposite sides of the street or even/odd house numbers so neighbors aren’t scavenged more than once.
Provide a prize for the winners, even if it’s just bragging rights. A scavenger hunt is a good opportunity to teach kids about sportsmanship and winning or losing graciously. You can award a participation prize to everyone, but make sure the winners get something extra.
Choose Your Hunt
You’ll find 10 scavenger hunt ideas below. The categories are based on location or type of items you’re looking for and each category has several options:
- A printable PDF so you can print out a scavenger hunt checklist for an instant hunt
- Links to look up other scavenger hunts on My Kids’ Adventures
- Ideas and examples to help you create a checklist for a hunt of your own
Here’s a challenge: As you’re looking through the scavenger hunt ideas, download one of the checklists right now and commit to doing that hunt with your kids by the end of the weekend. It’ll be fun—give it a try!
Grab a list and start hunting!
Look at all of the scavenger hunts you have to choose from:
#1: Neighborhood Scavenger Hunt
A neighborhood (or backyard) scavenger hunt is a great way to get the kids outside, doing something fun.
A classic door-to-door scavenger hunt often comes to mind when you hear the words “scavenger hunt.” The list prompts players to knock on neighbors’ doors and ask if they have things like a safety pin, a penny, a ballpoint pen… Make sure to tell the players that their own house is off limits!
A door-to-door scavenger hunt sends players around the neighborhood to ask for common household items.
An outdoor scavenger hunt is another way to search around the neighborhood without knocking on any doors. It’s easy—just put together a list of things to find outside in your backyard, your neighborhood or a local park and send them looking. Bethany Winston offers suggestions for a park scavenger hunt in tip #10 of her Park Adventures article.
Send players on an outdoor scavenger hunt around the park or neighborhood. (Image Source: Bethany Winston)
The fitness scavenger hunt includes an extra element of exercise to the search (beyond the running that kids already do in their excitement to find everything). Create a list that prompts kids to find things outdoors to help them do different exercises, like find a basketball hoop and shoot two baskets; find some monkey bars or a tree branch and do three pull-ups; look for a grassy area and do 10 sit-ups; etc.
Do it now!
Send kids on a classic door-to-door scavenger hunt right now. Download the checklist below.
Download a printable classic door-to-door scavenger hunt list here.
#2: Indoor Scavenger Hunts
An indoor scavenger hunt is a great way to add some excitement to rainy days, waiting in line or any time spent inside.
At-home scavenger hunt. Bring some sunshine to a rainy day or a sick day with a scavenger hunt for items around the house. Get creative with things to find in different rooms or in different categories.
Send kids searching for things around the house every time you lose your keys (just kidding!).
While-you-wait scavenger hunt. Are you stuck in a waiting room at the doctor’s office or auto repair shop? Need to swing by your office with the kids? Waiting in a long line? Grab a piece of paper or open up a list or memo app on your phone and make a list of things that might be found while you wait: a stapler, a magazine with a picture of a car, a paper cup from the water cooler… If you’re really desperate, make a list of things to find in Mom’s purse!
Signature or people-watching scavenger hunt. If your kids are bored at an event full of grownups, list some personal characteristics for kids to look for: find someone with glasses, someone with a mustache, someone wearing purple…
Or encourage kids to interact with people and help develop their social skills when they talk to and collect signatures from people who meet requirements on the list: find someone from another country, someone who works at the same company as Dad, etc.
Do it now!
Send kids on a people-watching scavenger hunt right now. Download the checklist below.
Download a printable people-watching scavenger hunt list here.
#3: Road Trip Scavenger Hunts
Whether you’re driving across town or across the country, a road trip scavenger hunt is a great way to pass the time and keep your family engaged with each other during the ride.
The constantly changing scenery lends itself to a search for things along the way:
Alphabet: find each letter of the alphabet (in order) in different road signs
Tally: count all of the water towers or pizza places or blue cars you see along the way
Category: How many different kinds of animals do you see during the trip?
Cas McCullough shared two road trip scavenger hunts in her article about Road Trip Games.
Make riding in the car more fun with a road trip scavenger hunt. (Image source: Cas McCullough)
50 states scavenger hunt. When my family drove to the Grand Canyon, we agreed to check the license plates we saw along the way and keep track of all of the states we saw.
The game continued throughout our week-long trip and we found all but two US states, plus several states in Mexico and provinces in Canada.
Do it now!
Play the 50 states scavenger hunt. Keep track of all of the license plates you see on your next road trip.
Download a printable 50 states scavenger hunt list here.
Not from North America? Make a list of license plates where you live and spend your next family trip trying to find them all.
#4: Nature Scavenger Hunts
A nature scavenger hunt is a wonderful way to help kids open their eyes to the world around them and look at things a little more closely.
Plant scavenger hunt: Make a list of plants to search for in your area. Holly Smith shared a simple fall leaf scavenger hunt with My Kids’ Adventures. You could send kids on a search for different flowers, trees, crops or different colors or shapes they find in nature.
A plant scavenger hunt helps kids take a closer look at things that grow all around them. (Image Source: Holly Smith)
Animal scavenger hunts: A classic animal scavenger hunt enjoyed worldwide is birdwatching, which Stephanie Montalvo described in an article for My Kids’ Adventures.
It’s fun to find living creatures on an animal scavenger hunt: birds, bugs, butterflies or even kinds of bears at the zoo. (Image Source: Photo by Walton Lavonda, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)Going to the park? Have kids count all of the butterflies or bugs they find. The zoo? Make a list of zoo creatures to find before you go. A walk? Find different kinds of pets. A road trip? See how many kinds of farm animals you find along the way.
Guidebooks and guide cards can be used to identify creatures on an animal scavenger hunt. (Image source Amy Dunn Moscoso)
You can also search for animal tracks, shells or skins. Amy Dunn Moscoso shows us how to make plaster casts of animal footprints once you’ve found them.
Do it now!
Send kids on a nature shapes scavenger hunt right now. Download the checklist below.
Download a printable nature shapes neighborhood scavenger hunt list here.
#5: Shopping Scavenger Hunts
Turn your next trip to the store into a shopping scavenger hunt kids will love.
Grocery store grab: This one’s easy. Split your grocery list up, give each child a list and see who comes back with all the correct items first. Shopping… DONE! Be sure to include a special treat for each child to add to the cart once his or her list is complete.
Try a swap meet scavenger hunt. Our Cub Scout pack had one that was lots of fun. Make a list of common swap meet stuff and have kids take pictures of the treasures (and the trash) they find.
Caution: Parents should participate in this together with the kids.
Include some fun things on the list, like the most unusual thing you see, the most expensive item for sale, something you want to get for yourself, etc.
You never know what you’ll see at the swap meet. Send kids searching for unusual treasures on a swap meet scavenger hunt. (If the swap meet is too scary, try it at the mall!)
We all met at the snack bar to compare stories of our swap meet adventure. You could hold a similar scavenger hunt at a mall or farmer’s market.
Do it now!
Send kids on a swap meet scavenger hunt right now. Download the checklist below.
Download a printable swap meet scavenger hunt list here.
#6: Make-It Scavenger Hunts
Want some help making dinner or preparing for a craft project? Turn the gathering of materials or ingredients into a make-it scavenger hunt.
My husband once threw me a birthday party with a scavenger hunt meal. Each carload of friends was given a list of things to gather around town and arrived at a park for a picnic dinner.
What a surprise when one group arrived with a pizza (bonus points if it’s still warm), three cups each from three different water coolers and with a bunch of other random stuff. Another group had drinks (bonus if they’re cold), a stack of McDonald’s napkins and other random stuff. They’d unwittingly brought dinner via a scavenger hunt!
Kids can’t drive around town, but you can send them searching through the pantry and refrigerator for ingredients (along with other random items from around the house). Surprise them at the end of the hunt when you make a meal or treat from the things they found. They’ll be tickled.
In a make-it scavenger hunt, gathering materials for your project becomes part of the fun.
For many art or craft projects, you need to gather materials from various places, like the leaf stained glass from Sarah Shipley or the A-Z outdoor photos from Jillian Kay. Make a list of the materials needed and turn the task into a scavenger hunt.
Do it now!
Send kids on a sweet surprise scavenger hunt right now. Download the checklist below.
Download a printable sweet surprise scavenger hunt list here.
#7: Chore Scavenger Hunts
A chore scavenger hunt helps make cleaning more fun by turning it into a game. (Make sure you have a prize or snack at the end of this one. Your kids will earn it!)
Room cleaning race: Make a list of things cluttering their rooms and watch the kids race to gather it all up first. It’s a great way to break a big, daunting job into small, easy steps and chip away at a monster mess.
Cleaning up is a little more fun when you turn it into a game with a chore scavenger hunt.
In my cleanup scavenger hunt article, I showed you how to turn a community service project—cleaning up trash—into a great group activity that helps teach kids to take care of their town.
Turn trash cleanup into a challenge game. All you need is a checklist!
Do it now!
Send kids on a clutter busters scavenger hunt right now. Download the checklist below.
Download a printable clutter busters scavenger hunt list here.
#8: Themed Scavenger Hunts
Themed scavenger hunts are the perfect activity for birthday parties, scout meetings or other group activities that follow a theme.
Choose iconic items that support the theme and make a list. Since themed items may not be commonly found around the house, neighborhood or meeting site for your group, you may need to hide some things yourself.
Add costumes and props to your themed scavenger hunt for an extra element of fun. Include those items to the list and have players put them on as they’re found.
Things found on a scavenger hunt (like these hats) can be used for other games or party favors.
We started my son’s Harry Potter–themed birthday party with a scavenger hunt through Diagon Alley, the wizards’ shopping mall. Guests had to visit the bank to get some money, then find the shops (tables) to buy wands, robes, spellbooks and other items they’d be using in the other games during the party. The scavenger hunt was a fun way to set the scene. You can create a hunt to fit any type of event.
Do it now!
Send kids on a wilderness survival–themed scavenger hunt right now. Download the checklist below.Download a printable wilderness survival–themed scavenger hunt list here.
#9: Educational Scavenger Hunts
Make learning fun by turning it into a scavenger hunt!
Next time you take the kids to a library, museum or historic landmark, you can make a list of things for them to find or do during your visit, like this library scavenger hunt by Christina Kettman. Watch their curiosity soar when you add an extra element of excitement to your visit.
Send kids on a scavenger hunt through the dictionary right now. Download the checklist below.
Download a printable dictionary scavenger hunt list here.
#10: Technology Scavenger Hunts
Use technology to give your scavenger hunt a modern twist.
A photo scavenger hunt like the nature photo scavenger hunt from Len Bishop is a good option if you want players to search for things that can’t be physically collected. Instead, have them take a picture of each thing they find. To verify the list, simply scroll through the digital pictures.
In a photo scavenger hunt, players take pictures of the items they find. (Image source: Len Bishop)
Note: Some people (especially strangers) don’t want their picture taken. Keep people off the checklist unless they’re friends and family.
A reverse photo scavenger hunt uses pictures instead of words on the list of things to find. Players first identify what’s in the photos and then go find the item and take a matching photo. Make the checklist challenging for older kids or even adults by taking pictures at unusual angles or extremely close up.
Sample clue from a reverse photo scavenger hunt. Players must find this birdbath and take a matching photo.
An online scavenger hunt like this Google Earth scavenger hunt is another way to use technology for fun (and the kids may learn something in the process). Create a list of facts, trivia or other things you want them to find online. Then set them loose with a computer or phone and watch them hone their research skills.
Take the opportunity to teach your kids about Internet safety.
Do it now!
Send kids on an online scavenger hunt right now. Download the checklist below.
Download a printable online scavenger hunt list here.
When players return to the finish line with their loot, check it against their lists and award a prize to the winners.
The first team to find all of the items on the list wins. Time to celebrate!
Then celebrate a job well done by everyone with a tasty treat.
Some Final Thoughts…
Did you find a scavenger hunt idea you’d like to try with your family? Once you start thinking about all of the things that you could turn into a scavenger hunt, it will be hard to stop!
Scavenger hunts can help make everyday things a little more fun by introducing an extra element of excitement and competitiveness.
Take the scavenger hunt challenge. Try one today with your kids.
What do you think? What kind of scavenger hunt will you do with your kids? Have you ever done a scavenger hunt before? I’d love to hear about it. Leave a comment or photo below.