7 Ideas for an Exciting Treasure Hunt

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Our little guy is really into pirates right now. Except his understanding of them is very innocent. He told me he bought his pirate ship on sale with money from the treasure he found. Adorable. But aside from putting me in the mood to re-watch Pirates of the Caribbean, it also gave me the idea to create a treasure hunt for him!

This is an idea I’d had before but now seemed like the perfect time with his current pirate fascination. And what kid wouldn’t love to do this? It’s so exciting! The concept of a treasure hunt and discovering new things appeals to all of humanity, young and old. This one takes a little bit of prep and planning, but it’s completely worth it!

Side note: I would recommend keeping this idea a secret until it’s completely ready to go. You know how you mention a fun idea to a kid and they’re like, “Let’s do it now!” but there’s a bunch of set up required?

Yup. That happens to me all the time, so I finally learned my lesson. I didn’t say a word about having a pirate treasure hunt ahead of time. I just got everything set up and ready to go while his dad distracted him, then had him “discover” the map. So much better that way!

If you and your little scalawags are ready to find some booty of your own, here are 7 ideas to help you set up an exciting treasure hunt!

1. Draw A Map

The first thing you’ll need for a treasure hunt is a map! There are two ways you can approach this. Option one is to create a realistic map that reflects your actual space and sketch a basic overhead layout of your yard. No artistic skills are required; just the ability to make it even slightly resemble the layout or your house and yard 😀

Plan out your starting point and the place where your treasure will be hidden at the end and draw a dotted line for the kids to follow. And it doesn’t have to make complete sense. I tried to make it as long and drawn out as possible, so there were a few random loops around trees and out of the way meanderings.

Add in some fun names for commonplace things to spice up the treasure hunt! For example, our flower garden became the poison flower fields and the neighbor’s dogs were the barking beasts of doom. Our house itself was a sunken ship, the back deck was the cargo hold, and our front porch was the ship deck.

The second option for your treasure hunt is to draw or purchase a more authentic looking pirate map that doesn’t really mirror your yard. It’s more of a fun prop that helps you imagine your yard is that place! We used some yellowed paper and drew pirate-y things like desert islands, palm trees, sea monsters, and an X to mark the spot. Then we tore the edges and used a lighter to burn them a bit. If your kids are anything like mine, they’ll love this part!

If you choose the second option, your treasure hunt will be more of a general search rather than following an actual pre-planned path. My little guy and I have tried it both ways and can testify that both are equally fun!

2. Make it a surprise!

Another thing to figure out is how to present the map to your kids. I suppose you could just hand it to them, but I’m all about building the excitement…

Ever seen the kids show Tumble Leaf? It’s an adorably whimsical show about a fox who lives in an old pirate ship on the beach. Every morning, he discovers a new item in his “finding place” and that’s what he’ll play with/learn about that day.

No, I didn’t just get sidetracked 🤣 . I mentioned it because Finn loved the idea of a finding place and even created his own. He’s always asking me to put new things in his finding place, so I thought this would be the perfect way to have him discover his map and begin the treasure hunt!

So if your kid happens to be familiar with the show, there’s one idea for you. (And if they’re not familiar, I would highly recommend it for the occasional screen time!)

If you don’t like the finding place idea, you could simply hide or put the treasure map in a place that your kids will naturally find it. Like a favorite play area or toy – just make sure they don’t accidentally throw the map away!

3. Hide Things Along The Way

Another thing we did was hide different items along the way so there was more to discover than just the treasure at the end. The treasure hunt would have gone way too quickly if I hadn’t done this, so I’m glad I added this part in!

Mark all the hiding places along your dotted line plus the final treasure spot with an X so they know where to stop and look for things! It can be a smaller treasure leading up to the big one, or it can be supplies that they’ll need for the hunt!

Here are some ideas for things to hide along the way:

4. Make Your Treasure Chest (or buy one)

small boy opening up his shoe box treasure chest as part of treasure hunt

Now you need an actual treasure chest! The first thing is to figure out what you’ll use. You can make it as authentic (or not) as you want. If you happen to have an awesome, old looking chest or box around the house, great!

We unfortunately did not have access to such a chest the first time we did this activity, so I settled for a nifty box with nice packaging that we had received a delivery in. It worked just fine 🙂

You can also take an ordinary cardboard box and DIY your own treasure chest like the one here or make this one from a shoe box!

Then, decide what you want to actually put in the box! You could add some coins and jewels for a more authentic feel. I thought it would be fun to put some new toys (they don’t need to be pirate themed toys but I couldn’t help myself) inside that my little guy could play with after the treasure hunt. Or, do a combination of both!

Don’t feel like you need to go out of your way to buy something specifically for the treasure hunt. I mainly purchased things I was already planning on getting (new sidewalk chalk, water balloons, sparklers) and hid them until it was treasure hunt time. We also threw in some pretend jewels and coins!

If you are wanting to save time and purchase a treasure chest, this hinged chest with a secret compartment, eyepatch, bandana, gold coins, and a handy loot bag is pretty awesome!

5. Add Costumes And Props

If you have any pirate garb or props, have the kids grab those before heading out! Try hats, bandannas, eye patches, swords, telescopes, etc. And every good pirate captain has an exotic pet monkey, parrot, or snake! Getting dressed up and in character can be half the fun. I have fond memories role playing as a kid and I think it’s a great imagination stimulant for our kids!

We actually hid all of our costumes and props since my little dude didn’t know about the treasure hunt beforehand. Whether you choose to surprise them with the map first or the costumes first, just remember to have fun and be present with your kids rather than getting caught up in making everything perfect!

6. Create Obstacles

small boy dressed as pirate walks "plank" over kiddie pool while on a treasure hunt

Another way to draw out the actual treasure hunt is to add obstacles along the way. I really, really recommend doing this. The treasure hunt can go by extremely fast without some hurdles along the way. Not to mention the developmental good that can come from our kids overcoming small challenges!

I set up our tiny kiddie pool and put a balance beam over the top that we had to cross over. Here are a few other ideas:

  • rocks or tree stumps to walk on top of (or jump too if your kids are older)
  • long jump over a pit of “snakes” or quicksand
  • crawl through a cave (cardboard box or tunnel)
  • zip line or rope swing across a “canyon”
  • climb up a play rock wall
  • or use whatever else you have access too in your front or backyard!
  • digging for a clue or treasure in a sandbox (or in the dirt if you have an area you are OK with digging up)

7. Get Out And Hunt

And now you’re ready to go! I hope this gave you some ideas to make a fun and memorable activity with your kids. Here are a few more notes…

I forgot to mention that this can be an amazing birthday party activity! When Finn gets a little older, I plan on making an even bigger and more challenging pirate treasure hunt that he and his playmates can do together.

For extra fun, try and stay in character the whole time. Our little guy had so much fun using pirate speak. Seriously, nothing tickled me more than hearing him run around yelling “Let’s find that beautiful booty!” And kids love it when you play along. So if you need some inspiration for how pirates speak (and a few giggles) check out this article when the kids aren’t around 😉 .

Here’s a book that we strategically read every day before our treasure hunt activity. I think doing this made the whole adventure even more fun because our pirate inspiration and curiosity was at it’s height!

small boy digging under a bush as part of treasure hunt
top of box poking out of dirt underneath bush as part of treasure hunt

Avast ye scurvy dogs! Go forth across the briny deep and pillage some dubloons for yerself and ye mates! We had a blast doing this activity together and I hope you and yours do too!

If you want more fun activity ideas like this one, check out our summer bucket list here!

PS – Know someone that would like this blog? Please forward it to them!