How to Create a Backyard Treasure Hunt, Minecraft Style

Are you looking to create a fun adventure in your very own backyard?

Do your kids place more value on their videogames than the real world?

How about bridging the two? Minecraft is one of the hottest games for kids.

Did you know you can create “adventure maps” in your own backyard?

Whether your kids are into Minecraft or not, this article is sure to get them outside for a fun adventure.

Here's how to create a minecraft inspired backyard treasure hunt to get your kids off the computer and into the backyard.

Why a Backyard Treasure Hunt?

My kids have been creating adventure maps on Minecraft for a long time now, so I thought it would be fun to create a real-life adventure map in our backyard.

This fun activity caused my kids to abandon their friends on Skype and leave their Minecraft characters at the mercy of Creepers and Zombies—for a little while, at least.

screenshot of minecraft village

A Minecraft Village. Screenshot by Creeper99.

A backyard adventure map is essentially a treasure hunt, but in addition to finding clues, you throw in a few activities and riddles to make the quest a little bit more difficult, just like in Minecraft!

screenshot minecraft clue

A Minecraft Adventure Map clue. Screenshot and scene created by Creeper99 (who is 8, and still learning how to write, so forgive the grammatical errors!).

I’ve found that by translating my kids’ online interests into real-life activities, it gives us a chance to connect about what they’re into on a deeper level, creates opportunities for problem-solving and collaboration and gives us all a reason to go outside and play.

A backyard adventure map is quick, easy and inexpensive to create, but it does require a little planning and, if you’ve got one, a willing collaborator. Here’s how you can create your own backyard adventure map.

What You’ll Need

  • Paper
  • A printer (optional, you could hand-write the clues)
  • Ribbon
  • Scissors
  • A gas lighter or matches (optional and for grownups only)
  • Tea bags (optional)
  • A willing collaborator
  • Some treasure (if you want to add a little extra bonus at the end)

Preparation Time

30 minutes (part of the fun, really)

Activity Time

15 minutes+ (depends how many clues you use)

Location

Your backyard, house or apartment or a local park

#1: Recruit a Willing Collaborator (optional)

For our backyard adventure map, I solicited the help of my youngest son. Let’s call him Creeper99 (not his real username).

You can create this adventure yourself, but involving a collaborator is a great way to include the younger kids.

little collaborator

Creeper99 rolling a clue in preparation for our backyard adventure.

Together we mapped out a route for the adventurers (also known as Brothers #1 and #2) and then set about creating clues.

At first we thought about kidnapping the dog and making the quest a rescue mission, but one of the would-be adventurers stumbled upon our plan, so instead we decided to make this adventure map a treasure hunt. I think our dog, Gerry, was pretty happy with this plan.

diagram of map

A diagram of our adventure map, showing where we were going to place each clue. We originally drew this on paper, but because we scribbled all over it while trying to figure out where to put the clues, we recreated it on the computer.

#2: Plan the Clues and Riddles

Once we worked out where to place the clues, we set to work creating them.

When you create each clue, it helps to imagine yourself reading it at the location where it will be planted. That way, you can picture in your mind what the adventurer needs to do next.

For instance, one of our clues was:

a written clue

An example of one of our clues.

Make sure you let adventurers know what they’ll find when they discover their next clue.

  • Is it a clue to the location of hidden treasure?
  • Is it a clue to the location of the next clue?
  • Is it a riddle they have to solve to get the next clue?

Spell out exactly what you want them to do, but try to keep it simple and age-appropriate so they don’t lose interest.

We created riddles that related to things the kids were familiar with, but you can also create imaginary quests and set up scenes at clue locations using Lego bricks, dolls, stuffed animals and other toys. Let your imagination run wild.

Adding some interactive elements means everyone is involved during the quest. At one point, the boys had to solve a riddle and knock on the pool garden door for their next clue, at which point Creeper99 slipped the clue under the door.

Surprise makes the adventure map more fun, so be sure to add a few activities that your kids won’t expect.

clue in hands

At the pool door, the boys were handed this riddle to solve. They had to give the gatekeeper (Creeper99) the right answer to gain access to the pool garden.

#3: Make Your Clues

Creeper99 wanted to make the clues look like real pirate treasure clues, so I burned the edges with a gas lighter to add authenticity.

gas lighter and paper clue

Remember, safety first! Choose a fire-safe area to burn the paper edges. Over a kitchen sink is ideal, but keep an eye on embers.

Creeper99 then wiped the ashes onto the paper to make it look worn.

crumpled clue

Your collaborator will have fun distressing the clues to make them look old. The more damaged, the better, as long as they are readable.

Another great tip is to use damp tea bags to stain the paper to make your clues look old. Unfortunately there was no tea in the house, so we just crumpled the clues to add some old-world charm.

#4: Place Your Clues

After making the clues, we put each in position around the garden.

clue in tree

Trees make great hiding places for adventure map clues.

We have a huge backyard, so finding great hiding spots was easy. Our challenge was keeping the dog from eating the clues.

If you don’t have a big backyard, look for simple, everyday items you can use to hide clues. If you don’t have a backyard at all (for instance, if you live in an apartment), you can place clues inside the apartment in different rooms, inside books or boxes, or go down to a local park and set the game up there.

#5: Ready, Set, Go!

Now for the fun part! As we hadn’t done a real-life adventure map before, convincing Brother #1 and Brother #2 to participate was a bit of a challenge.

At first, Brother #1 wasn’t interested (mostly because it was designed by his youngest brother), so we made sure the hidden treasure was something he would highly prize—food.

Once he knew there was something valuable in it for him, he jumped off the computer!

two boys on treasure hunt

My eldest two reading their seventh clue.

To make sure the game flows, it’s a great idea to have at least one collaborator on hand to drop hints in case anyone is having trouble figuring out the clues and riddles. If you don’t have a collaborator, you can follow along yourself.

It’s not necessary to make the quest a treasure hunt. If your kids are really competitive (which mine are), they might want to play just to outdo each other (or you) or just because they want to know what surprises lay in store.

boys and dog looking at clue

Our dog Gerry joined in the fun too!

A Few Final Words
We had a lot of fun creating and following our backyard adventure map and the older boys are now keen to collaborate on the next quest. I can’t wait to see what ideas they come up with.

What do you think? Have you ever created a backyard quest, treasure hunt or adventure map? Why not share your comments, ideas and pictures in the box below?

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About the Author, Cas McCullough

Cas McCullough is founder of Content Marketing Cardiology and co-founder of The Likeability Co. She helps small businesses and organizations build active, fun and profitable brands through powerful inbound marketing. Other posts by »




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  • http://www.razorsocial.com/ Ian Cleary

    Hey Cas, thanks for this post. My son loves minecraft so this is a great way of getting him outside! Thank you, Ian

  • http://www.SelfEmployedKing.com/ Mike Kawula

    This is great Cas and similar to Ian; love the tie in to Minecraft. Since our kids love it so much, to keep the creativity going they’re filming their own “minecraft”like video’s on their iPads throughout the property each day.

    Love the burning of the clues – super creative.

    Have an Adventurous week – Mike

  • http://www.TabSite.com/ Mike Gingerich

    Great idea! Thanks.

  • EmilyQuestions

    What a great mashup of Minecraft and treasure hunt! @MrBoy is sure to love this one!

  • http://kommein.com Deb Ng

    My son also loves MineCraft and he has his friend have actually been “playing” MineCraft in the back yard. It’s one way to keep it going after I ban him from video games because it’s too beautiful outside.

  • http://kommein.com Deb Ng

    Great idea for taking MineCraft play to a whole new level, Mike!

  • mr.kid

    this is going to be great! (im a kid) (lol)

  • Jennifer Ballard

    Great article, Cas! Thanks for starting My Kids’ Adventures off with a bang. Looking forward to doing a Minecraft Treasure Hunt with my boys.

  • Amy Pearce

    This will be so much fun! I have a 11 year old son that loves minecraft and I always tell him to go outside and play. When I was younger we were always outside playing. It is so hard for me to grasp why kids can’t do this anymore. Thank you, this will be a great resource.

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  • TKCorbet

    Love it! Totally motivated to get my kids off the ipad and using the MineCraft angle to tie into real life is something I plan to do this weekend!

  • Rafy Ruiz

    Thank you, Cas, for your ideas! Now, to adapt the outdoor activities to the indoors and get my grandkids off the video games (if they allow me). :) I live in oven weather Arizona.

  • Gregory Grigoriou

    SO great Cas! I have to say this makes for an amazing birthday party activity too. We did something similar for my son’s 4th birthday, and it was a very memorable and fun activity for all of the kids from age 3 – 11. We gave the kids pirate hats and and printed the clues and maps on textured watercolor paper for added realism!

  • http://kommein.com Deb Ng

    Let us know how it works out for you all, Jennifer!

  • http://kommein.com Deb Ng

    Great suggestion, Gregory! Who says a MineCraft birthday party has to happen in front of the tube?

  • http://ideagirlmedia.com/ Keri at Idea Girl Media

    Cas,

    Great article – A lot of fun in store for those that adventure!

    Great to see your smile here…

    ~Keri

  • http://twitter.com/therichbrooks therichbrooks

    My daughter JUST asked me if I had any ideas for her upcoming birthday party and she and her friend are addicted to Minecraft! Couldn’t have come at a better time. :)

  • http://www.casmccullough.com/ Cas McCullough

    Thanks Ian! Let me know how you go if you end up creating this activity. We had a lot of fun.

  • http://www.casmccullough.com/ Cas McCullough

    Hi Deb, I find that if I invest more energy in getting to know the games my kids love they do offline versions of their online games more often. What sorts of games do they come up with?

  • http://www.casmccullough.com/ Cas McCullough

    Thanks Mike! Love the idea of filming the adventures! Awesome!

  • http://www.casmccullough.com/ Cas McCullough

    My pleasure! Thanks for your comment.

  • http://www.casmccullough.com/ Cas McCullough

    Glad you liked it Emily! Thanks for your comment.

  • http://www.casmccullough.com/ Cas McCullough

    Awesome! A kid’s stamp of approval! You can’t beat that. Thanks for your comment Mr Kid!

  • http://www.casmccullough.com/ Cas McCullough

    Thanks Jennifer and my apologies for not getting to comments sooner… just got up #timedifference! :-)

  • http://www.casmccullough.com/ Cas McCullough

    Hi Amy, yes it can be hard to get your kids off their screens. Let us know how you get on with this activity or if it inspires you to do anything else!

  • http://www.casmccullough.com/ Cas McCullough

    Awesome! We had a lot of fun putting this activity together and have moved on to some other activities too! Let us know how you get on!

  • http://www.casmccullough.com/ Cas McCullough

    Hy Rafy, that’s the beauty of this treasure hunt. You can do it indoors or outdoors. Let us know how you get on.

  • http://www.casmccullough.com/ Cas McCullough

    I love that idea Gregory! We once did an Amazing Race Birthday party where the kids had to visit stations around our property and do tasks as a team. That was logistically difficult but so much fun. Doing this treasure hunt would be a lot easier I reckon!

  • http://www.casmccullough.com/ Cas McCullough

    Thanks Kerri! Great to see you here too and thanks for sharing!

  • http://www.casmccullough.com/ Cas McCullough

    Hey Rich! How are you? So glad the article has inspired you! Make sure you let us know if this idea rocks your daughter’s birthday party huh!

  • http://www.razorsocial.com/ Ian Cleary

    Will do Cas!

  • Jennifer Ballard

    All the great feedback on your article must have been a nice thing to wake up to!

  • http://www.casmccullough.com/ Cas McCullough

    Definitely! Can’t wait to see what folks do with the idea!

  • http://www.isabrinaespinal.com/ Sabrina Espinal

    This is amazing and looks like so much fun. A nice little treasure hunt! Fantastic job!

  • Nichole Smith

    This is great! All 3 of my boys (ages 17 to 7) love Minecraft and this would be fantastic to get the older ones to take the younger one on an adventure!

  • Jen Haugen

    My son just turned 10 and his friends couldn’t stop talking about Minecraft! We will be checking this out for sure!

  • http://www.casmccullough.com/ Cas McCullough

    Thanks Sabrina! Creeper99 asked me if we could do another one today! It’s definitely a winner!

  • http://www.casmccullough.com/ Cas McCullough

    Awesome Nichole!

  • http://www.casmccullough.com/ Cas McCullough

    Fantastic Jen! Let us know what he thinks of this idea and if you give it a go!

  • Sally Thibault

    Great article Cas! Have posted a link on the Aspergers Parent Connect FB page… I know a lot of little aspies who will LOVE this! Awesome Job

  • http://www.casmccullough.com/ Cas McCullough

    Absolutely Sally! As you know, my eldest two are in that camp! Thank you for sharing!

  • JenMcN

    Is the Minecraft Adventure Map on the online version or XBOX Minecraft game? My two sons have been playing for over a year and haven’t heard of the Adventure Map/Clues part of the game…just wondering because they are interested. This does sound like a great outdoor idea! I used to have an indoor Pirate Treasure Map game (very similar to your idea) but outside is even better! Will try to come up with some clues!

  • http://cliffmama.com/ cliffmama

    Another way to do treasure hunts with the kids outside of the backyard is to get involved with geocaching. It combines outdoor activities with treasure hunting, and GPS technology and tracking finds on the geocaching.com website. We loved to geocache whenever we traveled – it took us to interesting places we wouldn’t have found otherwise.

  • Tammy Saunders

    This is such a great idea! My boys love minecraft and treasure hunts so I think this will be a hit! Can’t wait to try it out!

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  • http://www.mykidsadventures.com/ Jennifer Ballard

    Thanks for the suggestion! Keep watching–we’ve got a geocaching article coming up soon.

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  • http://www.casmccullough.com/ Cas McCullough

    I know it’s definitely on the desktop version but not sure about the XBox.

  • http://www.casmccullough.com/ Cas McCullough

    Let us know how you go Tammy!

  • Carmeletta

    I was TOTALLY interested in doing a treasure hunt for my niece and nephews! Thanks so much for the advice! Your insight was most-helpful!!!

  • Susan Lawless

    I have been doing treasure hunts for years with my daughters, who are now 28 and 17. Now I do them with my grandsons 5 and 9. I write the clues so they have to figure out one and it leads them to the next one and so on. I like to do at least 10 clues to make it last awhile. I have little prizes along the way with the big prize at the end. Sometimes the prize is an activity instead of a physical prize. I like the idea of a theme treasure hunt and will do that for Halloween in a few weeks. I hope everyone enjoys it as much as I have over the years! :)

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  • http://www.casmccullough.com/ Cas McCullough

    Awesome!

  • http://www.casmccullough.com/ Cas McCullough

    Hope it went well for you Susan!



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