Ten Fun Scavenger Hunt Ideas for Your Kids

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.

10 scavenger hunt ideas (with printable checklists) to do right now with your kids. 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.

list of clues

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.

list of things to find

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
  • Prize

Preparation Time

  • 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

Activity Time

Varies—they’re usually over in 15 minutes

Location

Varies

We’ll start with some scavenger hunt tips and tricks and then I’ll show you lots of specific scavenger hunt ideas down below.

Choose Teams

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.

assigning teams

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?

reviewing checklist

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.

list on bag

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 area

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!

hunting with hats

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!

kids knocking on door

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.

looking for items

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.

found the keys

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!

people watching list

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.

car ride list

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!

50 states list

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.

plant hunt

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.

birdwatching

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.

guidebook

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!

nature shapes list

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.

at the swap meet

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!

swap meet list

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.

gathering materials

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!

sweet surprise list

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.

holding up torn pants

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.

trash cleanup

Turn trash cleanup into a challenge game. All you need is a checklist!

Do it now!

clutter buster list

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.

found the hats

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!

wilderness survival themed list

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.

library checklist

A scavenger hunt through a library or museum makes learning fun. (Image Source: Christina Kettman)

A book scavenger hunt helps kids hone their research skills and makes studying fun. List facts, passages, pictures or questions that can be found and answered by looking them up in a book.

Think beyond school texts and try this with a dictionary or reference book, a magazine or something fun and surprising like Ripley’s Believe it or Not or Guinness Book of World Records. A book scavenger hunt is also a great way for a youth group or Sunday school class to identify Bible verses.

Do it now!

dictionary list

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.

looking for items

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.

birdbath

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!

online list

Send kids on an online scavenger hunt right now. Download the checklist below.

Download a printable online scavenger hunt list here.

Celebrate

When players return to the finish line with their loot, check it against their lists and award a prize to the winners.

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.

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About the Author, Jennifer Ballard

Jennifer Ballard is the associate editor for My Kids’ Adventures where her past experience as a Cubmaster, birthday party entrepreneur, marketing writer and mom of two boys fits together and finds relevance. Other posts by »


  • http://www.mykidsadventures.com/ KJ Ammerman

    Great article, Jen! My kids love scavenger hunts!

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

    Thanks! Hope you found some ideas for new scavenger hunts to try.

  • http://www.familylifeuniversity.org/ Eric Dingler

    As a summer camp director; scavenger hunts and treasure hunts are two of our top favorite activities of campers. To be honest and transparent….I never took the time to consider or define the difference between the two. We just always called both, scavenger hunts. Thanks for this great post.

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

    Thanks, Eric. As a CubMaster, these were my go-to activities for the scouts, too. Whenever something I had to teach them seemed a little too dry, I’d figure out a way to turn it into a game (and the game often ended up being a scavenger hunt). I never realized the difference either, until I worked here and had to categorize the articles!! Hope you find lots of fun new ideas to share with your campers.

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  • http://www.fineartmom.com/ Crystal Foth

    Great article Jennifer! My favorite is the people watching scavenger hunt! Definitely trying that one next time we’re waiting with a group of people. I also love the car one – we play that almost every day on our way to school with our version of “I spy…” too. :)

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

    Thanks, Crystal! The people watching one is great for keeping the kids occupied while you’re waiting in a line or at a restaurant waiting for your food to come–and it’s completely spontaneous. It’s great to hear that you play this on the way to school every day. That must make the daily drive a little more interesting!

  • http://www.fineartmom.com/ Crystal Foth

    We try to make our drive interesting everyday! As my daughter gets older and her reading skills grow – I’m definitely going to do the dictionary one with her. After all – our kids need to know what we did before “Google it” was a verb! ;)

  • San

    I like the idea of a neighborhood scavenger hunt, but do you think neighbors will actually be open to the thought of children showing up at their doorstep asking for random things? What has been your experience?

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