3 Ways to ‘Treasure Hunt’ in the Smoky Mountains

X marks the spot.

I love a good hike. So does my husband. We like seeing where the path will take us. We like listening to the birds and watching for wildlife. We just like it. And so do our kids. Most of the time. But occasionally, they might get just a little itty-bitty bit bored with a hike.

Does this ever happen to your kids?

Do you ever hear this: “Do we HAVE to go for a hike?” Makes me want to cry…

But it happens.

And I have a SOLUTION! I haven’t used this on our kids (in the Smoky Mountains, at least) yet, but I sure do plan to!

My older sister got my husband and I into Geocaching way back before we had kids. It is the CRAZIEST thing! Did you know that there is a HUGE treasure hunt going on all around you all the time? And recently I found out about Letterboxing, which seems similar.

Anyway, I’m ahead of myself. Here are three pretty good ways to keep kids entertained on hikes — by making them into treasure hunts! And watch out — you may find yourself getting into it, too!

1. Geocaching.

According to Wikipedia, Geocaching is “an outdoor sporting activity in which the participants use a Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver or mobile device and other navigational techniques to hide and seek containers, called ‘geocaches’ or ‘caches,’ anywhere in the world.”

Huh? So someone makes a cache — it’s usually a small waterproof plastic container that has a log book and a few toy trinkets — then lets the world at large know where it’s hidden. Hunters go to try to find it. Geocaches are currently placed in more than 200 countries around the world, on all seven continents. There’s also one, get this, on the International Space Station! There are more than 1.7 active geocaches worldwide.

There are several sites, but one of the most popular is Geocaching.com.

Okay, so you want to go geocaching in the Smokies. First, search for Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the search box. Or choose to let a smart phone use your location when you are there. I searched, and — are you ready for this? — right now there are 13,423 different geocaches in the Smokies.

So, you pick one. Click on it, and it will take you to the Geocache page. I chose “Tennessee Mickey.” It’s 1.5 stars (out of 5) for difficulty and the same for terrain. This would be a good one to start the kids with. I need to create a free log-in to get the specific coordinates. Then I’m off, armed with the info that we’re looking for an Altoids can. There’s an additional hint that I can let the kids decode, if we need it.

That’s it! You find the cache, sign the log book. Maybe come up with a fun family geocaching name to leave. Then the kids can take a trinket or leave one, if they want.

You wouldn’t believe how much fun it is!

Caches get more complicated from there. For some, you’ll have to solve an involved puzzle. Others will take you from one location to another, using clues from each spot to get you to the next one. It’s loads of fun!

If you’re not sure, just try one near your home on a Saturday afternoon. If you enjoy it, plan to try it on your next Smoky Mountain vacation.

2. Letterboxing

Okay, I just recently heard about this. Here’s what wikipedia says it is: “An outdoor hobby that combines elements of orienteering, art, and puzzle solving. Letterboxers hide small, weatherproof boxes in publicly accessible places (like parks) and distribute clues to finding the box in printed catalogs, on one of several web sites, or by word of mouth. Individual letterboxes usually contain a notebook and a rubber stamp. Finders make an imprint of the letterbox’s stamp, either on their personal notebook or on a postcard, and leave an impression of their personal stamp on the letterbox’s ‘visitors’ book’ or ‘logbook’ — as proof of having found the box and letting other letterboxers know who has visited. Many letterboxers keep careful track of their ‘find count.’”

Sounds similar, huh? I think the biggest difference is that these puzzles are found primarily through clues, not coordinates. And also, stamps play a big part in this one. Every family has a special stamp to put in the log book.

Again, there are several sites, but I think the main one is Letterboxing.org. Again, I searched for the Great Smoky Mountains and didn’t come up with anything. But when I searched for Gatlinburg, TN, I got 7 answers. So we’re talking a much smaller thing. But more specifically aimed toward kids and families. In fact, there’s a special section on the site especially for kids, with games, etc.

I chose “Smokey (ok, it drives me CRAZY when people misspell that!) Mountain Troll’s Cousin Series.” It’s supposed to be very easy. This is fun — someone has written a story about Temor the troll, who leaves Alaska for the Smoky Mountains, because he’s heard that a group of trolls lives there. Directions are then given to find the four trolls. These are all actually in restaurants and shops in Gatlinburg, but I found another one, “Just Kicking Back in Tennessee” that is located on the hike to Laurel Falls.

Again, so fun! I think we’ll have to try this Letterboxing!

3. Scavenger Hike Adventures

This book is by Kat and John Lafevre. Check it out!

Okay, so this looks like SO much fun, too!

Kat and John Lafevre have written a series of books called Scavenger Hike Adventures, and they have one that is specifically about the Great Smoky Mountains.

So what is it? Well, you buy the book, then take it along on hikes where your family becomes “scavenger hikers.” You search for treasures like a boulder bigger than a Winnebago, bear tracks that were left in wet concrete, and the rusted remains of a Model T Ford deep in the forest. Scavengers earn 10 points for each treasure they find. At the end of a hike, you’ll be awarded the title of “City Slicker,” “Pioneer Scout,” or “Frontier Explorer,” depending on how many points you amass. Certificates are included for each of the 14 Scavenger Hike Adventures.

Pretty neat idea, huh? You can find information about the book here. You can buy it from Amazon here for $35.99.

Ready for treasure hunting? Buy some cheap pirate hats from a party store, and you’ll hardly be able to contain your kids’ excitement! But that’s okay. More energy for hiking!

About Kendra