Treasure hunts and scavenger hunts, are fun activities for kids of all ages. They are ideal for a birthday, Christmas, Halloween, or just to pass a rainy afternoon.
The challenge is creating enough fun treasure hunt clues for kids and making them easy enough to solve without being too easy. We’ve therefore put together this list of 46 free treasure hunt ideas and riddles for both younger and older children.
- How to create a scavenger hunt
- How to create a treasure hunt
- Clue ideas for kids of all ages
- Anagram clues
- Rhyming riddles for kids and teenagers
- Creating a combined scavenger / treasure hunt
How to create a scavenger hunt
In a scavenger hunt, children collect a list of items which can be revealed in a variety of ways. Once all items are collected, they've won. Scavenger hunts work well with small and large groups, whereas treasure hunts are ideal for individuals, or two or three children working together. Many scavenger hunts are themed and common themes include Christmas, Toys, Shapes, or Halloween, like the combined word search and Halloween scavenger hunt below.
Objects to collect might be revealed in any of the following ways:
- A scavenger hunt list (toy car, balloon, teddy bear, etc.).
- Images of objects to collect.
- A word search like the Halloween themed one above, where you first find the word in the grid, then look for the items.
- Riddles or clues you must decode before scavenging for the items.
- "I Spy" - instead of having to collect the items on the list, you simply have to see them. This is great fun on car journeys.
- Photos - like "I Spy", instead of collecting each item, you take a photo of them. Both these options allow you more freedom on what you can include on the list.
Many scavenger hunt games focus on specific objects, whether it's a list of things found in nature, books with different characters in them, etc. However it's also perfectly possible to create a more conceptual game with multiple possible answers. This might include shapes, colours, textures, etc.
To create your scavenger hunt, simply decide what type of list you want, create it, then give it to your child and let them explore!
One thing to consider is safety. At the start, let your kids know where they can and cannot go. You may also be able to specify something like, "You don't need to move anything to see the objects." This is particularly important if you're having a party. You may not want dozens of children rummaging through the tools in your garage, or tipping out the drawers in your bedroom.
How to create a treasure hunt
Treasure hunts work best for kids on their own or with a small group of children. For larger groups, it’s likely one child will solve more of the clues than the others. You might therefore be best splitting a large group up into two or three different ‘search parties’ and reposition the clues and a new treasure each time. Alternatively, you could create a murder mystery party and include a treasure hunting aspect as part of it.
The first rule when planning a treasure hunt is to start with the treasure itself then work backwards. This way you always know which clue to place next. If it’s for a birthday or Christmas, you may want to leave a small present at each location, then the final treasure at the end of the hunt.
For younger kids, choose clues which are more visual or write extra hints on the clue (e.g. “Starts with B…”). For older kids, if they get stuck, give them an extra clue at this point. For mixed groups, one idea is to have two clues at some points (one easy, one harder). Rip the next clue in half, placing half at each of the locations. This way, both younger and older kids will have fun and develop their team building skills.
Clue ideas for kids of all ages
Whatever age your children are, there some treasure hunt clues that are always great fun:
- Jigsaw - Draw a sketch or take a photo of somewhere, then cut it up into a jigsaw. When you piece the jigsaw together, the next location is revealed.
- Treasure map - A sketch of one of the rooms in the house (for older kids, don't label anything, just draw rectangles for the items of furniture). Put an X to mark the location of the next riddle. If you'd like to print the image above to use as a basis of your map, just click it for a close-up, then print it.
- Word search - Either create a 5x5 grid and write a short word like "chair", "table", or "lamp" as part of it, then fill in random letters for the rest, or create a larger word search and write a list of words to find. The letters not used then show the location of the next clue.
- Crossword puzzles - You can also use crosswords and highlight several letters within the blank grid. When these are found, they spell the location of the treasure, or next hint. If you have a teenager in your scavenger hunt game, you may also wish to use cryptic crossword clues.
- Alphabet code - Substituting letters with its position in the alphabet creates codes like 3-1-18 to give C-A-R.
- Passwords - Not every hint has to go to a physical location. Sometimes you can give a hint and the child must say the password to get the next clue.
- Invisible ink - If you write a word in lemon juice, then when you heat the piece of paper the writing will become visible. Make sure you're around for this one and appropriate safety measures are taken.
- Maze - Print out a maze and write the letters of the answer along the correct path. Then write a few other random letters at dead ends.
- Rebuses - Pictorial riddles. Scroll down for examples.
- Hints in funny places - One of my favourites is to write a one word clue in big bold letters on a piece of toilet paper and put it in the toilet, face-up. Make sure the ink doesn't bleed.
Then give a clue like:
Anagram: LIE TOT
Giving extra hints along the way
If kids get stuck, or you need to create an easy scavenger hunt, don't just give kids the answer. Instead give extra clues like:
- The answer begins with the letter 'D'.
- It's in the kitchen.
- Say warm or cold to indicate how close the hunters are.
This way, kids will still have fun and they'll find the next clue in the scavenger hunt themselves with a little time. If they're having fun, don't feel you need to rush them.
On the subject of anagrams, rearranging the letters is a great way to create customised clues. These can be household items, or be based on your kid's favourite TV show, book, or toy.
We recommend using an anagram generator to create fun anagrams based on the words you enter. Anagrams can be tricky to solve, so do one or more of the following for any that are more than a few letters:
- Also give another clue to go with them (e.g. "A comic book").
- Give the first letter of each word in the answer.
- For young kids, write the letters randomly around a page and draw a line to each letter's correct position in the answer, as shown above.
Here are five anagram ideas of popular books:
- HARPY RETORT
- BASHED DIET
- ARMED SPIN
- IN ROMAN
- WORST SHEEP
And another three anagrams of popular authors:
- US DRESS
- NOT LIKE
- HAD A DROLL
- Harry Potter
- The Baddies
- Iron man
- Where's Spot?
- Dr. Seuss
- Roald Dahl
Another idea for riddles is to use rebuses - coded pictures that reveal a word or location.
Here are three rebuses to inspire you:
- Catalog (Catalogue in British English)
Creating a combined scavenger / treasure hunt
Some children love to collect objects and will find a scavenger hunt great fun. Others will more enjoy the challenge of solving riddles. You can combine both and create a great game to please everyone.
To create a combined game, do the following:
Hide the treasure
When creating a treasure hunt, it's best to work backwards. You therefore start at the end.
Choose where the treasure will be hidden and place it there (make sure the children don't know which room you're in for this).
Create the final clue
Create a 'final' clue with 6-10 parts revealing where the treasure is hidden. Hide each clue and make a note of where it's hidden. This could be:
- A jigsaw puzzle (or image cut into 6-10 pieces).
- An anagram with one letter per piece of paper.
- A word anagram with one word per piece of paper.
- Small toys e.g. toy cars and give the instructions, "All 7 toy cars must be found before you receive the final clue."
Write the main riddles
Write a scavenger hunt list
If you want to simply use several chocolate eggs, or one item multiple time for this, skip this step.
Write a list of objects that fit under a given theme like Halloween or Christmas. Choose objects your child will be familiar with but you don't have too many of, for example:
Either leave them where they are, or hide all the items in one room. Place a riddle under each item in the scavenger hunt.
Give the children the list
When the children receive the list of items, they must scavenge for them, then solve each riddle to find the final set of clues. Once they have this, they put all of them together to find the treasure.
This is a great way of encouraging team building and is a good game for larger groups.
Rhyming riddles for kids and teenagers
Rhyming clues are a great way to get kids and teenagers to think out of the box. As with other treasure hunt clues, if they struggle with the answer, give them the first letter as an extra hint.
Click any of the free riddles below to see the answer.
Shoes (or boots)
Please (The child must say “Please” to receive the next clue).
Clock (or watch)
A previously worn item of clothing that's not been tidied away.
I’ve a golden head, a golden tail too,
But you won’t see them both at the same time.
I rest with my friends in a bed made of leather.
To steal me is considered a crime.
A pan on the stove
A welcome mat.