NATURE SCAVENGER HUNTS FOR KIDS {with free printables!} 

NATURE SCAVENGER HUNTS FOR KIDS {with free printableS!}

Article Summary

QUICK TIPS: DO'S & DON'TS

Finding fun ways to get yourself and the kids outdoors together can be a tricky business. The ‘are we nearly there yet’s?’ every five minutes or so, frequent yawns, and general lack of enthusiasm on standard family backcountry outings usually leave us in no doubt that what’s fun and engaging for us adults can often leave a lot to be desired for our juniors. Nevertheless, science and psychology are now showing us more and more that nature-time is all but essential to our kids’ (and our own) well-being. So, what to do?

Enter the nature scavenger hunt!

The what? You might ask…

In a nutshell, the outdoor scavenger hunt is a pirate-free take on the standard treasure hunt, only that in this case the ‘treasure’ is a selection of items found in nature instead of gold, diamonds, rubies, and what have you.

In this article, we’ll take you through the nuts and bolts of the nature scavenger hunt, from the initial prep and planning right down to the itty bitties of ‘treasure’ selection.

Our aim is to introduce you to a fun, safe way, healthy way for you and your kids to get out and enjoy your time together. If you’re new to scavenger hunting, we’d highly recommend giving it a try. Trust us, both your inner child and your actual child (ren) will thank you for it!

Before we get down to all the ins and outs, let’s take a quick look at some of the more important points we’ll be covering.

Do

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    Do a little bit of research to find organized scavenger hunts in your area
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    Get other friends and families involved — the more the merrier!
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    Be sure to take adequate clothing so the weather doesn’t spoil your fun
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    Brainstorm potential themes and tasks to make your hunts more entertaining

Don't

  • Be afraid to go it alone — planning your own scavenger hunt can be as much fun as actually participating!
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    Hold your hunt where there are too many objective dangers (wildlife, poison ivy, cliffs, etc.)

Make Your Own Scavenger Hunt

In terms of fun, making your own nature scavenger hunt is second only to planning for a vacation or Christmas (without, gladly, the stress, annoying relatives, and ubiquitous Bing Crosby music!). Planning a nature scavenger hunt for kids or teens might take some work, sure, but can easily be broken down into stages for simplification and also allows you to customize your hunt to the needs and interest of your kid(s).

two little girls watching the sunset on the lake

To help you out, we’ve outlined each of these stages below. If you’re short on time, patience or aren’t too keen on all this planning lark, you can skip ahead to the ready-made, printable nature scavenger hunts at the end of this article.

Recon Your Hunting Ground

Whether you’re hopping in your car to investigate in person or browsing sites found in a Google search, scoping out your location beforehand is always a good idea for the following reasons:

  • To make sure it’s safe for you and your kids
  • To check that the items on your hunt list will be discoverable
  • To acquaint yourself with the terrain in case anyone (including you!) should get lost
  • To check the available facilities

Choose a Theme

Using themes for your hunts can really make a difference in maintaining your kids’ interest, particularly by the time you’re onto your sixth or seventh hunt. A list of potential themes is included below.

Pro Tips: Age Appropriate

Try to make your hunt as age-appropriate as possible — while our toddlers might be happy enough pottering about in pursuit of a few items in their vicinity, teenagers are likely to want to stretch their legs and have a bit of a challenge.

Make a List

After you’ve done your recon and theme selection, it’s time to choose the items you want on your list. We’ve included a long list of potential items below — the items you choose will vary depending on where you are in the world and the season.

Scavenger Hunt Ideas

A variety of themes can spice up your outdoor scavenger hunt and help to maintain your kids’ interest. Not only this, a few tweaks and changes will mean the idea of the scavenger hunt never goes stale. Below, we’ve included some of the best:

Seasonal specialties

This will really depend on where you are in the world, but some more obvious examples of items you can use to make your hunt season-specific include:

  • Winter: mistletoe, holly leaf, holly berry, a green leaf, an icicle, a frozen puddle or pond, a robin, tracks in snow, snow-laden branches, evergreen plants/trees, woodpeckers, cardinals, blue jay
  • Spring: unopened buds, forget-me-nots, snowdrops, melting snow/ice, popped buds, pine warbler, common yellowthroat, pollinating bees, frogs, salamanders, tadpoles
  • Summer: edible berries, sunburnt grass, marmot, wild lavender, lizards, flowering lime tree, chicken of the woods, other mushrooms, leaf eaten by caterpillar, bluebells, poppies, cowslips
  • Fall/Autumn: chestnuts, sycamore leaves/seeds, red leaves, a bare tree, ripe blackberries, empty seed pod, multicolored leaves, crunchy leaves
kids playing in the snow

Find the Opposites

This is a simple hunt that is ideal for boosting your toddler’s vocab while getting them out and about. A few examples of items to find include: big/small, rough/smooth, tiny/huge, long/short, fast/slow, wet/dry, old/new.

Pro Tips: Laminate Your List

For littlies in particular, printing pictures or drawings of items and then laminating your list is a good idea. Not only does it help them find what they’re looking for, but also makes the list water/chocolate/ice-cream-proof (!) and reusable on future hunts. Lamination machines are great for many things involving little ones.

Scavenger Hunt  - Find Items

This is the most basic and common of outdoor scavenger hunts. How long, short, difficult or easy your hunt will be will depend on the number of items on your list and also their accessibility and prevalence the hunt location. See our list below for a selection of items you might include!

Scavenger Hunt - Identify Plants/Trees

Given that this task is a touch trickier than a simple list-based hunt, it’s a great addition to nature scavenger hunts for teenagers. A printout of the ‘hunted’ species or a pocketbook guide is highly recommended!

Pro Tip: Bring Pocket Guidebooks

Kids love hearing about cool facts so why not indulge them by being a walking encyclopaedia! Unless you are already well-versed in all things nature, bring along a few pocket guidebooks that relate to the items on your childrens list.

Scavenger Hunt - Tasks

A variety of tasks can be used to make stand-alone scavenger hunts or to spice up standard hunts. A few possibilities include: building a shelter, determining north without a compass, taking rubbings of leaves and drawing pictures of the hunt. Tasks are ideal if you need a break or simply want to keep everyone in one place. A longer list of potential tasks is included below.

Alphabet Scavenger Hunt

Send kids out to find various items with names that begin with each letter of the alphabet, going in order from A through Z.

Color Walk

Quite simply give the kids a list of colors and have them find as many items as possible matching each color…easy!

toddler picking up a stick

Sensory Nature Scavenger Hunt

As the title suggests, this type of hunt is more experiential in format, revolving around four of the five senses: see, feel, hear, smell. For obvious reasons, the ‘taste’ list is one best saved for well-seasoned hunt veterans! Some ideas for sensory hunts are included below.

List of Scavenger Hunt Suggestions

Before heading out to your hunt location, do a little bit of research to find out exactly what items you’re likely to find there (and, of course, not find there). Below, we’ve drawn up a collection of items you might want to add to your list.

Items 

  • Moss
  • leaf
    Pine tree
  • leaf
    Seeds or seed pod
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    Exposed tree roots
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    Dead tree
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    Eroded soil
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    Clay
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    Smooth/shiny rock
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    Rabbit hole
  • leaf
    Mud
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    Dark or light green leaf
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    Small pebble
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    Insects on a tree
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    Deer tracks
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    Animal hole in the ground
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    Deer
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    Frog
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    Unusual shaped leaf
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    Rocks with many colors
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    Different shades of green or brown leaves
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    Dew on a flower or leaf
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    Fungus on a tree
  • leaf
    Lichen
  • leaf
    Vine
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    Twig
  • leaf
    Knot in a tree
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    Poison ivy (be careful!)
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    Snail
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    Beetle
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    Ladybug
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    Spiderweb
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    Tree with blossoms
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    Hole in a tree
  • Animal tracks
  • leaf
    Worm
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    Caterpillar
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    Squirrel
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    Bird
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    Ant
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    Grain of sand
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    Fern
  • leaf
    Berries
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    Evidence of the presence of animals (tracks, scat, burrowing)
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    Evidence of the presence of people (footprints, trash, tire marks)
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    Y-shaped twig
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    Trash
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    Something spiky
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    Pine needles
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    Pinecone
  • leaf
    Acorn or other nuts
  • leaf
    Wild Flowers
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    Heather
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    Nettles
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    Docking leaves
  • leaf
    Feather
  • leaf
    Lizard
  • leaf
    Stream or creek
  • leaf
    Blade of grass
  • leaf
    Clover leaf
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    Pond or pool in a creek
  • leaf
    Butterfly or moth
  • leaf
    Bird’s nest
  • leaf
    Leaf with insect holes
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    Leaf with insect eggs

Pro Tip: Adhering to LNT

Consider using a camera to take pictures of the items on your lists. Not only does this prove your ‘success’ to other teams, but it lets you collect memories of every hunt while still adhering to the LNT principals.

Tasks

For Little-uns

  • Draw a picture of a tree, flower, plant, insect, animal
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    Take a leaf rubbing
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    Quiz: answer questions about items on your list playing ‘What am I?’ (i.e. “I’m small and shiny. I’m very slow and I live in a shell. My name rhymes with ‘tail’. What am I?”)
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    Write a story about your scavenge/hike
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    Hang from a branch
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    Play ‘Guess the Object’: place 10 or so items in a (non-transparent) bag and have the kids identify them by touch alone (we’d recommend excusing the lizards, butterflies, and beetles from participation in this one!)
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    Skip a rock on a pond/creek/lake
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    Hike to the top of a hill
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    Build a bird’s nest

For Teenagers

  • Start a fire without matches (ideal if you need a break and want to keep them busy for a while!)
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    Cook lunch (see above!) without utensils
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    Catch a fish/tadpole/fly/butterfly/bee
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    Build a shelter
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    Find the coin: test map-and-compass skills by hiding a coin or prize somewhere and having teams or individuals navigate to it
  • leaf
    Find edible plants, berries, and nuts

See

  • Animals feeding
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    Lightning Bugs
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    Reflection in the water
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    Trail markers
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    Other hikers
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    Animal homes or nests
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    Something unusual
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    Something scary
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    Sunlight coming through trees
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    Sunrise or sunset
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    Squirrel climbing a tree
  • Ant carrying something
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    Wind blowing leaves
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    Fish jumping
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    Shooting star
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    Clouds passing
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    Something funny
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    Falling leaf/leaves
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    Spider in its web
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    Insect trapped in spiderweb
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    Stars in the sky

Feel

  • Prickly plant
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    Moss
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    Wet mud
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    Rough leaf
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    Smooth leaf
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    Slimy stone
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    Tree bark
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    Grass between your toes
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    Rotten wood
  • leaf
    Dandelion
  • leaf
    Wind blowing on face
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    Different rock textures

Hear

  • Leaves crunching under your feet
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    Cricket’s croaking
  • leaf
    Water running in a stream/river
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    A stone plopping into water
  • leaf
    A creaking branch/tree
  • leaf
    Wind in the trees
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    A bee buzzing
  • leaf
    Birds singing/chirping
  • leaf
    Noises in the woods

Smell

  • Fresh air
  • leaf
    Cedar tree
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    Pine tree
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    Spruce or fir tree
  • leaf
    Different leaves
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    Wild garlic
  • leaf
    Flowers
  • leaf
    Mud
  • leaf
    Grass

...more complex

  • Find different types of rock
  • leaf
    Find different animal tracks
  • leaf
    Find different types of plant, tree, flower, leaf
  • leaf
    Identify different types of bird

Collection of Printable Nature Scavenger Hunts

Just in case all the above planning sounds like too much work, below we’ve included a selection of ready-to-go, pre-made nature scavenger hunt printables for various ages.

Find Items For Little-uns

Nature Scavenger Hunt_MyOpenCountry

Find Items For Not So Little-uns

Find Objects Hunt MyOpencountry

Alphabet For Not So Little-uns

Alphabet Scavenger Hunt_MyOpenCountry

Senses For Not so Little-uns

Senses Hunt MyOpencountry

Feel free to post any of our scavenger hunts on your blog, we only ask that you please link back to this post (not the pdf) when you do!

Alternatively Check Out This List of Scavenger Hunts We Found Online

HAPPY HUNTING!!!

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About the Author Kieran James Cunningham

Kieran James Cunningham is a climber, mountaineer and writer based in the Italian Alps. He’s climbed a handful of 6000ers in the Himalayas, 4000ers in the Alps and loves nothing more than a good long-distance wander in the wilderness. He climbs when he should be writing, writes when he should be sleeping, has fun always.

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