February 23rd, 2021
Explore Maine’s Wilderness with a Scavenger Hunt
A trail winds through the woods, around clusters of swaying ferns and lichen-covered boulders. Golden mushrooms dot the mossy forest floor. And a brown bird with a speckled chest sings an ethereal tune.
The Maine wilderness is full of diverse beauty. Every delicate wildflower and fluttering butterfly has a name and story. If you’re trying to learn more about nature, it can sometimes be overwhelming. Where do you even start?
How About a Game?
Outdoor scavenger hunts can help you become better acquainted with nature while honing your observation skills. They’re also a great activity for children, keeping them active and engaged while spending time outside.
How to Create an Outdoor Scavenger Hunt
Outdoor scavenger hunts can be designed for any age group or skill level. While some involve hiding objects, such as an Easter egg hunt, others are simply about finding items that already exist in nature, such as plants, rocks, and seashells. You don’t even need to know the names of plants and animals to create one. For example, design a hunt in which you search for the colors of the rainbow in nature. Or look for different shapes, textures, or aromas. You can even create an outdoor scavenger hunt using different household items, according to Hazel Stark, co-founder of the Maine Outdoor School.
“Bring out a Q-tip or toothbrush, then try to find something in nature that matches the shape or reminds you of the item,” said Stark.
During the hunt, one person can verbally announce items for everyone to find – one at a time – or participants can carry a visual reference such as a list or grid of items on a sheet of paper.
“It can be like scavenger hunt bingo where you try to find all the things on the sheet or five in a row,” said Stark. “That tends to work best for kids who need a little more motivation. It’s a bit of an incentive because they want to win.”
Creating a scavenger hunt sheet can be a fun art project and an opportunity for learning vocabulary words. Children who haven’t yet learned to read can represent items with photos or pictures. And don’t forget to leave some room on the sheet to write notes or draw pictures of what you find in nature.
Ideal Scavenger Hunt Locations
Any outdoor space, whether it’s a vast tract of forestland or a tiny, fenced-in backyard, can serve as a wonderful place for an outdoor scavenger hunt.
Having a scavenger hunt in your backyard or at a local park can help you develop a greater sense of place right at home. The game might lead you to notice a bird’s nest under your porch or a patch of wildflowers in your yard that you never noticed before.
“It’s a cool way to get people to start to notice details and distinctions in nature, which is the first step to realizing that there’s a lot of diversity out there,” said Stark. “If you have any interest in foraging or hunting or anything like that, you have to develop skills in observation.”
A scavenger hunt played away from home can be especially exciting because it may introduce you to new habitats and species. And because it’s such a low-impact game, it can be played in just about any public outdoor destination. In fact, a scavenger hunt is a great way to keep children happy while walking on hiking trails, though the family-friendly activity may slow your pace.
If visiting a public property to conduct your scavenger hunt, be sure to follow posted rules or guidelines. Many property owners ask that you remain on established trails at all times. So, while you’re searching for something in nature that’s “squishy” or “star-shaped,” be sure not to wander off the beaten path.
Scavenger Hunt Rules
When playing a game, it’s easy to get caught up in the task at hand. But it’s important to keep a few rules in mind – and communicate those rules with everyone who is participating in the scavenger hunt.
Chiefly, try to leave the wilderness as you found it. Or, if you find some trash to pick up, make that part of the rules that you leave the wilderness even better than you found it.
“When out in nature, we’re not picking anything or ripping leaves off plants,” said Jessica Decke, camp director of Tanglewood 4-H Camp and Learning Centers in Lincolnville. “We’re handling things with care and being mindful about where we put our feet down so we don’t trample anything.”
At Tanglewood, campers often participate in scavenger hunts and other activities that strengthen observation skills. As a part of those exercises, children are taught Leave No Trace principles so they can reduce their impact on the environment.
Among those principles is the directive to respect wildlife as well as other people who are enjoying the same outdoor location as you. You can do this by keeping your voice down and giving everyone plenty of space.
During the hunt, you can record your discoveries by taking photos, sketching pictures, writing down notes, or simply checking off items on your sheet. And at the end of the game, everyone can come together and share what they’ve found.
Aislinn Sarnacki is a registered Maine guide and the author of three hiking guidebooks, Family-Friendly Hikes in Maine, Maine Hikes Off the Beaten Path, and Dog-Friendly Hikes in Maine. Follow her writing, photography, and guiding services at www.mainenaturehikes.com.