How to hike with a greater sense of purpose
Everyone has heard of geocaching. So think of letterboxing as geocaching without the hassle of a GPS. This outdoor scavenger hunt is trending among young families for obvious reasons—an abundance of mystery, adventure, and…buried treasure?
The rules are simple: follow the clues and you’ll be rewarded with a stamp in your log book. Many of these stamps are one-of-a-kind, hand-carved images crafted by a fellow letterboxing enthusiast. Clues can vary. Some are straightforward and obvious, giving you detailed directions to a specific location. Others require a little more brain power, which can make it fun or frustrating depending on your skills as a detective.
On this bright, sunny day we didn’t have to venture far to find a trail abundant in treasure. Thanks to Atlas Quest, the hardest part of the whole experience was choosing which quest to try first. As avid hikers, we wanted a rigorous, yet kid-friendly walk in the woods and found our perfect match in Stafford Springs, CT.
Arriving at the trailhead, we read our first clue aloud: “Continue a short ways to a 3 foot rock on the right side of the trail. Look left for a 15 foot birch snag 15 steps off trail. Behind it is a tree with a slit at its base. Behind this tree is DARTH.” The kids didn’t know what to think, but growing excitement over a possible meeting with DARTH was enough to get them moving.
Following the directions one-by-one, we made our way to where X marks the spot. Sure enough, peaking out from beneath a pile of crispy leaves and green, fluffy moss was the bright red lid of a Tupperware container. Both girls let out a shriek of excitement as they lifted the stamp from their log book to reveal a perfectly crafted image of Darth Vader’s head. This discovery unleashed a newfound enthusiasm for hiking. From that moment on, there was no stopping them as we searched for (and found) MICKEY, MAD HATTER, and WITCH.
We learned about letterboxing through the Girl Scouts. Evie received her badge a few weeks ago, before which time we had never heard of such a thing. I was surprised to learn that it has actually been around since the mid-19th century.
First introduced by Victorian guide James Perrott in Dartmoor, England, this hobby began as a message in a bottle and has since transformed into rubber stamps in a plastic box. While the modern-day concept of letterboxing may seem unromantic when compared to its’ historic roots, that same spirit of adventure lives on in every little kid searching for buried treasure.
Hiking is a long-time hobby of ours and we all love the outdoors, but there are times when it can feel more like forced-fun than a family outing—kids whining, bugs biting. Letterboxing gave us a whole new way to spend time together on the trails, doing what we love but with greater purpose. It renewed the girls’ passion for exploration, which made the whole experience more enjoyable for us grownups.
At the end of the day, as we were walking back to the car, my little one asked about our next “quest.” It turns out letterboxing was the real treasure uncovered today. Let the adventure begin.