Have yourself a mappy little treasure hunt

The Meek Family By The Meek Family

OS #GetOutside champions, The Meek Family, love to find new ways to make maps more fun. Try their mappy treasure hunt game and discover more about map reading.

The need to read a map and navigate using a compass these days is dead, right? Wrong!

It turns out that in an age where everything is digital, ubiquitous, wireless and available via a touch screen, the dying skill of being able to navigate safely out on the hills and mountains is, quite literally, putting lives at risk.

In an article in the Telegraph, mountain experts from the Lake District raised concerns over a lack of “basic” outdoor skills such as map reading and the use of a compass, and an over reliance on mobile phone-based GPS. The advice from the mountain rescue services is very clear: use a GPS if you want to, but always carry a paper map and compass, oh, and know how to use them!

Learning about bearings and grid references might sound a bit boring, but understanding the use of a map and compass doesn’t have to be a formal or serious business (it could be, of course). A less threatening and more enjoyable way – particularly for families – could be to use a map skills-based treasure hunt to teach the basics whilst having fun at the same time.

This is exactly what we did at The Good Life Experience - a family-focused festival in Wales. We were invited (in our role as OS #GetOutside Champions) to set up a fun, family treasure hunt, and this is how we went about it.

A step-by-step to setting up your own treasure hunt

The main point of the treasure hunt is to get people (adults and children) using a map to navigate their way around the festival area, looking for activity cards and completing map-based tasks - we wanted the treasure hunt to be fun as well as educational (teach map reading concepts).

1. Create some clues (simple activity cards)

The reverse of the activity cards showing Help!

The reverse of the activity cards showing Help!

As this is not a regular treasure hunt, but one designed to teach and consolidate map-reading skills, the activity cards should be designed to take participants through a progression of concepts and skills, covering:

  • Map symbols
  • Four figure and six figure coordinates
  • The National Grid
  • Using a compass
  • Understanding contour lines


It is important to include tips/help on the back of each activity card to provide the support some participants might need. Remember, the aim of the treasure hunt is to develop map-reading skills, so you want EVERYONE who takes part to be able to complete it (supported or unsupported by tips/help).

We tried to create activity cards that would appeal to children, using a Minecraft theme to help with this. Other themes might be more appropriate for your treasure hunt.

If you are wanting to create your own map-reading treasure hunt (instead of using the one we've created), then these free map reading guides have all of the materials and explanations you need to be able to create your own activity and help cards.

Laminated activity cards

Laminated activity cards

Download activity cards

Top tip!

Laminate the activity/tips cards to help them to last longer and then whole punch a hole in one of the top corners so you can tie the cards to fence posts or other features.

2. Set out the treasure hunt course

With the cards created and ready to be hung, wander around the treasure hunt activity area (this may be outdoors or indoors) and find suitable locations at which to hang an activity/tips card.

Ensure the locations you choose are safe. Hanging activity cards on pieces of string means they can be easily accessed and both sides can be viewed if needed.

card hanging

You could use string to hang your cards outside

3. Prepare the map

When the activity/tips cards have been placed, mark the locations on the map that participants will use. In the treasure hunt we set up, the locations were just representative of a general area in which the cards could be found, not specific or accurate locations. We wanted to encourage a bit of navigation using the map to find the initial area, but ensure some ‘hunting’ was necessary.

The Good Life Experience Festival treasure map

4. Remember the answer sheet!

Before you can set participants off on the treasure hunt, make sure that they have an answer sheet on which to record their answers. This could just be a blank piece of paper – nothing complicated is needed here. The answer sheet we used is included at the end of this post.

Download answer card

5. Set the treasure hunters loose!

Your treasure hunt is set up. The clues are in place. Your participants have a map and record sheet. All you need to do now is set them loose!

For our treasure hunt, no time limit was imposed; participants could return their completed answer sheets at any point over the festival weekend. Everyone that entered won a small prize of some sort, which certainly helped incentivise participants to complete all of the activity cards – and lead to some happy participants who felt suitably rewarded for their efforts.

Happy mappers with their treasure hunt loot

Don’t limit your treasure hunts to the outdoors!

The standalone nature of this treasure hunt (the activity cards are discrete and there is no set order in which to complete them) means it lends itself to almost any environment, indoors or outdoors. In fact, we recently ran the same treasure hunt inside Blackburn Cathedral as part of an NHS health and well-being conference – we did, honestly!

Happy mappy treasure hunting!

Free map reading guides OS Kids Adventure Book Map reading for younger children

Image credits: National Grid | Steve | Creeper | Church | Pig

Edited: 30.06.21

The Meek Family By The Meek Family


In 2014 the Meek family decided to help kids Ella and Amy learn in the outdoors instead of a traditional classroom, and they now write and film their adventures while exploring Britain (and further afield) in their motorhome.

You can find out more about the family on their blog, DoTryThisAtHome.com, or on their #Getoutside page.