Letterboxing fun

Boy on his dad's shoulders in the woods

Cropped image. Ikmal H Noordin, Flickr. CC license.

It’s summertime in Michigan. The kids are out of school; the weather is warm and inviting. Many of us are looking for a way to unplug and spend some time with nature. But if your kids are anything like mine (and to be honest, like me), they might need a little more incentive to take a walk in the woods than simply “Look at the leaves on that tree.” One thing my kids can’t resist (I wonder where they get it from?) is a prize! Take a walk in the woods to find a reward?! When can we go? So we started letterboxing.

What is letterboxing?

No, this has nothing to do with the format in which you watch a movie. Letterboxing is an activity that involves following a set of clues to find a hidden box, usually in the woods but in some other surprising places as well.

All you need to start letterboxing is a team (my family is “Well Done, Dragon”), a rubber stamp, an ink pad, and a notebook. You then use a letterboxing website (I like Atlas Quest) to search for sets of clues that will lead you to hidden treasures all over the world.

How does it work?

People who letterbox hide boxes in various places and write a set of clues (some simple, some maddeningly complex) that lead you to the prize. You may have to use a compass or work together to solve riddles and puzzles.

Some clues tell a wonderful story, but they all lead you to a hiding place where the author has a box containing a notebook and a rubber stamp. When you find the box, put your team stamp in the notebook in the box, and the stamp from the box in your notebook. Be stealthy; the first rule of letterboxing is not to let other people see what you are doing.

Remember to look at the notebook you found to see what teams have found the box before you. Many of us put our hometowns and the date we made the find — it’s amazing to see how far some people will go to find their prize.

As you continue to find letterboxes, your notebook fills with images from the rubber stamps — many of which are hand carved — as you make a record of your finds. I also like to make notes in our book about which team member made the find, and other cool stuff we saw along the way (like the family of baby raccoons that followed my youngest with her bag of peanuts).

Letterboxing vs. geocaching

I know some of you are reading this and saying, “I’ve heard of this, but I thought it was called geocaching.” Geocaching is different as it involves using a GPS and coordinates to find things.

Letterboxing is tech-free beyond finding your set of clues. Instead of coordinates, you use your brain and your powers of observation to follow clues and solve puzzles. That’s what got us hooked on letterboxing — not just the pleasure of the find, but the satisfaction of solving the riddles and unraveling the clues.

Go out and letterbox

Letterboxing is something you can spend the day doing, or something you can incorporate into another activity. One of my favorite summer days ended when my family stumbled out of the woods dirty, sweaty, and beaming after spending six hours hunting down a series of boxes (we found them all). But there are also many letterboxes hidden in the wooded areas of highway rest stops. In fact, Atlas Quest has a feature where you can search by proximity to a highway route, so we like to get a list of boxes hidden along our route on road trips. There are also boxes hidden in less woodsy areas (look for team Well Done, Dragon’s stamp if you letterbox at Cedar Point or the Rochester Hills Public Library). I’ve even heard that there are letterboxes hidden on each of Disney’s cruise ships but I haven’t had the chance to check that one out. Yet.

So unplug, find some clues to a box near you, and go find your prize. And if you find Box 2 of National Treasure, can you give me a hint?

– Nicole Capozello, Parenting Program Volunteer

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