Thursday, August 19, 2010

Making Memories: Letterboxing

What is letterboxing?

I can't tell you how many times I've been meaning to answer that question. I've had it posed to me multiple times on Facebook, over the phone, and in person.....  which just goes to show how much I've been talking about letterboxing this summer.

Letterboxing is like a treasure hunt. Letterboxing is like a scavenger hunt. Letterboxing is like solving a mystery. Letterboxing can be like an interactive nature hike. Letterboxing is sometimes like a mini-history lesson. But most importantly, letterboxing is fun and intriguing and a little bit addicting.
Plus, letterboxes are hidden all over North America, so no matter which state you live in or are visiting, you can probably find a letterbox hunt not too far away.

Here's how it family or individual is inspired to hide a letterbox. Some letterboxes tell a personal story of a favorite vacation, are a memorial to a loved one, or relate to an unusual bit of local history.  In my area, I've found one letterbox hunt that relates to the underground railroad, one that is in honor of a late family pet, and one that was inspired by Ohio's state symbols.   

The hidden letterbox is a waterproof container of some kind and contains a handcarved rubber stamp and a log book. The hider then posts, or otherwise distributes clues about where the letter box is hidden. Sometimes the clues have very clear starting points, sometimes one must do some research about local history to find the starting point. (We haven't attempted the latter yet.)

From the starting point, the clues will give directions on how to follow a path to find the letterbox. (Such as, 'look to the east and you will see...." or "take the north branch of the path".) Letterboxes don't use GPS coordinates (that's geocaching). Sometimes the clues are pretty obvious....sometimes not so much.

(Thankfully, this was NOT a snake.  Since I was standing right under the thing, no one was happier than me to discover that it wasn't a snake.)

The letterbox itself will be hidden in some out of the way spot, mostly or completely obscured from view. When found, the finder is supposed to carefully remove the letterbox, without being seen by passerby, and carry it away from its hiding as not to draw attention to its location.

The finder carries his or her own stamp, a stamp pad, a waterproof pen, and a log book of their own. (Yeah, I mixed singular and plural pronouns. Neener neener.) They use the stamp that was in the letterbox to stamp their own log book. They use their own stamp to stamp the log book that was in the letterbox. In both log books, they record the date it was found.

In the letterbox log, they write where they are from as well as their "trail" name, and any other notes they'd like to record for the hider of the letterbox as well us other finders who will read the log book later. In their own personal log book, they record the name of the letterbox, where they found it, and any other notes about the hunt.

When both log books are stamped and annotated, everything is placed back inside resealable plastic bags and put back in the letterbox, which is sealed and closed.  Then carefully place the letterbox in its original hidden location, being careful not to be observed, and being careful to leave the area looking undisturbed.

The morning of our first letterbox hunt, we were looking over our summer bucket list, trying to decide what to do that day. "Let's go letterboxing!" I declared. The kids weren't sure what letterboxing was, but I used my awesome power of persuasion to convince them to give it a try. (No, I didn't bribe or threaten them; thanks for the vote of confidence there.)

Just a few minutes later, Insight called. She had been trying to decide what to do that day, and was looking over our bucket list for ideas, and thought she and her boy might try letterboxing. A joint outing was quickly agreed upon.

If you'd like to try letterboxing on your own, here's what you need:

  1. A waterproof stamp pad
  2. A rubber stamp (you can buy supplies to carve your own at a craft store, or used a premade rubber stamp.) This stamp stands for you or your family. I've also seen families carve a small stamp for each person. 
  3. A permanent or scrapbooking marker
  4. A small log book
  5. A camera. I forgot mine, but Insight remembered hers....thus the lovely pictures.
  6. Shoes for walking/hiking.
  7. Insect repellent. (It just makes any walk through the woods more pleasant.) Sun screen if your walk isn't through a shady forest.
  8. A sense of adventure, a little patience, a dose of perseverance, and a smidgen of luck.
Read more about letterboxing, and find some clues for a letterbox hunt near you at  This site has clues for letterbox hunts across North America. 

If you decide to try out letterboxing, please drop back in and let me know how it goes!

Check out more Field Trip ideas! (Plus, I'm so proud of myself for figuring out how to include a clickable graphic link!)


Breezy Point Mom said...

What a neat idea. There are SO MANY letterboxes in the area where I live. We want to try this when we get some time. Thanks for sharing about it.

Super S said...

"The finder carries his or her own stamp, a stamp pad, a waterproof pen, and a log book of their own. (Yeah, I mixed singular and plural pronouns. Neener neener.)"

I... you... the grammar...