Letterboxing: A Good Old-Fashioned Treasure Hunt

Letterboxing has its roots in England, starting back in the mid 1800’s. James Perrot, a popular Dartmoor guide, placed a bottle with his calling card along the banks of Cranmere Pool. New and veteran hikers could contact him and record their accomplishments by including a letter or postcard of their own in the bottle. As time went on, a box replaced the bottle and the term letterboxing was born. Hikers began to visit these letterboxes and would retrieve the postcards and mail them back to the hikers that previously left them there.

Early on these letterboxes were only found in extremely inaccessible areas with few clues as to their whereabouts. This made the accomplishment of actually finding one quite remarkable. Nowadays, they are much easier to find, located on many public trails in easily accessible locations. But there are still some boxes, with the seasoned adventurer in mind, that are still quite difficult to find.

How Does Letterboxing Work?

So, how does someone find one of these boxes you ask? It’s as simple as reading a good old-fashioned treasure map! But what exactly is the treasure? Well, other than hiking in the great outdoors and discovering new trails, the treasure lies in the logbook and stamp. Yes, the stamp!

When you find a letterbox, it will generally contain at least the basics of any letterbox treasure: an inkpad, a stamp, and a logbook. The logbook is to record your achievement so that when other adventurers find it, they’ll see all the past visitors that have stopped along the way.

And the stamp? Well, that’s the real prize. Many people carve their own original stamps or select fun and interesting stamps that go great with the theme and location of the letterbox itself. Are you ready to find some treasure?

What Do I Need?

You just need a few pieces of equipment to get started. First, a logbook to record all of the stamps and locations of the letterboxes you find. Generally, a small (5” x 8”) book of white, unruled paper works best, but it can be any size with any type of paper you like.

Courtesy of Max Pixel

Second, you’ll want to carry your own inkpad with you, ideally with a raised surface so you’ll be able to use it with larger stamps you might find in the boxes. Some letterboxes do not include an inkpad with their logbook, and in colder weather the inkpad may freeze and become unusable. In this case, it’s always best to carry one with you just in case.

You’ll also want to carry a pen or marker to take notes on the locations and condition of each letterbox (if box is broken, water is leaking in, etc.) as well as to sign the box’s logbook. It’s always best to report the condition of the letterbox to the owner, especially if the box is deteriorating.

Next, don’t forget to bring your own unique stamp. Small store-bought stamps (1” x 1”) generally work best. Most logbooks are small, so there won’t be a lot of room for a bigger stamp. You might also try to create your own stamp by carving it yourself. Use your imagination!

Last but certainly not least, don’t forget to bring your clues! But where do you get them? The best way to find them is on dedicated letterboxing websites.

Follow The Clues For Your Own Letterbox!

One such website is letterboxing.org. Visiting this website gives you access to the whereabouts of thousands of letterboxes hidden across the country. Some owners make finding the letterbox straightforward. For example, “Hike 2 miles along the trail until you find the yellow post, look to the right and underneath two large rocks you’ll find the box.”

courtesy of Max Pixel

Some owners make it a little more challenging and write the clue as a riddle for you to solve for yourself. For example, some boxes can only be found by finding a box that contain clues to other boxes. Or sometimes boxes are only found by word of mouth! The best way to start is to search for letterboxes near you. Find a few that you’re interested in searching for, and start hiking!

Most letterboxes can be found in public parks and well known trails, perfect for snowshoeing. Matter of fact, I found one last winter while snowshoeing on one of my favorite trails just by coincidence. I was snowshoeing just a few feet off the trail and it happened to be slightly uncovered from the brush and snow. I made sure it was sealed tight and hid it back under the brush until I returned the next day with my stamp and logbook in hand!

For The Next Adventurer

Keep in mind, always follow each park’s specific trail rules. Also, always handle each letterbox you find with care, especially logbooks. These can deteriorate quickly if they get snow or ice on them. Always make sure that when you re-hide the letterbox, that it’s sealed so that no moisture can get into it and its well-hidden.

Letterboxing is a family-friendly treasure hunt activity that everyone can enjoy. Try it the next time you go out snowshoeing and maybe the next letterbox you find will be mine!

Good luck!

About the author

Scott Hotaling

Scott Hotaling

Scott is a certified personal trainer, tennis instructor, and freelance writer living in upstate New York.

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