Autumn Scavenger Hunt

A crisp chill in the air, crunchy leaves underfoot, chattering squirrels gathering nuts for the long winter ahead… 

There’s no better time to enjoy a hike or a nature walk than fall! Months of blistering hot Missouri summer kept me inside with a good book and a cold drink, but this cooler weather beckons me back to the great outdoors. 

A smiling father holds his toddler as they look at fall leaves.
Photo via Pexels.

My partner and I have been exploring all of the amazing green spaces and hiking trails the Columbia area has to offer. On this particular hiking trip, we explored the Shooting Star Trail at Rock Bridge Memorial State Park. Even a visit to your local playground, a stroll around the neighborhood or a quiet afternoon in the backyard can provide great ways to share the joys of autumn with your child. 

Having a mission in mind before you venture out can help keep reluctant kiddos engaged in your outdoor excursion. Look high in the trees and low on the ground to appreciate even the smallest members of the ecosystem. Slowing down and taking in the world around you is an easy way to practice mindfulness, too! 

Below, you’ll find two versions of the autumn walk scavenger hunt. The list for toddlers plays with color, size and texture and introduces little ones to simpleLeave No Trace” principles. With the second list as a guide, help older children cultivate their creativity and critical thinking skills to engage more deeply with nature. You can even complete both scavengers hunts if you wish! 

For the littles

Look for:

  • The biggest leaf you can find
  • A cozy hiding spot (but don’t disturb any animals that might call it home!)
  • Some soft moss
  • An insect
  • Three leaves of different colors
  • A smooth rock 
  • A spider web 
  • A pretty fall flower (look with your eyes, but don’t pick it!)
  • A tree with bumpy bark
  • Some litter to pick up and throw away in a trash can
A man wearing a gray shirt and jacket stands in the woods. He is holding up a large yellow leaf, obscuring his face.
My partner Logan wanted to show off the biggest leaf he could find!

For older kids:

  • Bring a small bag (and maybe some rubber gloves) along with you, and pick up as many pieces of litter as you can find. Have the kids and the adults compete to see who can gather the most trash!
  • Use your detective skills and look for evidence that an animal has crossed your path. Keep an eye out for animal tracks, nests or even scat (a fancy word for poo). 
  • Closely examine rocks for ancient fossils. Do you think the fossil is of a plant or an animal? As cool as the rocks may be, resist the temptation to take them home with you.
  • Pretend that you’re a small animal like a squirrel, a rabbit or a fawn. Locate a hiding place where you could stay safe from bad weather and predators.
  • Peer carefully at rocks, leaves, trees and moss and keep your eyes peeled for tiny camouflaged critters!
  • If you were a plant, what would you look like? Find a plant that just screams YOU!
  • Hunt for mushrooms! Remember, it’s NEVER a good idea to pick or eat any mushrooms without the help of an experienced, knowledgeable adult.
  • Scan the ground and look for “windfalls” — fruits or nuts that have been blown out of a tree by a strong gust of wind.  
  • Take a quiet moment to notice everything your senses are experiencing. What can you see, hear, smell, taste and feel?
  • Find something you’ve never seen before. Take a photo or write down some notes so you can do some research later!
A very small, white puffball mushroom surrounded by sticks and dead leaves on the forest leaves.
While I’m by no means a mushroom expert, I suspect we found a tiny, young puffball! This little guy could grow up to 20 inches wide!

After your outdoor adventure, cuddle up inside with a warm blanket and a seasonal snack (apple slices with peanut butter have my vote!) and share a cozy fall book together. 

Here are some of my favorite fall reads: