For mystery trip, Scouts trust the adults to plan the location

The Scouts of Troop 870 of the Denver Area Council wanted to prove their ability to Be Prepared for anything.

So for their big trip last November, they did the unthinkable: They handed the reins over to their adults.

And with that leap of faith, the Troop 870 Mystery Trip was born.

As Nicholas Cantrell explains on the Denver Area Council blog, none of Troop 870’s Scouts knew where they were going or what to expect. They didn’t know whether to plan for cold or heat — both accessible from Denver — so they had to prepare for both.

One assistant Scoutmaster, the troop committee chairman and the troop’s outdoor coordinator planned the trip, and it was all done with the approval of council staff.

Scouts were told to bring a weekend’s worth of gear: a backpack ready with food, a tent and sleeping bag, and clothes for both cold- and warm-weather excursions. The troop provided any necessary group gear.

The Scouts loaded into the vehicles and only then learned of their destination: the Comanche National Grasslands in Southeastern Colorado.

They hiked 18 miles roundtrip to the largest concentration of dinosaur tracks in the country, something that thrilled First Class Scout Joshua B.

“Throughout the mystery trip, I saw breathtaking things, but the coolest thing was the dinosaur footprints,” Joshua told Cantrell of the Denver Area Council. “When I saw the footprints and put my foot in the three claws of a dinosaur foot, it was unbelievable and mind-blowing to think that these footprints were made over 65 million years ago and were left for curious people.”

Eagle Scout Luke R. enjoyed the chance to test his mettle by not knowing the troop’s destination.

“I signed up for this trip because I wanted to see if I can Be Prepared, even if I don’t know where I am going,” he told Cantrell. “I wanted to test my skills and see if I am able to be comfortable with the supplies I have and still have fun.”

The verdict: Definite fun. So much, in fact, that Troop 870 will attempt another Mystery Trip this November.

Watch this

Here’s a nice video of Troop 870’s trip posted on the Denver Area Council website.


  1. It seems that we make enough “unplanned” turns in our routine outings that every other camp out becomes a mystery trip! 😉

    However it happens, there’s gotta be a lot pride in knowing your buddies are ready for anything!

  2. Truly being prepared and making intelligent, informed decisions can not occur with a trip planning methodology such as this. The whole idea upends the tour permit and trip planning process.

    To be repeating this terribly bad idea in a scouting blog is shameful. Goodness knows how many other units will now think this is a BSA sanctioned way to run an outing.

    Don’t even get me started on the fact that a truly boy led troop would ever hand off their outing planning to adults. I guess there is a lot of truth in the statement: “Scouts were told…”

    And who is responsible if the scouts were not adequately trained or equipped or prepared and something happened? I’d like to see those unit leaders explaining their decision logic to the council scout executive.

    Bottom line, not every bad idea coming from scouts should be supported by leaders. The purpose of adult supervision is to inform scouts when they have more than one wheel off the tracks in their decision making process. Not every bad idea needs to be repeated in this blog and this is certainly not the first hair brained idea I’ve seen posted here. Clearly the BSA needs a better editorial review process BEFORE articles like this get posted to better ensure the article complies with BSA policies and to better prevent bad ideas from being spread through official channels.

    Sorry Bryan, you blew this one.

    • You do realize that scouts in the picture will be reading this and sharing it with their folks?

      And how is this any different than asking thousands of scouters to organize Camporees, Jamborees, or High Adventure bases for your boys?

      • The leaders all knew where they were going, etc. in order to complete the tour permit. This wasn’t a trip where NO ONE planned anything, it just wasn’t the boys.

        What I read is this is a boy led troop in which the boys have a relationship of trust in their leaders to challenge them and yet keep their well-being in mind. Why wouldn’t a boy led troop choose to hand off the planning of an event to their leaders? It wasn’t about giving up their right or responsibility to plan but adding an element of challenge.

    • I couldn’t disagree more. This is why:

      – The trip was the Scouts’ idea.
      – The Scouts were told exactly what they would need to pack for the environment and challenge ahead of them, meaning if they weren’t prepared it’s their fault — just like any trip — and their fellow Scouts would need to help out.
      – The council approved of the trip (countering your notion that the Scout executive would have objected to the idea).

      Most important of all, though, is this: The Scouts had a great time and want to do another mystery trip this year. If this is what the Scouts want to do, it helps them grow as Scouts, and it’s safe and sanctioned by the council, who are we (the adults) to object?

      • Disagree with you big time Bryan.

        You are entitled to your opinion for sure, but readers should remember you do not speak officially for the BSA.

        Scouts have lot’s of ideas, not all of them are good. Good leaders may need to actually say no when necessary.

        If they were told exactly what they would need to pack for the environment then that is a big contradiction to how you presented the situation. If they were not prepared it was their fault… really? How could they be prepared for EVERY possible situation?

        Just HEAT and COLD? Please, if you actually think that is the total of what goes into being adequately prepared for hazardous weather planning you are mistaken. Plus, weather is just one factor to consider in evaluating risk for an outing. Maybe you should take the weather hazard course like all of volunteer leaders are required to every 2 years?

        The council approved? Really? Meaning a tour permit which no human actually reads anymore? Where in the article does it state the council approved this outing?
        TIILI inferred the scout executive would not be happy if something went wrong during the outing which is different from objecting to the outing.

        Scout had a great time and want to do it again. Negative reinforcement that doing it wrong is the right way.

        You are clearly out of your wheelhouse in terms of risk evaluation, emergency preparedness, and outing planning. I agree with TILII that someone or possibly a committee may need to start reviewing these articles before they are posted.

        • Of course good leaders say no, but I haven’t found a compelling reason why a leader would object to this trip.

          Scouts were prepared with the necessary personal gear, and adults brought any troop gear that they knew would be needed.

          As for where I mentioned council approval, please see the fifth paragraph: “… it was all done with the approval of council staff.”

          By the way, in case you’re interested, all of my posts are reviewed before being published.

        • This whole outing flys in the face of what is clearly written in the Guide to Safe Scouting and what is permitted types of unit level camping for Boy Scouts / and Varsity Scouts.

          “… it was all done with the approval of council staff.” doesn’t help much in defending this bad idea. In my own council, and I expect it happens in many other councils, I can ask a dozen different council employees the same question and get a whole range of different answers. So much for the paid staff all being on the same page and any expectation of consistency. I’m willing to bet the same thing would happen if National staff were asked the same questions.

          The real danger of this article is not knowing what controls, if any, were in place and how other units might attempt to site adapt this concept not to say the real danger from the gung-ho types who will decide they need to take the challenge up a notch and the next guy who feels a need to top what someone else did and then we end up with something terribly bad happening and everyone wondering how and why we ended up sanctioning this kind of risky behavior.

          The legal term for this is being able to “reasonably foresee” the consequences of your actions.

        • Unit High Adventure—The highest level of challenge for a troop or team
          is to plan and carry out its own high-adventure experience. These activities for
          more experienced Scouts are planned and implemented by youth members with
          coaching from their adult leaders.

        • I don’t read that as this type of trip is forbidden.

          If I were still of Scout age I would’ve loved to try a mystery trip like this. The troop covered in the post does traditional, boy-planned trips all year. One mystery trip out of 12, as a nice break from the norm, should be applauded and encouraged.

          Have to say I’m shocked at the negative response to this post. This seems like it was a great trip!

        • Gunther – You quoted the High Adventure section. This specific place is not a “High Adventure” location. You can drive a vehicle all the way to the end and has weekend tour by the National Park Rangers. The exposure levels is really low. Why the attacks? A Scout is Kind and Courteous and you don’t seem to be sharing an example of those. No reason to attack Bryan…

          Bryan – great article. Keep them coming.

        • TILLI & Gunther,

          You two are so totally off base with regards to these Mystery Campouts.

          These campouts/Activities:
          – are totally in line with all of the GTSS guidelines & council approvals.
          – add ‘Spice and Creativity’ to a Units Programs.
          – in our troop we’ve gone sailing, climbing, historical activities, skiing and many many other activities/trips, for the past 12+ years.
          – we’ve invited and had District and Council volunteers join us on several of our trips.
          – ARE ALWAYS looked forward to by our scouts & adults…they even try and guess what/where we are going and most are so surprised and ecstatic when they get there and find out.

          TILLI & Gunther…STOP being such Wet Blankets when it comes to helping units spice up their programs, especially when it’s something the Scouts want, approve & look forward to and is completely in line with the GTSS!!!


          Richard F.
          SM, Troop 555

    • You totally missed the point. If you took the time to actually read the article, the boys challenged themselves. The adults set it up, secured the permits, but the boys had to be able to adapt and be prepared for anything. This was a boy led plan, where they planned on not knowing the plan.


    I have to disagree with your statement. Tour permits and logistical Planning happen at a Committee Level/Adult, while youth planning happen with the youth. It is 100% possible to have a well planned event that the leave the boys having to be prepared.

    You may also recall an earlier article this year that said – “be nice” with the comments. Troops submit articles and they get posted online. They boys and leaders who submit these, read them.

    As for the outing planning, clearly the boys can still prepare for the unknown. You prepare for hot & cold. Food is food. Since they hiked 18 miles, they probably hike enough to know what they are doing. So they boys were probably prepared here.

    As for Troop 870, I’m sure the leaders took care of the boys. I’m sure they didn’t choose something they knew the boys couldn’t handle.

    I’ve talked with other Units who have done this. It comes from a group of confident boys that says – “hey are want a challenge”. I had a Venturing Crew in CA with boys 16-19 who went out and did a wilderness survival activity and nothing but a jacket. They asked their Adult advisors to throw a challenge at them and they did. It was epic.

    I checked them out – troop870 dot org, looks legit to me.

  4. This a great way to test the scouts to see if they are truly prepared. Here in the midwest and I am sure other parts of the US it can be snowing one day and 90 the next so it is important the scouts learn to plan without the help of knowing what they will experience. Our scouts know what to bring when to will be cold and what to bring hot weather so they would really have to think hard on what to bring for both.

    I am sure the SM and ASM took into account training and ability when choosing the outing and it looks like they picked a great one.

    I can see where some might disagree with this idea but I believe that you should view these types of ideas within the context of your troop and the decide if it would be of value to your scouts. Our troop has boys that want to boy led but come to the planning meeting with no ideas and had been reusing the same outings for the last 3 years and in that context I see this as something that would provide a challenge to them.

  5. Honestly I don’t see a huge difference between this and any time you go to a new camp location for the first time. No matter how much research you do, you won’t know exactly what it is like until you get there. I think that a simple back pack check with the opportunity to make fixes would take care of most problems. Honestly – unless you are going to the dessert in the summer or dealing with snow/ice in the winter – a well packed gear set using the Scout Handbook as a guide will get you through most every weekender. Especially when supplemented by by a decently set of troop gear. They didn’t say they allowed scouts to go “unprepared.” The idea is for them to follow our motto more fully – BE PREPARED.

  6. This is so cool. True story: Our PLC does an incredible job of picking new and exciting outdoor events for every single month of the year. But they recognized that they have been replicating the same wilderness survival camping trip at the same old campsite year after year and, needless to say, it was getting stale. At the last annual planning meeting, the boys batted around some ideas and then finally said to me, “We still want to do a wilderness survival trip. But how’s about you pick the location for us? Surprise us with something different!” To that I said, “Can do, gentlemen!” Sure, it put me a little outside of my comfort zone, but I’m glad to hear we’re not breaking new ground and Troop 870’s Mystery Trip offers some great inspiration for an exciting adventure — thank you!!!

    • It seems like this might be a common theme with wilderness survival type camp outs. There are two troops that I serve with in a Scoutmaster role (one as SM, one as SA) here in the town where I live. They had both fallen into the “wilderness survival camp out” rut where each year the boys do the same campsite and same theme. One troop just stopped holding them completely because they were, in the youths’ words, “boring.”

      Two years ago the PLC came up with the idea of, “We want it to be like on the show Dual Survival where you get dropped into a situation with limited gear and have to make do,” as well as a date and location, and then asked the adults if we would be willing to handle the rest of the details so that they all got the same challenge with no one knowing too much about what was coming ahead of time. We agreed and handled the remainder of the details.

      In the weeks leading up to the event, we communicated only the location, date and time of meeting, cost and what personal gear they should all bring (it was a very short list). The youth prepared themselves by spending their skills time at weekly meetings working on what they thought could be related: appropriate clothing for cold weather, map & compass skills, shelter building, fire building, cooking over an open fire with no cook kits, water purification, first aid, knot tying, prioritizing tasks in a survival situation, and most importantly keeping a positive mental attitude, team building and cooperation.

      The event itself went very well the first year (2014) with several two-man groups working on their own. It was popular enough that both troops put it on their calendar for the following year. This past November we had Scouts from three different troops attend and it was quite successful. Enough young men wanted to participate that we had to do several three-man teams to ensure we had enough available sites and didn’t spread our adults who were doing roaming h&s checks during the event too thin.

      Maybe not quite the same as the type of surprise outing that the article talks about, but it was definitely one that the youth enjoyed and were able to prepare for with quite a bit of it being a mystery.

      There’s talk of doing something similar again later this year, but with the format and possibly location changed to make it a new challenge without falling into the same old rut of old.

  7. My son’s troop does something similar for day trips, they call it mystery day. It can be either a day of service, fun or both. The scouts seem to like it. All adults, including parents know what it will be before and normal scout outing planning is done by the adults.
    They have planted trees, gone hiking, snow shoeing, to a museum to name a few. It doesn’t happen every month and does not take the place of the monthly camp out. It is just something extra and different.

  8. For those who disagree. Why are you so opposed to a once a year mystery? My Girl Scout unit started this 2 years ago. It’s just one weekend a year. It’s not like the entire year is adult planned. We are only told it’s within 3 hours of our departure location where we get on a bus and go… The girls love it. They try to guess the whole time. We stop at several places before we settle for the night then when we are headed back home we stop along the way again. All approved and tons of fun. The Unit leader set up a closed Mystery Facebook page and posts photos and clues along the way so families can go on the adventure with us, from home.

  9. A mystery trip sounds so fun! I can’t understand the negative comments surrounding this idea. Yes, Boy Scouts is boy led. This is a once/year event. It is an event out of the ordinary, to spice up the year, something different. It could be a welcome challenge to scouts to try to prepare for a mystery trip. It would require thought. I once picked my children up from school and surprised them with a Disneyland trip. I had packed for them and we left directly from school. They were so happy! Yes, it was an out of the ordinary surprise. A trip like this does not undermine the idea that Boy Scouts is boy led. It is just a trip, for fun, and challenge! It sounds like the adults were aware of what the scouts were to need, so nobody was in danger. It was approved by the Council and planned and thought out, so what is the problem? You guys need to loosen up a bit and have fun.

  10. From reading all of the comments, it is obvious that there are many “correct and the only” way to run a troop. I imagine that if someone started a section on what Boy Led means in their troop we would get multitudes of self righteous platitudes on how a particular leaders version of Boy Led is correct and no other person can quite come up to their perfection.
    In my view what each troop can handle varies from PLC to PLC, from SPL to SPL, from troops with a surge of new scouts to a troop that has more older guys. It is a constant flux of changing conditions.

  11. I was shocked at the negative comments as well, Bryan. Based on the pictures, video, and description of the location and activities, this seemed like an average ability adventure in a new place the scouts had not been to. Standard risks, including weather hazards. I certainly did not “read into” the article that rules were flaunted, scouts were untrained, etc.

    I surmise the real gain in preparedness here is mental. Unknown destination means the scouts didn’t know if they would LIKE where they were going or what they would do. Could they be prepared in attitude to handle a destination they might have been disappointed in? (doesn’t seem to have been the case). Would a spirit of fear of the unknown keep them from going on the trip?

    In addition, good leadership skills include knowing how to be a good follower. “Turning over the reins” seems like a good exercise for those scouts who like to control all aspects of their trips, and a relief to those who don’t.

  12. Great article. My Troop does this annually; We call it “Surprise Camp”. The Scouts want it on our schedule every year. From a surprise visit by a mobile gaming truck to an indoor climbing overnighter, our Scouts are always surprised and incredibly grateful.

    Scoutmaster B.
    Troop 372

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