Try this safe, smart ‘Mystery Hike’ activity with your Scouts and their families

Trevor deRosier embarks on the mystery hike devised by his mom, Cindy.
Trevor deRosier embarks on the mystery hike devised by his mom, Cindy.

Scoutmaster Hassler is missing!

Perhaps he’s at Rockville Hills Park, a frequent hiking destination for Troop 482. Or maybe he’s at Cenario’s Pizza, a favorite pre-pandemic meeting spot for the Troop 482 patrol leaders’ council.

To solve this mystery before the next virtual troop meeting, Troop 482 Scouts and their families will need to take a 2.5-mile journey through their town. Along the way, they’ll hunt for clues, learn Scout skills — and pick up any litter they might find.

The mystery hike, inspired by the game Clue, is the brainchild of Troop 482 committee member Cindy deRosier. As a former classroom teacher with a master’s in education, deRosier knows how to make learning interactive and fun — even during a pandemic.

“Our troop has not met in person since early March and cannot safely meet in person any time soon,” she says. “So I started thinking of fun ways to encourage the Scouts to get out, do some hiking with their families and work on Scout skills.”

Your Scouts can try deRosier’s mystery hike from anywhere using Google Street View. But it’ll be even more meaningful for your Scouts if you plan your own mystery hike in your home town.

We spoke with deRosier to learn more and discover how other troops can follow Troop 482’s lead. And don’t worry! No Scoutmasters were harmed in the making of “The Case of the Missing Scoutmaster.”

Trevor and his dad, Steve, look at clues.
Trevor and his dad, Steve, look at clues.

‘Making learning fun’

“I believe in making learning fun,” deRosier says.

The merit badge counselor and mom of a Star Scout from Troop 482 of Fairfield, Calif. (Golden Gate Area Council), has been an active BSA volunteer since 2012.

The Scouts in Troop 482 — like others continuing Scouting at Home — have been meeting, learning new skills and connecting with friends throughout the outbreak of COVID-19.

At first, deRosier devised a simple mystery hike where Scouts would follow instructions to reach a destination unknown to them at the beginning of the hike. Because of social distancing guidelines, Scouts would complete the hike with members of their household — not with patrolmates.

But then deRosier added an extra twist.

“I realized I could add an actual mystery for them to solve as they hike,” she says. “I decided to structure it somewhat like the board game Clue, with the ‘suspects’ the Scouts themselves, the ‘rooms’ locations that are relevant to our troop and the ‘weapon’ one of the Ten Essentials.”

Trevor and his dad, Steve, look at clues during the mystery hike.
Trevor and his dad, Steve, look at clues during the mystery hike.

How she planned it

I wondered whether deRosier laced up her hiking boots to wander around the city of Fairfield, which is about 50 miles northeast of San Francisco. But she was actually able to do all the planning using Google Maps.

Step 1: Find the starting and ending points. She wanted the hike to begin and end at the church where the troop meets, so she mapped out a safe route that would take Scouts along the creek, next to a commercial area, through some neighborhoods and past a park. The route was designed to avoid major roads, and Scouts were given instructions for pedestrian safety. (For more tips about hiking in the city, read this story from Scouting magazine.)

Step 2: Consider advancement and the hike’s length. Advancement was on deRosier’s mind, too. She tinkered with the route until it was 2.5 miles long, meaning Scouts working on Second Class requirement 3B could complete the route (which requires a map and compass) and then retrace their route to reach the 5 miles required.

Step 3: Follow the route to find clues for the game. Back at her computer, deRosier tried the route using Google Street View to look for street signs, fire hydrants, park equipment and other features that could serve as clues.

“I ‘walked’ the path many times, switching back and forth to Satellite View, to make sure the clues made sense,” she says. “I spent a lot of time tinkering to make sure they were challenging but not too hard.”

For clue 7, for example, Scouts had to count the number of fire hydrants at an intersection. If there was just one, they could eliminate two of the “suspects.” If there were two or more fire hydrants, they could eliminate a different pair of “suspects.”

Step 4: Create the detective sheet and clues. Next, deRosier wrote everything up, including the detective sheet, clues and solution. Find them all on her site.

Step 5: Test it using Google Maps. When deRosier was satisfied, she sent everything to her sister to test. The hike is designed to be completed either on foot or using Google Street View. deRosier’s sister tested the latter version.

“Her feedback was incredibly valuable and led to me clarifying a few clues,” deRosier says. “I was thrilled to hear that she thought the digital version of the hike was really fun and that the Scouts would love it.”

Step 6: Test it on foot. The next step was testing the in-person hike with someone who was coming in completely fresh. That meant deRosier’s son, Trevor, and husband, Steve.

“As they read the clues and worked to solve them, I walked a few steps behind them, taking notes,” she says. “It turned out that one of the clues that was easy to find digitally was impossible to solve in person without Googling, so I changed it for the in-person version. Other than that, the two versions are the same.”

Steve and Trevor loved the hike and encouraged deRosier to make more of them.

Trevor looks at the list of clues.
Trevor looks at the list of clues.

Advice for other Scouters

Here’s what deRosier learned while making the mystery hike:

    • Choose your route carefully. Don’t just consider the length and terrain. You’ll need signs, landmarks and other features that won’t change. This will form the basis for your clues.
    • Remember safety. The route should be safe for someone who may be reading and walking at the same time.
    • Think about social distancing. Choose public areas where social distancing is easy and hikers won’t interfere with others.
    • Test, and test again. Have friends or family test your hike before you share it with Scouts.
    • Personalize. Use names and places that are relevant to your troop.
    • Make a packing list. Be sure Scouts and their families pack water, sunscreen and the other Ten Essentials. In the spirit of “leave a place better than you find it,” deRosier also asks Scouts to carry a trash bag and gloves to collect any trash they find along the way.
    • Don’t totally trust Google Maps. Sometimes Google Maps and reality don’t match perfectly.

And I’ll add one more: If you do try something like this, leave a comment below.

About Bryan Wendell 3032 Articles
Bryan Wendell, an Eagle Scout, is the founder of Bryan on Scouting and a contributing writer.