The goal of summer is to get kids outside. But what do you do on those no-trip weekends when no one wants to hike or bike but you need to get everyone out of the house?  

A cross between geocaching and a scavenger hunt, Munzee is an app great for getting outside into new places. Asking my kids to explore places have chosen or asking them to go for a walk for the sake of walking—oh, the eye rolling and resistance. I am always looking for new ways to engage them in outings, but at 9 and 14 they have outgrown my mom-designed scavenger hunts, and as much as I love the idea of geocaching, the reality of it is not something that has captured their interest. 

The goal of Munzee is to find a QR code hidden in the real world and capture it with your cell phone camera. The Munzee app displays a map with the location of QR codes that other players have deployed and gives small clues on where to find them. There are also virtual captures that you can collect by being in a specific location. Both count toward your point total and you can earn badges based on what you’ve done.  

I was first introduced to Munzee on a middle school field trip with my daughter. I wasn’t sure what to think at first. An initial look at the app made me think this was no different from Pokemon Go. Not my style. 

Munzee QR code in the foreground. // Photo by Crystal Atamian.

As I watched this group of middle schoolers run around and find various codes, I began to change my mind. They were trying to match the map to their surroundings, follow clues, and then looking over, under, and in things to find the code to capture. On this occasion, the students were able to deploy their own set of QR code stickers (which measure about half an inch square) according to the rules in some really creative locations. According to our fitness tracker we walked 5 miles total. I couldn’t help but think how this might just be the best way to get kids outside over the summer using their observation skills and creativity in a new way.  

We are not a super tech-driven family, but I decided we would try it out for ourselves. We opted for Manito Park with our extended family. The park is especially amazing in the spring and contained plenty of space to keep socially distanced from others. Initially I was afraid they would focus only on the screen, but because of the map and the hidden nature of the codes I noticed all of the kids were really observant and actually noticed a lot about the park along the way. My youngest son definitely put his map reading skills to good use. 

The kids split their time equally between chasing the QR codes and stopping to check out the abundant blossoms and bumblebees. Within Manito Park most of the codes are located near the roads, which would make this a great game for those unable to walk on uneven ground or those in wheelchairs.  

There are several websites about Munzee, but the most helpful for those who just want to try it out for the day is Munzee.zendesk.com/hc/en-us. The app is free.

Crystal Atamian is a science editor who loves to hike, ski, kayak, and identify as many wildflowers as possible each spring. She wrote about huckleberry picking in the Family Outdoors Guide in the April 2020 issue.