Think geocaching without expensive gadgets and plastic toys. The prize for finding a hidden letterbox is the opportunity to ink a unique, hand-carved stamp and commemorate it in your own notebook, as well as to leave your own signature stamp in the letterbox’s logbook.Get the kids unplugged and outdoors by exploring a new trail or park and trying out letterboxing, an activity that combines an outdoor treasure hunt with the hobby of rubberstamping.
Letterboxing’s origin dates to the 19th century, but didn’t catch on in the U.S. until 1998. Today there are tens of thousands of letterboxes hidden across the country, including several thousand just in Washington.
They can be found in city and regional parks, in state parks, along backcountry trails and even inside a few businesses. Recently, more families are turning to letterboxing as a unique way to encourage outdoor exploration and creativity.
Rachael Leedy of Fairhaven has been letterboxing with her husband and two sons for five years.
“The wonderful thing about letterboxing is that you don’t
get candy or trinkets, but instead you are able to take home a print of a beautiful stamp,” she said.
Her son Kai, ten, added that he most likes “seeing the stamps and how pretty they are.” Her older son Blue, twelve, likes walking in the woods. The treasure hunt aspect of letterboxing is extremely motivating for kids. It’s a great way to investigate a familiar park anew, or to explore a place you might not otherwise go. Many families take the activity with them on vacations, finding letterboxes near the grandparents’ home or on family camping trips.
Aside from a stamp and ink pad, there are few barriers to enjoying letterboxing. Those who fall for it will want to carve their own signature stamps and may even want to hide their own boxes. Rachael Leedy’s kids are currently working on a series of four monster stamps to hide near their
home, and they have even made up stories to go with each one. WTA member Ryan Carpenter runs the atlasquest.com website, which hosts an active community of letterboxers and clues to more than 4,300 boxes throughout Washington. He stresses a few important principles:
- Disturb as little as possible when planting and finding boxes.
- Be stealthy so as not to draw attention to the box.
- Never take anything from the box.
- Rehide the box as well as or better than you originally found it.
Once you have found a letterbox, you can return to the website and record the find. Most of all, Carpenter suggests that people have fun.