Letterboxing Along the Lakeshore

If you’ve ever tried geocaching—using GPS coordinates to hunt for secret containers hidden all over the world—you might want to try the pastime’s analog cousin, letterboxing. Letterboxes are concealed all over the Art Coast. You only need a compass, curiosity, and a little determination to track down these hidden gems while visiting the Saugatuck/Douglas area.

When it comes to activities like geocaching and letterboxing, the thrill is all in the hunt. With letterboxing specifically, you use clues found in printed catalogs, on websites, and from fellow participants to decipher the location of hidden boxes. If you’re lucky enough to uncover a letterbox, you’ll find that it contains a notebook and a hand-carved stamp, which you use to make a mark in your own letterboxing notebook. You then leave an impression of your personalized stamp in the letterbox visitor’s book, which contains a log of all who’ve found the box.

A Very British Pastime

This charming pastime started in England in 1854 when a Dartmoor National Park guide left a bottle by Cranmere Pool with his calling card and an invitation for travelers to add their cards to the bottle. Some park visitors left self-addressed postcards or notes in the jar, hoping the next visitor would return them by mail. Smithsonian Magazine wrote an article about this British hobby in 1994, and since then, letterboxing has become increasingly popular in the US. Today, there are approximately 50,000 letterboxes hidden in North America, with many more located worldwide.

Letterboxing 101

If you are wondering what you need to get started, it’s pretty simple. First, develop a unique Trail Name for you and your letterboxing team. This is similar to a username and can be your name or something with a special meaning. Next, you’ll want to find an ink pad and rubber stamp with an image that’s personal to you. You’ll use the stamp to make an imprint in the logbook contained in each letterbox that you find. You’ll also need a pen to sign your trail name and date beneath your stamp in the logbook. Be sure to bring your notebook or sketchbook, where you’ll make an imprint with the stamp enclosed in the letterbox. Finally, get a compass, just in case the clues you are following include compass bearings.

Getting Started in Saugatuck

If you want to try letterboxing, Saugatuck/Douglas is a great place to start. In Saugatuck and its surrounding counties alone, there are 115 documented letterboxes, with many more that may be undiscovered. You can hunt for these boxes while traipsing miles of beautiful trails at the Saugatuck Dunes State Park or while strolling through downtown Saugatuck. Here are a few sets of clues to help you get started! And for more information on letterboxing in Saugatuck/Douglas, check out this helpful website

The Stolen Peach
The popular video game, Super Mario Brothers, is the inspiration for these two boxes hidden in the Saugatuck Dunes State Park

Name That Dog #4
You’ll have to solve a riddle about a dog to find this letterbox hidden at Saugatuck Dunes State Park!

Stop to Smell the Roses
As part of this letterboxing scavenger hunt, you’ll need a compass as you tour downtown Saugatuck. 

Spring Wreath
Located at a museum in Saugatuck, this letterbox requires a little stealth on your part (so no one sees you!).

Tread Lightly and Be Discreet

When you search for and find a letterbox, please do so discreetly. Certain areas have high tourist traffic, and you want to ensure each location stays hidden so future letterboxers can enjoy it. Also, be especially careful not to disturb the natural surroundings. For example, if you find a letterbox in the woods or a park, leave the area surrounding it exactly as you found it. Happy letterboxing!