Ultimate Treasure Hunts

When it is time to think about a summer vacation, there’s always the beach, the mountains, or visiting family—but this year, perhaps, you should consider an unusual adventure that could be a life-changing event.

Lost treasure inspires movies and novels, and while many may rest at the bottom of the ocean, there are others waiting to be found right here in the United States. The Lost Dutchman Mine is a prime example, stashed somewhere in Arizona’s Superstition Mountains. The chances of actually discovering these piles of cash, gold, and/or jewels are very low, but the chances of adventure following clues and seeing new parts of the country are sky-high.

An Old Rail Mine Cart Still Waiting To Get Rid
When the Ashtabula railroad bridge collapsed, $2 million in gold bullion was lost in the gorge below, mixed with wreckage and covered in mud. (David McIntosh/Shutterstock)

The Beale Treasure

Back in 1822, so the story goes, a man named Thomas J. Beale was a guest at the Washington Hotel in Lynchburg, Virginia. Upon his departure, Beale asked the innkeeper to store a strongbox until he could return for it. In 1845, having never heard from Beale, the innkeeper opened the box, finding three ciphers and a letter which described a treasure hidden somewhere in or near Bedford County in Virginia. The letter claimed the ciphers were the key to finding almost 3,000 pounds of gold and 5,100 pounds of silver Beale and his group had discovered in New Mexico, as well as $1.5 million in jewels.

The code to the ciphers has never been cracked, leaving the treasure, with an estimated current value of $60 million, still undiscovered. Prospective treasure hunters can see the ciphers on the Cipher Foundation’s website at

Old Treasure Map On Wooden Grunge Background
Perusing a treasure map can be a fun way to spend a rainy afternoon and may well lead to a memorable adventure.(Merydolla/Shutterstock)

Bank Robbery Stash

The farm country of Wisconsin is known for picturesque scenery, but it may also hold buried treasure. When the owner of the Little Bohemia Lodge in the town of Manitowish Waters needed legal advice, it turned out the attorney he contacted had another client named John Dillinger, who needed a favor. Seeking a quiet place to hide out after a bank robbery, Dillinger offered the innkeeper $500 for a three-day stay, an amount substantially higher than the normal rate.

The lodge owner jumped at the deal, but unfortunately for Dillinger, after he arrived, the lodge owner and his wife alerted the authorities, hoping to secure a $10,000 reward. When the FBI arrived, a fierce shootout ensued. In the chaos, Dillinger escaped, after taking time to bury a suitcase containing $200,000 in currency in the woods near the lodge. While the lodge was featured in the movie “Public Enemies,” the suitcase and the cash have yet to be found.

3d Illustration Metal Detector Technology
A great deal of precious metals, from lost jewelry to ancient treasure, has been discovered with the assistance of a metal detector. (Krafted/Shutterstock)
John Dillinger 1903-1934 Famous Bank Robber In Police Custody In
Gangster John Dillinger is said to have hidden a suitcase full of cash in the woods behind the Little Bohemian Lodge in Wisconsin; it has yet to be found. (Everett Collection/Shutterstock)

Lost Treasure State

Ohio is called the Buckeye State for its groves of Buckeye trees, but it can also be called the Lost Treasure State, with at least nine treasures waiting to be found. The list starts with the “Lost French Payroll,” currently valued at $13 million. In 1755, France claimed the land northwest of the Ohio River. Upon learning British troops were coming to attack, 10 French soldiers were ordered to take the military payroll to a nearby French fort for safekeeping. However, they were attacked before they could reach the fort. Two French soldiers survived, burying the payroll in an area said to be four miles east of what is now Minerva, Ohio, planning to return with troops to recover it. The French were unable to return for the payroll, but one of the soldiers wrote in a letter that it was, “buried one mile east of a tree with a carving of a deer on it.” Not surprisingly, the payroll is still up for grabs.

Little Blond Scout Boy Sit With Treasury Map Playing Treasure
The entire family can take part when a treasure hunt becomes the focus of a vacation. (Sergey Novikov/Shutterstock)

River Gold

The next Ohio treasure, in order of value, is the Pacific Express Train Wreck. On the cold, snowy night of December 29, 1876, at around 8 p.m., the Pacific Express train was crossing the Ashtabula Bridge. The lead locomotive had just made its way across when the bridge gave way, plunging the second locomotive, eleven cars, 159 passengers, and $2 million in gold bullion 70 feet down into the river gorge, a mere 100 yards from the Ashtabula railroad station. A total of 90 passengers perished, and the gold has yet to be discovered.

Countryside Scenery At Fall Season Autumn Colors Harvest Harvesting Time
While a little bit of research reveals there may be many treasures awaiting discovery beneath what is now farmland across the country, ask before you start digging! (Lena Platonova/Shutterstock)

Bonaparte’s Fortune

Another Ohio treasure is Napoleon Bonaparte’s War Chest. Andrew Meyer served under Bonaparte and emigrated to America after the Napoleonic War. Meyer is said to have safeguarded some of the French general’s most prized possessions, including a jewel-encrusted chest filled with jewels and treasure. Before he died in 1848, Meyer was seen burying what was reported to be gold and rubies around the 17-room mansion he had built in Canton, Ohio, and dumping other valuables in a nearby lake. The mansion burned down in 1975, but Napoleon’s Chest and the other treasures rumored to have been hidden around the home are still missing.

If these or other lost treasures beckon, take care not to trespass on private property, to respect the privacy and property of others, and to obey all local, state, and federal laws. Perhaps start off small with a metal detector at the beach or park.

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