10 Epic Real Life Treasure Hunts

By: Jonny Hughes

There are dozens of fantastic films involving exhilarating treasure hunts. From pirates to Lara Croft to Indiana Jones, these quests to find lost riches always result in a brilliant and challenging adventure, and this is something that you too can experience (hopefully without encountering as much danger). There are many real life hidden treasures out there, with many people trying to find these riches for decades to no success. The stories behind these treasures are fascinating, and the reward could change your life forever. Grab a map and a shovel, as here are 10 epic real life treasure hunts.


10. Butch Cassidy’s Hidden Treasure

There are not many outlaws more notorious than Butch Cassidy, who was the leader of the Wild Bunch gang in the American Old West. He was forced to flee the U.S. with Harry Alonzo Longabaugh (or the Sundance Kid, as he is better known), after being heavily pursued by the Pinkerton detective agency. The famous duo fled to Argentina and then Bolivia, where they were killed in a shootout in 1908 (although some believe that Cassidy survived). It is thought that before fleeing the country, Cassidy buried his hidden loot somewhere in Irish Canyon, located in the northwestern part of Colorado, Moffat County. This is apparently a remote valley where Cassidy and the Wild Bunch would escape to when the law was hot on their tail, and the stash is believed to be $20,000. To date, nobody has ever found the loot.

9. Oak Island Money Pit

Oak Island is a small area of land just off the coast of Nova Scotia, and it is world famous because of apparent hidden treasure that people have been trying to find for over 200 years. It all began in 1795 when a teenager saw a mysterious light coming from the island. He found a small hole and began to dig, and this revealed pickaxe markings and layers of logs at intervals of 10 feet (clearly man-made). They found nothing, but rumors began circulating and eight years later the Onslow Company continued to dig and found these logs down to 90 feet, as well as coconut fibers (not native to Canada). Further clues have been found, and many more excavations, but the deep holes cause the pit to fill up with water, which then require powerful machines to drain it. Perhaps just a sinkhole, or perhaps the legends are true.

8. John Dillinger’s Hidden Money

Another outlaw treasure, but from a different time than Butch Cassidy. John Dillinger was a famous gangster who robbed banks and twice escaped from jail during the Depression era in the United States. He spent four years on the run from the police before returning to Chicago in 1934, where he was shot and killed by policemen. It is believed that a few months prior to returning to Chicago, Dillinger stashed a fortune, but never got the chance to return to find it. It is thought that Dillinger buried $200,000 somewhere in Wisconsin, where he lived for a few months under a different alias. The story goes that Dillinger and some of his gang were hiding out in a lodge in Mercer, Wisconsin, and the FBI found out and surrounded the lodge. Dillinger managed to sneak out, and a few hundred meters away he buried the cash in a suitcase.

7. The Forrest Fen Treasures

Forrest Fen is a millionaire art collector, and after being diagnosed with cancer in 1988, he decided to create a treasure chest of his most valuable possessions. Fen survived the cancer, and in 2010 when he turned 80, he decided to go ahead and hide his fortune which is valued at between $1 million and $3 million dollars. It is hidden somewhere in the Rocky Mountains, and treasure hunters can find clues written in his autobiography as well as a poem that is contained within it. There are many different blogs and communities which are desperate to locate Fen’s hidden treasures, and it is certainly an intriguing mystery. The man himself has also given out several clues, with the most recent coming in January of 2015 when he stated “I know the treasure chest is wet.” The chest allegedly contains gold nuggets, rare coins, jewelry, gemstones and more.


6. The Treasure of San Miguel

In 1712, Spain was in desperate need of money after the War of Succession, and they assembled one of the richest treasure fleets, which included 11 ships. The ships were filled to the brim with treasures, including silver, gold, pearls, jewels and much more. They planned to leave Havana just before hurricane season was due, in hope that it would deter pirates and privateers. Not such a great idea as it turned out, as just a week after leaving Cuba, a storm hit and the fleet was destroyed. Thousands of sailors died, and the ships and all the precious treasure sunk to the depths of the ocean. Seven of the ships were found, but only a small percentage of the treasure was ever recovered. The San Miguel ship has yet to be found, and this is believed to contain the most treasure.

5. Lake Toplitz Nazi Treasures

Lake Toplitz is situated in dense mountain forest in the Austrian Alps, with the water containing no oxygen below a depth of 20 meters. The shore served as a Nazi naval testing station from 1943-44, and towards the end of the war they began sinking containers and other items into the lake. A small amount of this was recovered, including millions of dollars worth of fake currency for the allied nations (Operation Bernhard). Many believe that they also sank millions worth of gold, diamonds, art (including Amber Room panels) and plenty more. This speculation is furthered by the fact that a layer of sunken logs was placed within the lake which makes visibility difficult, and it also makes diving near impossible. Some divers have lost their lives trying to uncover the mystery, whilst one diver claims to have seen a sunken aircraft below the layer of logs.

4. The Beale Ciphers

In early 1800s, Thomas Jefferson Beale and his men were in the Rocky Mountains and came across an enormous amount of gold and silver. They spent 18 months mining this fortune, and it was down to Beale to bury the treasure so that their families could enjoy the fortune for generations (it is estimated to be around $63 million). Beale wrote three ciphers, with one describing the location of the treasure, one describing the contents, and the final cipher listing the men’s names and next of kin. He placed these in a box and trusted them with an innkeeper named Robert Morriss who was supposed to wait 10 years, and if Beale had not returned, a key to the ciphers would be mailed to Morriss. It never arrived, and only the cipher detailing the contents has been decoded. The ciphers were made public, but the location remains a mystery.

3. La Chouette d’Or

In 1993, treasure hunt creator Regis Hauser (under the alias Max Valentin) hid a bronze statue owl somewhere in the French countryside, and whoever found it would win the golden owl (currently held by a legal protector in Paris and valued at 1 million francs). He provided 11 clues to its whereabouts, accompanied by illustrations from sculptor Michel Becker (easily found online). It has never been found and may now forever by a mystery, with Valentin passing away in 2009. In 1997, he revealed that somebody had been very close to discovering the owl, as he had noticed disturbed ground very close to the burial site. There are also those who have not come so close, including one overeager treasure hunter who ended up burning down a chapel in pursuit of the owl. It remains the longest unresolved hunt that has been created by someone.

2. The Lost Fortune at Key West

In 1622, the fleet of Spanish ships known as Nuestra Senora de Atocha (Our Lady of Atocha) was heading home when they were caught in a hurricane off the coast of Key West. The ships were carrying gold, silver, gems, indigo, tobacco, copper and plenty more, all valued at a staggering $700 million. Most of the ships perished in the hurricane, and by the time the surviving ships reported the disaster back to Havana, it was too late to salvage the ships and the treasure. Over the years, the Spanish managed to recover about half of the treasure with the use of Indian slaves (many dying in the process). Treasure hunter Mel Fisher found an enormous amount in 1985, including gold, silver and emeralds. Most recently, a ring was discovered 35 miles from Key West that is estimated to be worth $500,000.


1. The Treasure of Lima

After defeating the Incas, Spain had controlled Lima since the 16th century. In the next few centuries, the Spanish accumulated a gigantic amount of wealth, which they stored in Lima up until 1820. A revolt forced the Spanish to evacuate and transport their treasure to Mexico for safekeeping, and this was estimated at between $12 million and $60 million dollars. The Commander of the Mary Dear, Captain William Thompson, was in charge of transporting the treasure, but temptation is a powerful feeling. He and his crew killed the guards and headed for Cocos Island, where they allegedly buried the treasure. They were then captured and killed, all apart from Thompson and his first mate, who agreed to show the Spanish where the treasure was buried. Upon arrival at Cocos Island, the two managed to escape into the jungle and were never seen again, and the treasure was never found.