Agents of Discovery: Barr Lake State Park Missions

Eager to get started, we rushed down a path, across a bridge and in just a couple of minutes, we were in the mission area and ready to go.
Agents of Discovery at Barr Lake State Park
Agents of Discovery

Looking for a new spin on outdoor adventure? If so, then you may be interested in hearing more about two hiking trail based games at Barr Lake State Park. To create the games, the Park recently partnered with Agents of Discovery, an educational phone-based app that is like a cross between geocaching and Pokémon GO. If you’re not familiar with anything I just said, it’s like playing a game of scavenger hunt. In the case of Agents of Discovery, however, all of the clues are delivered through your phone. I learned about the game from the Colorado Parks and Wildlife website and thought that it would be the perfect excuse to get outdoors on a sunny morning.

To get started, I downloaded the phone app (available for both Android and iPhone) and the missions. (TIP: Download both the app and missions when you are on wifi. Not only is it faster, but cell phone service at many state parks is spotty at best.) Once you’ve downloaded the app and missions, you don’t need a cellphone signal to play the game. I was able to quickly and easily download everything – it seemed simple enough.

Mission One: Off to the Park

Out of bounds message - Sorry Agent! Your location is outside the map boundaries.

Outdoor adventures are always more fun when you bring a friend. So for my first mission, I asked my wife to join me, and we decided to bring our dog, Lulu. We pulled into the parking lot near the Nature Center, hopped out of the car and launched the app. Pretty straight forward, right? The app opened, I tapped the “Gazebo Boardwalk” mission and we got a message that we were “Out of Bounds.” Hmmm… We realized that we would have to walk onto the trail to start our adventure. We could see a bunch of markers on a satellite view of a map, so we looked around for some landmarks and headed toward the mission area.

battery icon

Note: Before heading out, make sure your phone has a full charge. The app can drain your battery pretty quickly.

Lulu is leashed and ready for the Mission.
Lulu is leashed and ready for the mission.

Eager to get started, we rushed down a path, across a bridge and in just a couple of minutes, we were in the mission area and ready to go. But not so fast! Our first encounter on the adventure was Bark Ranger, a sign with a photo of a beautiful yellow labrador and the following info, “NO DOGS allowed in the wildlife refuge.”

Lulu standing in front of Bark Ranger sign
No dogs allowed on this mission. Game over for Lulu.

No problem. Barr Lake currently has two missions and we had downloaded both. Time to switch missions! 

For the record, my wife and I love getting outdoors together. And we’re always up for an adventure. But we do have a few issues that sometimes cause difficulty for us. First, games tend to bring out the competitive side in us. As soon as the new mission launched, we headed down the trail with a little something extra in our step – a three-way speed walking race that Lulu was winning. The missions are not timed and you’re outdoors enjoying a beautiful day, so the logical thing would be to take your time, figure out where you’re going, and make the most of the beautiful setting. Nonetheless, we scurried down the trail, casting logic to the wind and competing as if we would win a prize for completing the mission in record time. 

Second, when you add technology, such as a phone and a GPS, into our outdoor adventures, we always seem to toss logic aside. While we’re both very competent navigating in the outdoors, you put an electronic device in our hands and things get almost embarrassing. Kind of like those TV commercials where a couple is following the GPS navigation instructions from their car and they drive through a storefront – “Honey, it says go right, go right…” Fortunately, nothing that dramatic happened on this trip, but we did head several hundred yards down a path before we realized we were heading in completely the wrong direction and we were once again reminded that we were still “Out of bounds.” (Note: This is all to point out that logic is helpful. While we ran into a few problems getting started, you may be just fine!)

After a quick stop and taking time to study the mission map, we realized both available missions were inside the park’s wildlife refuge area. And now Helaine and Lulu were both out of the game! It was looking like this was going to be a solo mission. Good thing that flexibility is key for any successful outdoor adventure…

Playing the Game

Now that I was on course, I was ready to begin my mission. Once you enter the “Mission Zone,” the app works great. You can review general information about your Mission before you arrive on the scene. For the Gazebo Boardwalk trail, I knew that I was in for a 3-mile trail hike. And the Mission’s welcome screen reminded us to bring water and plenty of layers, so we were prepared for any weather change. I also would add sunblock and comfortable shoes/boots to the list. And if you’re taking on the Mission with kids, pack some snacks – nothing interrupts a mission quite like hunger!

Agents of Discover app screenshots
 “Challenge Markers” along your mission trail offer a variety of games that you will play to complete your mission.

Playing along on the app is pretty easy. Each mission has a specific number of Challenges. You simply move along the mission trail seeking out these Mission Challenges. You can track your movement toward the Mission markers and the Mission begins to quickly unfold. When you get close enough, the Challenge Markers change color indicating that the nearby challenge is ready to be played. Then, simply tap on the Challenge Marker to start playing. Pretty easy.

Interpretive sign provides educational information about Barr Lake and the wildlife.
A view from an observation area along the boardwalk path. Visitors will find a number of interpretive signs along the mission route. The signs combine images and information into an immersive experience for visitors of all ages.

Without giving too much away, the Mission takes you through a section of the park that has a wide variety of educational displays that work in concert with the Agents of Discovery app. So while the phone is definitely key to the experience, the app becomes a small tool in a much bigger mission.

For example, the first stop on the Gazebo Boardwalk Mission combined sights, sounds and a cool educational component that makes you super aware of your surroundings. You’re looking into the sky, scanning the trees, listening with purpose and very aware of what’s going on around you. Probably a little more aware than you would be if you were just out for a casual hike. 

When you‘ve completed all of the Challenges, you can head to Barr Lake’s Nature Center to redeem your prize from #Wilder! Exercise, game and a reward – that makes for a really fun outing.

Accessible Trails

A park visitor takes advantage of the hardpack dirt and gravel trails to do some sightseeing and photography from a mobility scooter.
A park visitor takes advantage of the hardpack dirt and gravel trails to do some sightseeing and photography from a mobility scooter.

While the Barr Lake missions are not on officially ADA compliant trails, the trail surfaces do alternate between the boardwalk and sections of hard pack dirt and small gravel road. Outside of serious mud and snow, trail conditions shouldn’t pose a problem and are stroller, mobility scooter and wheelchair friendly. However, it’s always a good idea to check with the park in advance to confirm trail conditions. I paused my mission to speak with a park visitor who was using a mobility scooter to take in the sights and photograph some wildlife. He confirmed that trail conditions are suitable for his scooter.

Locate a Mission Near You

Barr Lake currently offers two missions, and they are in the process of developing two additional missions. One will be “dog friendly” and will begin near the Nature Center and take you all the way to the Bird Conservancy of the Rockies. A second MIssion will be a water trail available to boaters when Barr Lake’s boat ramp opens this spring. Agents of Discovery missions are currently available at 10 Colorado State Parks, as well as a number of other locations around Colorado. To find a mission near you, please see the growing list on the Agents of Discovery website. Have fun!

Agents of Discovery missions can be found at the following Colorado state parks.

tired Lulu looks relaxed after a long walk.
She may have missed out on the mission, but Lulu still got her exercise on Barr Lake’s dog-friendly sections of the trail!

Accept Your Mission!
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Agents of Discovery | Best Educational Learning Games
Agents of Discovery | Best Educational Learning Games

Written by Doug Skinner. Doug is an editor for Colorado Outdoors Online and is a media specialist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. 

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