Top 10 Rock Collecting Sites In The US
Becoming a rockhound can start innocently enough. One day while hiking, I found an unusual rock. I was thrilled to later discover it was petrified wood. Then came an animal fossil, rose quartz, and pyrite. I started researching and searching for more and found that while I’m out there digging in the dirt, I have the opportunity to learn more about the history and make-up of planet earth.
Rock collecting can be a family endeavor or a solitary retreat. It can draw you away across the country or just down the street. A variety of field guides are available to help you recognize a good find. And a bit of online research can supply you with a list of easy tools to help you handle whatever terrain you’ll be searching in.
The U.S. Forest Service has a site with rock collecting sites in each state to help you plan your next rockhound adventure. Always verify the dates and times a particular site is open and any safety requirements of that state. And here are ten of the highest-rated sites in the country to help you make an informed decision. Happy hunting!
Perfect for mountain climbers, hikers, and geology enthusiasts, this valuable reference covers more rocks and minerals in North America than any other available guide.
The Best Rockhounding Sites In The United States
1. Emerald Hollow Mine, Hiddenite, North Carolina
Emerald Hollow is the only publicly-accessible emerald mine in the world. It is located about 87 miles west of Greensboro and is open 7 days a week so long as the weather allows. There are campsite and hotels nearby for travelers. They also have military and senior discounts.
This site features dozens of naturally occurring gemstones for endless new discoveries. The rough gems travel from the mine down one of three sluiceways. Your bucket may contain emeralds, amethyst, topaz, or other gemstones. The staff is on hand to answer questions about your finds. There’s even a shop available for cutting and setting your newfound treasures.
More Information: Emerald Hollow Mine
2. Crater of Diamonds State Park, Murfreesboro, Arkansas
Located about 120 miles southwest of Little Rock, this site limits rock-hunters to 800 per day, so planning ahead is a good idea. Visit the site for current safety restrictions. The site is located atop an eroded volcano crater and features a variety of gemstones and minerals free for the taking.
The park’s visitor center displays examples of what you can expect to find in the area and there are interpretive programs for beginners. Three colors of diamonds are found at this site: white, yellow, and brown. Walking trails, picnic sites, and campsites are also available.
More Information: Crater of Diamonds State Park
3. Jade Cove Trail (Big Sur, California)
Jade Cove Trail is located near the southern end of the central California coastline known as Big Sur. The trail is somewhat steep and popular for its colorful blue-green cliff walls. Visitors are allowed to hunt for jade in areas below the high-tide line. The stones wash up from the ocean floor, so the best time for hunting is at low tide or after a storm.
For the sake of preservation, strict rules are enforced regarding areas from which rocks may be taken. The area is beautiful in its own right and worth seeing for the spectacular cliff deposits. Make sure everyone in your party is able to handle the steep climb, and feel free to stuff your pockets with any stones in plain sight. If you are a diver, the greater part of the jade deposits are located offshore. You’ll need to research permissions and restrictions.
More Information: Jade Cove Trail
4. Gold Prospecting Adventure, Jamestown, CA
Every rockhound’s adventures should include panning for gold. There are many possible sites to pan across the country, but none have the same appeal as gold hunting in California. This particular site is about 3 hours east of San Fransisco and is great for all ages. Visitors have been experiencing the excitement of finding their own nuggets here for 40 years.
Staff in period dress are on hand to instruct and assist groups and individuals in how to choose a location and effectively use available tools to find your own treasure. Along with your search for gold, the site offers insights into the history and challenges of the California gold rush. The skills you learn here can help you be successful at other locations as you continue to add notches to your rockhound experience.
More Information: Gold Prospecting Adventure
5. Fossil Butte National Monument, Kemmerer, WY
For a well-rounded rockhound experience, you’ll want to add a variety of fossils to your collection. If you live in the western U.S., fossil sites are plentiful, including Fossil Butte, in Wyoming’s southwestern desert region. Fossils of all kinds may be found in the area–from fish to mammals to plant specimens.
Sturdy hiking shoes and sun protection are recommended. The park is open year-round but hours may vary with the seasons. Check the website for special activities for children. There is no entrance fee and pets are welcome on a leash. Also, expect cell phone reception to be intermittent in the park.
More Information: Fossil Butte National Monument
6. Rainbow Ridge Opal Mine, Virgin Valley, Nevada
There are numerous opal mines in Nevada, several of them located in the southeastern part of the state, near the Virgin River. This is rough, deserted country, so plan to take plenty of drinking water and other necessities with you, as there are few facilities. Opals are fairly rare, valuable gems. Visitors can expect to pay $100 per person to peruse the mine’s tailings, half that for kids aged 10-15.
The mine is open from the end of May to mid-September. The opals are particularly fine grade and may be either wet or dry, depending on the age of the tailings. It is recommended that you bring a container of water for storing wet stones and self-sealing baggies for dry stones. Plan to bring tools for breaking up clods and a rake. This is an adventure for dedicated rockhounds. It requires some patience, but the results can be spectacular.
As an FYI, though mining may seem costly, Virgin Valley also has free camping and other outdoor activities that may help make the investment worthwhile, especially for families. The sites are also about 70 miles from Las Vegas for a fuller vacation expedition.
More Information: Rainbow Ridge Opal Mine
7. Herkimer Diamond Mines, New York
Try your hand at mining along with a resort-style camping experience. The “diamonds” found at these ground-level mines are actually a hard, two-point clear quartz crystal. They have been given their moniker because of their diamond-like shape. The hardness of Herkimer diamonds is around 7.5 on the Moh’s scale, compared to 10 for a real diamond.
Still, the natural, eighteen-facet gems are beautiful and can be made into jewelry on site. The site also offers camping, cabins, fishing, water sports, and other family activities. This could be a great way to encourage young rockhounds to develop skills for future excavations.
More Information: Herkimer Diamond Mines
8. Spectrum Sunstone Mine, Oregon
For dedicated rockhounds looking for the unusual, Oregon’s sunstones can make a lovely addition to your collection. These colorful stones were declared a gemstone by the federal government in the ’70s, and can only be found in Oregon. The gems are clear with various color striations, including blue, red, green, and even some color-changing variations.
Some parts of the mine are open year-round, and others just a few months, so check the website to ensure you’ll be able to mine as you like. The fee is $75 for adults, free for children 12 and under. Besides sunstone, there are trilobite and Himalayan tourmaline gems to be found at the site.
More Information: Spectrum Sunstone Mine
9. Gem Mountain Sapphire Mine, Philipsburg, Montana
Gem Mountain is a great outing for children and seniors, as there is not really a lot of physical labor involved. The mine is extremely large and has been producing sapphires for around 120 years. Visitors sift through buckets of sapphire “gravel” for various quality natural stones.
Sapphires require heat treating to bring out their full color, and Gem Mountain is one of only two locations with the facilities to perform this operation, along with faceting if you desire. The site is open just four days a week. Reservations are not required but are recommended. There are very limited camping facilities. Well-behaved pets are allowed.
More Information: Gem Mountain Sapphire Mine
10. Trilobyte Me! Quarry,
Trilobites are a favorite among collectors. This site, located near Delta in western
There is free camping and several nearby hotels. Bring your own bucket, gloves, and safety glasses. You may also need protection from sun and insects, as well as plenty of hydration. Check for possible adverse weather conditions before any rock hunting expedition. Pets are welcome at this site on a leash. Trilobites and other sea fossils can be found in abundance here.
More Information: Trilobyte Me! Quarry
- The Best Locations To Find Petrified Wood
- 15 Best Fossil Dig Sites Open To The Public
- Ultimate Guide To Rockhounding Tools and Supplies
- Is It Illegal To Collect Rocks From The Side Of The Road
- Rock Collecting on Public Land