Fossil Hunting Oregon
From the Coast Range, across the Willamette Valley and over the Cascades to the high desert of Central and Eastern Oregon, there are endless opportunities for digging fossils in Oregon.
The reason I wanted to put this article together is to list some of the best places across Oregon where you can find your own fossils.
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Types of Fossils You’ll Find in Oregon
There’s a wide variety of different types of fossils that can be found in Oregon depending on the location you’ll be digging in.
By far, the most common type of fossil you’ll come across is petrified wood. In addition, you’ll also find many fossilized species of invertebrate. Rarely, you might even come across larger animal and vertebrate fossils. Much like the ancient bison skeleton that was excavated just behind the Woodburn Highschool!
The Rules and Regulations: Your Responsibility
Just like in most parts of the United States, there are many rules and regulations when it comes to digging and keeping your own fossils. The same holds true in Oregon as well. Even thought most of these regulations pertain to public lands across the state and have to do with the quantity and types of fossils you can keep for yourself, it’s ultimately your responsibility to make sure you are up to date with any rules that pertain to a particular fossil dig site you decide to visit.
For more information on Oregon Rules and Regulations on fossil digging, you can go to the North American Research Group website.
5 Places To Dig Your Own Fossils In Oregon
Here’s a list of what I’ve found to be the best places in Oregon for fossil hunting. Some of these locations are located on public lands and are free for you to enjoy. While other sites are on private lands and may charge a fee for you to enter the property to dig. I’ll try to include a link for more information on each location.
1. Moolak Beach/ Beverly Beach
Many people who think about visiting Oregon think about the rugged Oregon coast. That’s a good thing if you love fossils, because these beaches are absolutely loaded with them.
Most of what you’ll find here are fossils of clams, snails and other invertebrates. Be sure to look along the cliff walls that line the beaches. Here you’ll find many imprint fossils of ancient clam shells.
2. Willamette River and Tributaries
One of my favorite places to hunt fossils in Oregon is along the gravel bars in the Willamette River. But not just the Willamette. I’ve had excellent success at finding fossils in most of the Willamette River tributaries.
The types of fossils you can expect to find in these locations are fossilized wood, or petrified wood. My summer time canoe trips have always produced a large selection of petrified wood.
Tip: If possible, wade out or take a boat over to the gravel islands that can be found all along these rivers. Not many people ever go on these islands which mean more fossils for you! You’ll also find a lot, and I mean A LOT, of agates, jasper and other cool rocks.
3. The Town of Fossil
There’s a reason the people of this town named it as such. Yep, you guessed it. There are many fossils to be found here. And not just that, but there are many different places to hunt for fossils here.
The best place, and only place I’ve personally looked for fossils in Fossil, OR is directly behind Wheeler High School. Fossil is a tiny town, so the High School will be very easy to find.
During the peak months, there are volunteers who are more than happy to answer any and all of your questions. If asked, they could probably even pass along information to other good dig sites in the area.
What you’ll find here are mostly leaf imprint type fossils of different types of leaves. The most common are fossils of the ancient coniferous tree called a metasequoia.
For more info, check out the Oregon Paleo Lands Institute website.
4. The Nehalem River
I’ve been told by quite a few fossil hunters that the Nehalem River has been the best location for finding fossils that they’ve ever been to. This is because as the ancient ocean that covered the area receded, much of the ancient marine life naturally collected in the Nehalem River area.
Your best bet for finding fossils along this river are near the towns of Jewell and Vernonia. However, many of the accessible areas around these towns have been over picked. So you may want to take a look on a map and see if you can find logging roads that will take you away from more populated spots. There are still lots of fossils to be found here.
5. Delintment Lake Area
If ammonite Fossils are on your to do list, then you’re going to want to take a trip out to the Delintment Lake Area. This spot is way out of the way and off the beaten path. As one fossil hunter put it, “there are way more cows here than people.”
You’ll want to explore the roads in the area and keep a look out for road side cutouts. At the time I’m writing this, fossils are legal to keep when found in roadside cutouts.
Not all the fossils you find here will be small. There are many reports from fossils hounds that have visited there that very large ammonite specimens have been found. So be careful when cracking open those rocks to look for fossils!