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Glass Butte: The Best Place To Find Obsidian In Oregon

Glass Butte: An Oregon Obsidian Paradise

visitor guide to glass butte oregon

If you’re looking for a place where reaching down and picking up fist sized chunks of obsidian is as easy as picking up apples off the ground in the fall, then you MUST visit Glass Butte, Oregon.

This is where the roads literally glisten with obsidian, easily making it one of the best rockhounding locations in the Pacific Northwest and one of the largest and most diverse deposits of obsidian in the world!

Not only is Glass Butte one of the regions most popular destination for obsidian hunters, but it also happens to be the only large deposit of obsidian in the State of Oregon where you can legally collect obsidian. And when I say collect it...I mean you’re allowed to take home a lot of it! And you don’t even need to hike very far to get it...you can just pick it up off the ground where you park!

So if you’re interested in finding Obsidian in Oregon, and want to learn more about where to find it and where to collect it on your own...then keep on reading.  I’ll tell you everything you need to know about this Oregon obsidian destination known as Glass Butte.

Recommended Reading

The History Of Glass Butte, Oregon

Volcanic Formation

Around 5 million years ago, there was a lot of volcanic activity in Oregon. You can see evidence of this by simply looking at the Cascade Mountain Range as well as all of the unique geological formations in the central part of the state.

During this time of volcanic activity, three different layers from three separate lava flows formed what we know as Glass Buttes.  And as magma flowed in this area, it cooled very rapidly. The result of this rapidly cooled, silica rich magma was obsidian.

And what we see today are the remnants of the ancient silicic volcanoes that have slowly been worn down by erosion over the millenia.

Glass Butte And Native Americans

You’ve probably heard that obsidian was very important to Native Americans. For thousands of years they used obsidian from the Glass Buttes area to make arrowheads, spear points and other cutting tools.

Because obsidian makes such great tools and is so versatile, it quickly became very important for trade with other Native Americans.

As a matter of fact, Indian artifacts made out of obsidian from the Glass Buttes deposit have been found  all over the Pacific Northwest and as far East as Ohio!

Glass Butte Today

Over the years, homesteaders and miners have staked claim to many areas around Glass Butte. However, nowadays most of the land surrounding Glass Butte, Oregon is owned by the Federal Government and is maintained by the Department Of Interior’s Bureau Of Land Management (BLM).

What’s great for us is that today the Federal Government has set aside 36 square miles of the Glass Butte area aside as a free-to-use rockhounding site! And Glass Butte is the only area in the entire state where you can legally collect and keep obsidian.

How Much Obsidian Are You Allowed To Take From Glass Butte?

I know for a lot of obsidian enthusiasts, flintknappers and rockhounds...knowing how much obsidian you’re allowed to keep is the burning question.

There’s so much obsidian in the 36 square miles that’s been set aside for the public, that the Federal Government allows you to collect and keep up to 25 lbs of obsidian every day!  You should know, however, that they have set a maximum annual limit of 250 lbs of obsidian you’re allowed to take home with you.

That’s a lot of obsidian!  If you were to make your way all the way out to the Glass Butte Obsidian deposit once every month, you could take nearly 21 lbs of it with you on each trip.

What Kind Of Obsidian You’ll Find At Glass Butte

There are many different types of obsidian you can find at Glass Butte.  However, the most common type of obsidian you’ll come across are black and banded obsidian. Below is a list of every type of obsidian that you could come across during your time at Glass Butte:

  • Jet Black
  • Banded
  • Brown
  • Green
  • Red Fire
  • Mahogany
  • Rainbow
  • Pumpkin
  • Midnight Lace
  • Gold Sheen
  • Silver Sheen
  • Several Double Flow Varieties

Glass Butte Obsidian

Where Is Glass Butte Oregon And How To Get There

Glass Butte, Oregon is located pretty far out of the way.  But it doesn’t mean that it’s difficult to get to. With just a little bit of planning, you can be on your way!

Please note that Glass Butte is a remote area, and the road can be rough during certain times of the year, so a 4-wheel drive vehicle with high clearance should probably be used.

Directions To Glass Butte, Oregon

From Bend, take Hwy 20 approximately 77 miles East.  Before you reach milepost 77, start looking for a dirt road on your right side. There should be a small brown sign on the South side of the road that will tell you where to turn.  Follow that dirt road South for approximately 2 miles.

You’ll end up in a large parking area. You’ll also notice fairly primitive camping sites around the area since camping is permitted.

From this parking area, you can simply just walk out into the Glass Buttes rockhounding area.  

Camping Site At Glass Butte

Other Locations In Oregon To Find Obsidian

There are other locations around the state of Oregon where Obsidian can be found. But none of these sites permit you to collect and keep the obsidian.  

One of the most popular of these obsidian sites is the Big Obsidian Flow.

Paulina Lake, East Lake and Big Obsidian Flow

Big Obsidian Flow

The Big Obsidian Flow, which is located in the Deschutes National Forest, is the youngest lava flow in Oregon at only 1300 years old and covers nearly one square mile.

This lava flow was the final stage of a much larger eruption, and as this last bit of magma made its way to the surface, it quickly cooled and formed this massive obsidian flow of obsidian.

There is a mile long trail at this location that is not only educational, but mind blowing as you’re able to truly grasp the enormity of this obsidian flow.

Here is a direct link to the Big Obsidian Flow Trailhead and Interpretive Website.

What Is Obsidian And How Is It Formed?

Geology.com defines obsidian as, “... an igneous rock that forms when molten rock material cools so rapidly that the atoms that make up the magma are unable to arrange themselves into a crystalline structure. It is an amorphous material known as a "mineraloid." The result is a volcanic glass with a smooth uniform texture that breaks with a conchoidal fracture.”

And…”Most obsidians have a composition similar to rhyolite and granite. Granites and rhyolites can form from the same magma as obsidian and are often geographically associated with the obsidian.”

Final Thoughts

Oregon has a lot to offer...and Glass Butte is one of the many incredible Oregon rockhounding locations that exist.

So, iff you’re ever in the central Oregon area, and you’re a rockhound, then you MUST make time to visit Glass Butte, Oregon.  It’s like something you’ll never experience again.

And if you’ve been to the Glass Butte area, and have additional tips that you’d like to share, just leave a comment below, or send me a message.  

Looking For More Info?...

If you want to find out more about the Glass Butte rockhounding area, and many other Oregon rockhounding destinations, then there are two books I highly recommend you consider taking a look at. They are Roadside Geology of Oregon by Marli B. Miller and Rockhounding Oregon by Lars Johnson. Both of these books are available on Amazon.

If you plan on spending any time at all driving around Oregon, then this is a great book to take along with you. It’s easy to read and easy to follow.

It includes a whole lot of maps and descriptions explaining how the landscapes you’re driving through came into being.

Roadside Geology Of Oregon is written in such a way that all levels of rockhounds will be able to understand what the author is talking about.

The book contains many color pictures of interesting sites and formations. And not just that, but the author points out what it is you’re supposed to look for in the picture.

So be sure to grab a copy of this book for your next road trip through Oregon!

Maps, pictures, rock collecting sites and descriptions of each site...explained to you in depth.  If those are some of the things you want in a rockhounding book (and they should be!) then Rockhounding Oregon is for you.

Rockhounding Oregon is the other book that I recommend because it is crammed packed with information on over 100 rockhounding destinations across Oregon.

The GPS coordinates as well as the directions that are provided for each collection site in the are spot on. This is especially helpful when you’re adventuring in hard to find and out of the way rockhounding sites.

If Oregon is on your list to explore this year, you’ll be very glad you grabbed a copy of this book.