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Rockhounding In COLORADO: Rocks and Gems And Where To Find Them!

Remember! It is your responsibility to know the rockhounding laws and regulations for each site you visit. It is also your responsibility to verify and gain permission to visit each collection site that is mentioned on this website. Always respect private property!

Rockhounding In Colorado

Colorado remains an incredible state in many respects, as far as the rockhounds are concerned, it is top notch. Starting with the rich gold and silver deposits which were the starting point of so many Colorado towns, the state continues to impress with its geologic diversity. With over 770 types of minerals to be found throughout the state, it is second only to California in number of different gems and minerals statewide. 

While the state is most famous for its rich silver and gold mines, Colorado is also host to dizzying array of rocks and minerals. Some of the more high profile include: extensive dinosaur fossils, petrified wood, amazonite and smoky quartz crystals, meteorites, jasper, rhodochrosite, fluorite, and beryl crystals such as aquamarine; just to name a small selection.

Colorado can certainly be considered a rockhounder and gem hunter’s dream. The vast mountains of public lands, while daunting to some, illicit a newfound sense of exploration and discovery for others. Much of the specific site information of Colorado is kept within tight knit communities, though if you are willing to get dirty, you have good odds at discovery small honey holes of crystals, gems, and other exciting minerals across “Colorful Colorado.”

Colorado Rocks And Minerals

Now let’s take a closer look and profile some of the more interesting rocks, gems, and minerals found across the state. One of these is sure to spark your interest and sense of adventure.

-Petrified Wood-

Petrified wood, counter intuitive to its name, is actually a fossil. It is formed by the displacement of a decaying piece of wood buried beneath sediment, by percolating groundwater that replaces the organic materials with different minerals. The end result is a mineralized fossil that is representative of the original woody material, often preserving the finest details of the bark, growth rings, and cellular structure. Some are so representative that people would be fooled into thinking it is actually a piece of wood, until lifting the piece upon discovering it’s abnormally dense mass.

Petrified wood can be found in many scattered locations across the western U.S., with some of the best specimens remaining protected within Petrified Forest National Park in the neighboring state of Arizona. In Colorado, its distribution can be isolated and patchy, though we touch on a location outside of Kremmling Colorado in the next section below where you can find some yourself.

-Aquamarine-

None other than the state gemstone of the wonderful state of Colorado, this brilliant clear blue crystal can often take a bit of an adventure to find. Found primarily on a few mountain ranges in central Colorado, it brings daring prospectors to elevations up to 14,000 feet to prospect their claim during a short summer season, high above the protection of tree line. Take a look below to find a spot to go try your luck, Mt. Antero.

Aquamarine is the birthstone of March, in ancient Roman culture, they were believed to have come from the caskets of sirens, washed ashore from the depths of the sea. They were considered sacred to Neptune, Roman god of the sea. Aquamarine is also considered to be a universal symbol of youth, hope, and happiness. In Colorado, on the high mountain peaks, beautiful long blue crystals over 10 inches in length have been known to be found.

-Rhodochrosite-

Brilliant gem quality deep red Rhodochrosite is one of Colorado’s most valuable minerals. Being once a discarded byproduct by early silver miners, it has now become one of the most sought after and valuable minerals in Colorado. Specimens that contain wonderful soft pink colors often broken by concentric white bands are polish to produce desirable gemstones. The crystal formations, however, are much more rare and thus are incredibly valuable to be incorporated into jewelry most often.

Due to the valuable nature of Rhodochrosite, much of the mineral claims are privately owned and thus closed to public collecting. With a bit of local insight you may be able to turn up some areas to dig. However, if you are looking for another avenue to maybe find a piece of rhodochrosite, stay vigilant on the search for old silver mine dumps where you may be able to find some discarded rhodochrosite. Being the state mineral of “Colorful Colorado”, finding a quality piece of this beautiful gem yourself will give it an invaluable personal weight. However, many other people out there are keen on finding this rare and valuable mineral as well.

-Topaz-

Topaz is a relatively common gemstone found worldwide, maintaining it as a less expensive, though still brilliant, gemstone. Some of the largest gemstones ever cut have been large pieces of topaz. This gemstone is commonly associated with granitic or rhyolitic formations. In Colorado, the majority of the topaz has come from the Pikes Peak area, a historic gold mining region.  

Topaz can be found in a wide variety of colors. From crystal clear, to pale blue. Burnt orange to pink. Its overall larger sizes, variety of colors, and affordable price make it a popular stone on the market. However, while rough specimens are very common. Jewelry quality specimens are often more rare. Finding seems in granitic formations where other gems and crystals can be found is the best bet at finding some. Particularly in the mountains around Pikes Peak. Additionally, in the Pikes Peak area, some prospectors have luck finding specimens in creekbed cobble.

-Gold-

“There’s still gold in them hills!” Despite early miners flocking to Colorado by the tens of thousands and pulling nearly their weight out in gold, they didn’t get it all. In the late 1800’s, prospectors first struck gold along Clear Creek near Central City. With the influx of miners and prospectors into the state, it wasn’t long before the rich deposits of the San Juan Mountains were discovered, leading to the modern day towns such as Breckenridge, Creed, Telluride, Ouray, and Cripple Creek.

To this day, enthusiasts can still collect gold specimens themselves around the state, just don’t expect to strike it rich. Such an example is the South Platte River through the town of Fairplay, where for a small fee, you can pan for gold in the river and likely expect to find some gold flakes. For the adventurous, hiking the mountains of Colorado with a gold pan can incite a nostalgia of the old days and maybe turn up some specimens.

-Amazonite and Smoky Quartz-

Amazonite is a unique Colorado of limited global occurrence. It was previously obtained nearly exclusively from a single area in the granitic IImen Mountains of Russia. Though in recent decades, more high-quality crystals have continued to be turned up in Colorado, primarily from the Pike’s Peak area. Here the beautiful blue crystal formations, there shape being somewhat unique to Colorado, are found associated with Smoky Quartz Crystals in coarse granite or pegmatite.

Smoky Quartz, particularly those found in associate with Amazonite, are deep gray to black quartz crystals with proper shape and termination. The contrast of the turquoise amazonite against the depth of the black smoky quartz on a single specimen is what makes it such a desirable find.

-Fossils-

Colorado through the years has continued to produce a diversity of high quality and important fossil specimens for museums and collectors worldwide. Dinosaur fossils discovered in Colorado represent a diversity of dinosaur groups from all three periods of the Mesozoic Era.

Near Canon City, some of the oldest known vertebrate fossils have been uncovered as well.

Though Colorado has been onslaught with over a century of collecting, important fossil discoveries continue to pop up here. Insects and invertebrates are perhaps some of the most common fossils to be found in Colorado and represent the best likelihood for rockhounding enthusiasts to get out and find fossils. Places like the Florissant Fossil Quarry, which we discuss below, offers visitors a near guarantee in at least finding some sort of fossil specimen of their own.

Where To Go Rockhounding In Colorado

Despite the abundant diversity of gems, minerals, and rocks across Colorado, much of the good rockhounding exists off publication and can be kept hush hush. Additionally, much of the quality areas are under private claim. Regardless, here are a few sites to get you started rock-hounding in Colorado. Just remember, there is so much more out there if you just do a little research and exploration. But first, check out these Colorado rockhounding locations.

1. Mt. Antero

For the hardy adventurous soul in good physical condition, the are riches to be found high on the exposed slopes of Mt. Antero and neighboring peaks are amongst the world’s third highest elevation gem field. Rare Aquamarine, smoky quartz, topaz, and flourite are a few of the specimens you may encounter on these 12,000 – 14,000 foot talus slopes. The minerals are often encased in cavities and pegmatites in the granite.

Collecting here is no easy task and the season is incredibly short. Summer storms also make lighting strike on these exposed slopes an ever present threat even on bluebird days. To access this area, take the Mt. Antero Road, which slow due to the extremely rough road and many extreme switchbacks. It should be attempted only in a high clearance, 4WD vehicle. Making this trip and climbing to the summit in a day leaves little time for collecting. Plan on an early start.  Carry emergency supplies and proper clothing. Sudden, dramatic weather changes and thunderstorms are common. Get off the summit in the event of a storm. Collecting on Mt. Antero is for the brave, fit, and hardy.

2. Florissant Fossil Quarry

For those looking for the excitement and satisfaction of splitting open shale rock to reveal any number of interesting insects, invertebrates, or plants; preserved beautifully upon flat rock frames, check out the town of Florissant. While there is some chance of public lands collecting in the area, most people end up at the inexpensive Florissant Fossil Quarry to dig and split shale.

For a small fee, collectors have access to a certain amount of material to process for fossils. The overwhelming majority within this formation are plant-related fossils, though insect fossil discoveries are always in the prospects. If you are in the area and want to see more interesting stuff, try visiting the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument to see some even cooler finds. Just leave your rock pick in the vehicle.

3. Lake George Amazonite and Smoky Quartz

Though much of the good prospecting in this area is on private property or on current mining claims, the adjacent National Forests can be a spot for rock-hounders to find Amazonite and Smoky Quartz among other minerals and crystals. Pegamite, a gem bearing granitic formation, is an associated rock you will want to keep an eye out for. Excavating sites of proper soil and rock composition will be your best bet, so get into the weeds and do some research.

4. River Gold Panning

Despite millions of ounces of gold being pulled from the rivers, streams, and mountainsides of Colorado; the vast majority of gold is still locked deep in hard rock deposits or diffuse in the form of fine gold dust and flakes throughout the flowing waters of the state. Gold detecting metal detectors that are extra sensitive are a commonly used method for gold prospectors in Colorado.

Careful panning technique in some of the flowing water around the state can be a good method for getting your eyes locked on some shiny gold flakes. Some newer equipment allows prospectors to retain even fine specimens of gold. Try concentrating your sampling efforts on tight inside bends where the eddy effect may allow for more gold to build up over time. Also try taking soil/rock samples from cracks or hidden depressions in bedrock. If you want to try your hand at some gold panning, check out some of these creeks and rivers around the state.

  • Animas River near Durango
  • Plata River
  • Uncomphagre River near Ouray
  • South Platte River near Fairplay

5. Kremmling Petrified Wood

East of the town of Kremmling, enthusiasts have access and regulated collection of petrified wood on BLM managed public lands. A few miles north on County Road 2 accessed via Hwy 40. The areas on the east side of County Road two are the public access BLM owned lands open to collection. Nicknamed the Badlands of Colorado, thousands of years of erosion have reduced the colorful sandstone formations to rolling grassy hills. In this area, the best bet is to simply walk around and look for surface exposed pieces of petrified wood on chalky sandy soils. Having a pick or small shovel handy will help to get down to a larger piece of you happen to find one.

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Gem Trails Of Colorado

While the internet is a fantastic resource to access information on rockhounding Colorado and network with fellow enthusiasts, it’s hard to beat the convenience, reliability, and knowledge associated with an in depth guide book. Particularly in Colorado, where much of the information on specific sites remains hush hush.

For activities that end up bringing you out to the remote reaches of the lands (like rockhounding) having a guide book along chocked full of information has the potential to save you a lot of hassle.

If you are going to be spending time exploring the rocks, gems, and minerals of Utah; consider a good book guide like Gem Trails Of Colorado

This updated and expanded comprehensive users guide to finding different rockhounding sites across the state includes pertinent information like driving directions, access specifics, seasons, regulations, and specific methods to help improve your rockhounding adventures at each site. Now featuring over 90 locations (with 27 new sites) where collectors can explore, the beautifully assembled guide is hard to beat for a state as diverse and treasure-filled as Colorado. Somewhere in your bag of rocks and equipment, be sure to have a proper print guide along with you. This indispensable guide features:

  • Clear maps and directions
  • Detailed descriptive text
  • Numerous site photos
  • A full-color specimen photo insert
  • Safety tips and Collecting guidelines
  • Lists of rock and mineral clubs
  • Mineral museums and mine tours
  • A mineral locator index and glossary

From dilapidated abandoned mines to roadcuts along old travel routes, from remote mountain top collecting areas to pay-to-dig locations with modern facilities, there is something in Colorado for the amateur and experienced rockhounder alike.

Final Thoughts

For the adventurous rock-hounder, the mountains and plains of Colorado are still a place ripe with the smell of discovery. It is easy to see that this state is host to a staggering and diverse array of gems, minerals, and fossils that make it such a fantastic destination for rock enthusiasts and commercial mining operations.

While this guide should give you a good idea on how to start rock-hounding the beautiful state of Colorado, the real devil is in the details. If you want to be successful in finding some of the rarer and more desired specimens, such as gems and crystals, you are going to have to do your homework.

Research organizations such as the U.S. Geologic Survey and other science based agencies with an interest in geology often publish detailed geologic and soil maps which can pay dividends in discovering your own secret honey-hole. Even still, for the slightly less adventurous, many easy access and pay-to-dig sites offer users of all types an opportunity. Good luck out there and stay safe in the wild and beautiful lands of Colorado.

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