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
Starting with the rich gold and silver deposits which were the starting point of so many Colorado towns, the Centennial State. With over 770 types of minerals to be found, it’s second only to California in the number of different gems and minerals statewide.
Colorado is also host to a dizzying array of rocks and minerals. Some of the more high profile include dinosaur fossils, petrified wood, amazonite, flourite, and even aquamarine.
Colorado can certainly be considered a rockhound 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.
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.
1. Petrified Wood
Petrified wood is actually a fossil. It’s formed by the displacement of a wood buried under sediment. The replacement occurs by percolating groundwater that replaces the organic materials with silica.
Petrified wood comes in the usual varieties of amorphous silica, usually forming as a jasper or agate material. Some rarer specimens are replaced with opal due to higher moisture levels.
The end result is a mineralized fossil that’s known as a limb cast These often preserve the finest details of the bark, growth rings, and cellular structure.
You wouldn’t be amiss for thinking they’re an actual piece of wood. At least until you noticed the abnormal weight.
Petrified wood can be found in many scattered locations across the western U.S. In Colorado, its distribution is far-flung for the most part. Fortunately, there are good spots outside of Kremmling that we’ll detail below.
The state gemstone of the wonderful state of Colorado, this brilliant clear blue crystal can often take a bit of an adventure to find.
It’s found primarily in a few mountain ranges in central Colorado. There, daring prospectors can rise to elevations up to 14,000 feet to prospect their claim during the short summer season, just above the protection of tree line.
Mount Antero is the center of aquamarine collecting in Colorado. The 10th highest peak in the US boasts an incredible amount of minerals, high above where normal hikers tend to spend their time.
In a sad twist, Mount Antero is covered in mining claims these days. You’ll have to either know someone or find one of the unclaimed areas to get your own specimens.
Brilliant, gem-quality Rhodochrosite is one of Colorado’s most valuable minerals.
Once a discarded byproduct by an early silver mine, it has now become highly sought after. For many rockhounds, rhodochrosite is known for its deep red, pink, and white bands. There’s more to the mineral than that, however.
Rhodocrosite, on rare occasions, forms pink gemstones with high clarity. It’s a little bit soft for rings, but it works well in most other types of jewelry. The rarer material is what most people are looking for in Colorado.
Most of the mineral lies in claims, unfortunately. Your best bet is to find the tailings of old silver mines, but be aware that not all of these areas are safe. It can be a daring adventure, but it’s one you should undertake with both caution and the knowledge that you may not find what you’re looking for at all.
In Colorado, the majority of the topaz has come from the Pikes Peak area, a historic gold mining region. It’s also found on the slopes of mountain gem fields, such as those on Mount Antero.
Like aquamarine, topaz has a lot of commercial potential and the good spots are mostly wrapped up in claims. Some of the groups and families that own these allow rockhound clubs onto the property, but there are no guarantees.
For the most part, Topaz in Colorado seems to be found in granite formations. Topaz is a “common” gemstone, but it’s not a very common find outside of the commercial claims.
Pike’s Peak is another place where topaz can sometimes be found. While not common, it’s still worth a trip just to enjoy the mountains. Well, and the other minerals scattered about!
“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 1800s, 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 creation of 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. For paid digs, the South Platte River runs through the town of Fairplay.
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. That said, it’s also not going to make you rich.
Amazonite is a blue-green formation of microcline, with some of the higher-quality samples being used in jewelry. In any case, it was originally discovered in Brazil, hence the name.
The area around Pike’s Peak seems to be the hotspot to find the stone in Colorado, but it’s found in many places across the state. Its distinctive look makes it hard to miss when you’re on the hunt for it in the wild.
Not all Amazonite is jewelry-quality, but even the “worst” sample is going to make a vibrant, colorful part of your collection.
Due to its location, it’s often found alongside other gemstones in Colorado.
6. Smoky Quartz
Smoky Quartz is often found alongside Amazonite in Colorado. Including in the area around Pike’s Peak, making it another target for many rockhounds.
Smoky Quartz is grey-to-brown colored quartz, often with high clarity. While not the rarest gemstone around, it’s certainly a great specimen and some of the formations that come out of the mountains in Colorado are very impressive.
Smoky Quartz even occurs right alongside Amazonite in some places, leading to dramatic specimens that bear the full colors of both.
You may not dig one of those up, but there’s a reason that Pikes Peak dominates the rockhounding landscape in Colorado!
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. Unfortunately, US law doesn’t let you take home vertebrate fossils from public land, you’ll have to report them instead if you do make a find.
Fortunately, the same laws don’t ban you from the wide array of simpler fossils that can be found.
Places like the Florissant Fossil Quarry offer visitors a near guarantee in at least finding some sort of fossil specimen of their own. You can even order some shale from the location and crack it at home, in case making a trip out isn’t in the cards.
Where To Go Rockhounding In Colorado
Despite the abundant diversity of gems, minerals, and rocks across Colorado, a lot of good rockhounding exists outside publication and can be kept hush-hush.
You’ll also have to deal with the fact that a lot of public land is covered under mining claims. Just finding out where you can legally grab some stones can be a headache for the budding rockhound.
The following are just a few of the great areas to go for a mineral hunt in the state.
1. Mount 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 the world’s third-highest elevation gem field.
Rare aquamarine, smoky quartz, topaz, and fluorite are just 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, so a rock pick and a hammer should be in your pack.
Mount Antero isn’t an easy climb, and most vehicles aren’t going to cut it to make it up. This is a full-blown adventure, which is great but it also means a lot of planning on your end. In previous years, the remoteness of the mountain made it a wonderful spot for rockhounds.
Unfortunately, mining claims and thousands of people picking at the easy stuff over the years make it a bit harder to mine above the treeline than it should be. Add in the short summer season where you can reach the gem fields… it may not be worth it for the average rockhound.
On the other hand, if you’re willing to buckle down and learn whatever you need to then you’ll find that Mount Antero is an awesome adventure. Just be aware that it’s going to take even more planning than most rockhounding adventures.
2. Florissant Fossil Quarry
For those looking for the excitement and satisfaction of splitting open shale rock to reveal fossils, 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. It’s just more convenient for the most part.
The overwhelming majority within this formation are plant-related fossils, though insect fossil discoveries are also common.
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, since you won’t be digging here.
3. Lake George
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 rockhounds to find Amazonite and Smoky Quartz.
Sometimes occurring alongside white albite, these gemstones are highly sought after by mineral collectors. Turns out Mother Nature made, and buried, some really impressive display pieces in the area!
Pegamite, a gem-bearing granitic formation, is what you’ll be looking for. These formations often house what you’re looking for, but finding them isn’t easy. Breaking into one and finding a pocket of minerals is an incredible experience, however.
This area requires a little bit more knowledge of geology than most, but if you’re willing to learn it’s an incredible spot for the hunt.
4. Pikes Peak
Pikes Peak is one of the prime areas for rock collecting in Colorado, and one of the few that’s also famous outside of the state. There have been books written just on the unique geology of the area, and the many minerals that can be found in the mountains here.
The area has tons of hunting spots, but the majority of the stones are similar. You’ll be seeing topaz, amazonite, and smoky quartz in the majority of hunting spots in the area. There are actually four areas just for those within a few miles of the peak itself.
Pikes Peak is a bucket list location for many rockhounds. Don’t miss it if you decide that you’re going to go rockhounding in this state!
5. Kremmling Petrified Wood
East of the town of Kremmling, enthusiasts have access to regulated collection of petrified wood on BLM-managed lands. A few miles north on County Road 2 accessed via Highway 40.
The areas on the east side of County Road two are the public access BLM-owned lands open to specimen collection.
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.
A rock pick or folding shovel is a great idea. Sometimes it can be hard to remove limb casts from the ground by hand, even when they’re partially exposed.
You May Also Like…
- 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
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 guidebook.
For activities that end up bringing you out to the remote reaches of the lands (like rockhounding) having a guidebook along 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 Colorado; consider a guide
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.
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 rockhound alike.