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Rockhounding In Oregon | A Guide To One Of The Best States For Rockhounding

I might be a little bit biased when I say that Oregon is one of the best locations in the world to go rockhounding in. That’s because Oregon is my home state. I was born in Oregon and I’ve spent many decades traveling all over the state and have experienced many of the incredible things that Oregon has to offer; including rockhounding.

I’ve put together rockhounding guides for other states, but it recently dawned on me that I’ve never taken the time to put together a rockhounding guide for Oregon. Shameful, I know!

Why Oregon Is Such a Great State For Rock Collecting

When it comes to variety in rocks, minerals and gemstones that can be found, Oregon ranks as one of the top. With Oregon’s rich history of ancient volcanic activity, ancient floods and diversity of terrain and climates, the state is an absolute playground for rockhounds.

Combine that with the fact that 53% of Oregon is public land and you have the perfect rockhounding destination.

From ocean tumbled agates on seemingly endless beaches to thundereggs found in the high desert and unique “only found in Oregon” finds like Holley Blue Agate, there are countless rocks, minerals and fossils waiting to be discovered for rockhounds of all levels.

What Types of Rocks and Minerals Can Be Found In Oregon?

The rocks and minerals listed below are some of the more popular ones that can be found in Oregon. There are so many more I could list, but there are books available that cover that information. This list of minerals in no way represents the overall amount of minerals that can be found in the state.

1. Agates

carnelian agate
Carnelian agate found in Oregon

Traditionally, agate referred to banded varieties of chalcedony. These days it’s used for any stones with inclusions that are comprised primarily of transparent chalcedony. There’s often times heated debate about the actual definition of agate among rockhounds, but for the purpose of this article, I’ll be referring to the latter definition of agate being any stone comprised primarily of transparent chalcedony.

The state of Oregon is an excellent location for the discovery of these magnificent minerals. And even though you can find agates pretty much anywhere in the state, the most popular places to look for agates in Oregon are along the nearly 300 miles of coastline, including Agate Beach at Newport; in many of the streams draining the Western Cascade; close to the town of Antelope and around Prineville in central Oregon; close to Hart Mountain and Lakeview in south-central Oregon; and at Succor Creek in southeastern Oregon.

2. Jasper

Despite the fact that jasper and agate both belong to the chalcedony family, jasper is frequently sought after on its own as a separate type of gemstone. In addition, just like the numerous other types of chalcedony, jasper is abundantly available for collectors of rocks in the state of Oregon.

And while there are many different kinds of jasper in Oregon, the most popular types of jasper in the state are Biggs jasper, Deschutes jasper and Owyhee Jasper. Each of these are known for their unique appearance when cut and polished.

Again, jasper can be found all over the state, but I often will find lots of jasper when searching for agates. And for me, the best place to find jasper in quantity is in the Willamette Valley. Specifically on the gravel bars of the Willamette River and its many tributaries.

3. Oregon Sunstone

Oregon sunstone

The Oregon Sunstone is a relatively rare stone that can only be found in the state of Oregon. They frequently exhibit color zoning within the same crystal, which enables them to display multiple colors. To make matters even more interesting, some of these stones have the ability to alter their color depending on the direction in which light enters the crystal.

The likes of John Dyer, one of the most skilled artists in the world, was responsible for cutting these crystals. The end product is a gem of unparalleled quality that can only be discovered in a specific region of Oregon.

4. Obsidian

Arrowheads made out of obsidian
Obsidian found in Oregon

The volcanic glass known as obsidian is technically classified as a rock rather than a mineral. The Glass Buttes in Lake County, Oregon, are without a doubt the best location in the state to look for obsidian.

Obsidian in its many forms can be found in very large quantities at the Glass Buttes site. Because there is so much obsidian in this area, the only thing that needs to be done is to exit your vehicle, then get on your hands and knees and pick it up. The region around Dendrite Butte is yet another excellent option for obsidian hunting.

5. Thundereggs

thundereggs
Thundereggs from Oregon

Thundereggs are Oregon’s state rock. And for good reason! Incredibly plain looking on the outside, when cut open and polished, thundereggs reveal exquisite designs in a wide variety of colors.

Thundereggs can range in diameter from less than one inch to over four feet, while golf ball sized thundereggs seem to be the most common size found. 

Thundereggs can be collected at fee and free sites in central and southeastern Oregon. Be sure to look in Crook, Jefferson, Malheur, Wasco and Wheeler counties.

6. Petrified Wood

My favorite thing to do is search for petrified wood. It’s probably one of my top choices when rockhounding. These ancient fossilized remnants of wood can be found scattered across the entire state. Of course, there are some locations that are far superior to others. But in general, the western side of the state provides the best opportunities for the discovery of petrified wood.

In addition to pay to dig sites, there are plenty of areas you can search for petrified wood that won’t cost you a cent. Without question, the best place to find petrified wood in Oregon is in the same areas that I recommend looking for agates and jasper. Mixed among the other rocks in the gravel bars in the numerous rivers and streams of the cascades and Willamette Valley are excellent quality specimens of petrified wood.

7. Opal

In my opinion, opal is one of the most beautiful gemstones that can be found in Oregon. Oregon produces a variety of types of opal which can be found by the most determined rock collectors. Some of the varieties located in the state include, but not limited to blue, dendritic, crystal, hyalite and rainbow.

To find opal in Oregon, the central part of the state will be your best bet and where you’ll want to focus most of your efforts.

The most popular destination in Oregon for opal collectors is Opal Butte in Morrow County. This site is known for its production of common colored hyaline opal.

8. Quartz

how to find quartz crystals rockhounding in oregon

Quartz is the macrocrystalline form of silica, made up of six-sided crystals with a pyramidal termination. This iconic crystal has long left the hands of only those who collect stones and the crystal points are a common find in all sorts of shops, not just those that sell rocks. Quartz has fascinated humanity since ancient times. It must have been a truly odd material to find in the time before glass was common.

If looking for a location to collect quartz, consider exploring the Quartzville Creek area. According to OregonDiscover.com, “Quartzville Creek is known for its quartz deposits. Also, collectors can find agates, jasper, petrified wood, and gold nuggets along 9-mile of the recreation corridor. Recreational mining guidelines are available in BLM, Salem District. There are private claims in the area, be careful not to trespass.”

9. Placer Gold

gold

Placer gold is a type of secondary gold deposit that can be found in areas where erosion has occurred. The fact that much of the world’s gold is bound up in substances like quartz and is frequently found in inaccessible areas makes gold mining fairly difficult. However, the erosion of these veins is what leads to the formation of placer gold, which can be discovered in the form of flakes and small nuggets in creeks and streams all over the world.

All it takes is a gold pan and determination to find placer gold in Oregon.  There’s a surprising amount of different locations to find gold in Oregon, with some significantly better than others.

10. Fossils

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.

It’s very important that you become familiar with the local rules and regulations regarding fossil collecting in Oregon before you set out on any trips.

Where Are The Best Places To Go Rockhounding In Oregon?

where to go rockhounding in oregon

Wanting to know what the best places to go rockhounding in Oregon is the million dollar question, right? As you can imagine, the answer is not a quick and easy one. But I’ll do my best to help narrow down some good places to check out.

This is in no way a comprehensive list. It’s just the opposite. This is simply a very light scratching of the surface of where to go around the state.

Of course, it is always your responsibility to verify that any of these locations are open to the public, not on private land and even accessible.

Glass Butte

  • Obsidian

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 Glass Butte, Oregon is a must visit rockhounding location.

Glass Butte is the only large deposit of obsidian in the state where collecting of material is allowed.

Oregon Beaches

  • Agates
  • Jasper
  • Hag stones
  • Petrified Wood
  • Seashells
  • Glass Floats

The nearly 300 miles of beaches in Oregon are excellent places to find agates, jasper, hag stones, petrified wood and even fossils. The list of interesting things to find doesn’t end there either.  You can discover other collectible items on the beach such as glass balls or glass floats, beautiful and unique driftwood and of course, seashells.  But there’s nothing better than finding a large agate or a piece of naturally tumbled petrified wood that’s been polished by nature herself!

And the good news is that all beaches in Oregon are public land, meaning you have access to every single inch of them!

The Willamette River and Its Tributaries

  • Agates
  • Jasper
  • Quartz
  • Petrified Wood
chalcedony
All found in the Willamette River

In my opinion, the Willamette River and all of its tributaries are by far the easiest locations in Oregon for rockhounding. The Willamette River is my top secret destination for locating large numbers of agates, jasper, petrified wood and many other rocks and minerals. Every year we spend several days canoeing down the Willamette River.  And every year, we come home with pockets crammed full of large beautiful stones.

The Willamette river is a 300 mile long river that begins its path high up in the cascade mountains southeast of Eugene.  The river winds its way through forests, farmland and cities before joining the Columbia River in Portland.  

If you’re looking for a way to quickly fill your rock tumbler with a variety of different types of stones, this river, and the many other rivers across the state are going to be an excellent destination.

Central Oregon

  • Thundereggs
  • Agate
  • Jasper
what is a thunderegg vs geode
Thunderegg from central Oregon

To find the state rock of Oregon, many free sites along with some pay-to-dig sites exist most densely in the central and southeastern regions of the state. Some of the pay-to-dig sites on private lands hold the highest quality and most coveted thundereggs.

A quick internet search should yield many different ranches that allow thundereggs to be dug and collected for a small fee. For novice collectors, this can often be the best way to get into finding these unique rock formations in the state best known for them.

In central Oregon in Crook County, the Ochoco National Forest is a favorite area among rock collectors to look for thundereggs. Northeast of the town of Bend, there are several collection sites on this National Forest; some being private pay-to-dig sites, but also a few free public land sites.

Plush, Oregon

  • Oregon Sunstone

Oregon Sunstone is a plagioclase feldspar variant. While ordinary sunstone occurs in large masses, Oregon Sunstone is generally found as large single crystals. These crystals have a wide variance in color, but they all share a schiller effect similar to labradorite. The end result is a world-class gem, always found in only one part of Oregon.

While some of the best locations to hunt for Oregon sunstone are on private property, there are a number of locations that are open to the public for a fee.

Some pay to dig sites worth checking out are:

Oregon Sunstone Public Collection Area

In addition to these private dig sites, Oregon also has a public sunstone collection area.

The Oregon Sunstone Public Collection Area allows visitors to enjoy collecting these rare and beautiful gems in their natural setting. Located in the remote Rabbit Basin, the Oregon Sunstone Public Collection Area is in the high desert habitat of sagebrush and open spaces of south-central Oregon.

For more information about this public sunstone collecting site and to see maps of the area, visit the Oregon Sunstone Public Collection Area website.

Fossil, Oregon

  • Fossils

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.

Is It Illegal To Take Rocks From a River in Oregon?

o

The majority of rock and mineral collecting sites are lying on the federal lands managed by BLM (Bureau of Land Management) or U.S. Forest Service.

The U.S. Forest Service limits amounts of specimens up to 10 pounds. Some lands within the National Forest are closed for collecting due to wilderness designation.

The BLM (Oregon & Washington) no-fee daily collecting limits of rocks and minerals including semiprecious gemstones, mineral specimens, and common invertebrate fossils in reasonable amounts for personal use. Petrified wood can be collected for personal use — up to 25 pounds each day, plus one piece, but no more than 250 pounds in any calendar year.

Collection does not occur in developed recreation sites or areas, unless designated as a rockhounding area by BLM.

The collection of agates on the beaches is limited to one gallon per day and three gallons per year.

Rockhounding is restricted in Wilderness Area to the surface collection only.

Items May Not Be Collected

  • Vertebrate fossils (dinosaurs bones, fish, – anything with a backbone), and shark teeth
  • Any material remains of prehistoric or historic human life or activities
  • Projectile points include ‘arrowheads’ and pottery

Is It Illegal To Collect Obsidian In Oregon?

Obsidian is found across the region, but there are some areas where it’s not allowed to be collected. Its important to know which places those are. Instead, you may want to simply try heading out to Glass Butte, which hosts a wide array of different varieties and allows public collection.

Still Want More Information About Rockhounding In Oregon?

If you’d like to learn more about many of the rockhounding opportunities across the state of Oregon, check out some of my other articles:

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