Southern California is a treasure trove for rock hounds and amateur geologists. Deserts, coastal lines, beaches, and forests are all a short trip away, making it one of the best places for such activities.
With over 50 different rockhounding locations, you’re guaranteed to find an area or two that best suit your interests. In this article, we’ve listed some of the rockhounding locations of Southern California, including the types of minerals that can be found in each. Let’s start hunting!
Rockhounding In Southern California
1. Afton Canyon
Known for its dramatic geological formations, the Afton Canyon, also known as “The Grand Canyon of the Mojave”, is the only location in Southern California where the Mojave River flows year-round above ground.
As a result, a wide number of wildlife species inhabit the desert. When you explore the canyon west of the small town of Afton, you’re likely to find varieties of agates and jaspers in several different colors. You’ll also find multiple fluorite deposits, along with multi-colored agate, saginite, opalite, bubbly chalcedony, and calcite.
If you’re planning to go rockhounding in Afton Canyon, we recommend scheduling it during fall, winter, or spring, as summers in the canyon can be unbearably hot, ranging from 100 to 120 degrees F. Poisonous snakes are also quite common in the area, as well, so be on the lookout and keep your eyes peeled.
You’ll find food, fuel, and other necessities in Baker and Barstow, so be sure to pass by for the occasional reload. Cellular phone service is not the best, especially when you’re deep in the canyon, so always bring a companion with you while rockhounding in this area.
2. Wiley’s Well
Ever since the discovery of geode beds in the early 1930s, Wiley’s Well became one of the most popular rockhounding sites in Southern California.
Occupying the northeastern part of the Colorado Desert, Wiley’s Well is home to the famous Potato Patch and Opal Hill Mine, both of which are known for their outstanding collection of thundereggs and fire agate.
Wiley’s Well is likewise rich with rhyolite, jasper, chalcedony, citrine, and a number of colorful quartz crystals.
Desert entrepreneur Delmer G. Ross wrote an outstanding GPS user’s guide for rockhounding in Wiley’s west district of California. Along with over two dozen collecting sites, he also details the land’s historical information and geological past.
There are a handful of campgrounds in Wiley’s Well. They’re fairly easy to access; in fact, you won’t encounter any rough gravel terrain or winding mountain roads when driving to this area. Along with Wiley’s Well campground, you’ll also find the Coon Hollow campground right around the corner with up to 29 first-come-first-serve campsites.
Here, you can partake in several in-season activities such as hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding when you want to take a break from rockhounding. Phone services are hit-and-miss, so make sure to always explore the area with a partner or a friend.
Wiley’s Well is home to a number of amphibians, reptiles, and birds, so bringing a pair of binoculars and a camera certainly wouldn’t hurt!
3. Palo Verde Mountains
Southern California’s Palo Verde Mountains is a classic mineral collecting location, famed for its Hauser Geode Beds. To get you headed in the right direction, search for Milpitas Wash Road and follow it west off of route 78.
Palo Verde is mostly open for digging and hunting geodes. You’ll also find several fire agate and petrified wood specimens, along with barite, agate, and manganese.
Along with thriving populations of Desert Tortoises, you’re likely to encounter burros, quail, coyotes, mule deer, and the occasional mountain lion in this area.
The Palo Verde Mountain Wilderness is located 18 miles southwest of Blythe, California, and the Mayflower County Park Campground, both of which have services and amenities available.
The latter is suitable for RV camping, so if you’re planning to stay more than several days in Palo Verde, you may want to leave a reservation. Here, you can freely hunt, hike, fish, and partake in wildlife watching.
Summer months can make rockhounding a strenuous and impractical activity due to extreme temperatures, so it’s best to visit during spring, fall, or winter. River and vegetation cause mosquitoes to run amok, so don’t forget your bug spray!
If you’re fond of trilobites, you shouldn’t miss Chambless’s Rock Collecting Area. Here, you’ll find an extensive amount of hematite and magnetite in reddish-brown iron deposits near mining shafts, along with green epidote in the washes. Limestone and marble are likewise available in handfuls in abandoned quarries a few miles outside of town.
The Marble Mountain Fossil Beds is another great rockhounding location in Chambless. Similar to the location above, the Marble Mountains is a classic trilobite fossil site. In addition to trilobites, this rock collecting area yields chalcedony, serpentine, green epidote, dolomite, chrysocolla, garnet, marble, and hematite.
You can also find iron, kenatite, geodes, and even gold. This area can be accessed by taking one of the dirt roads from route 66 in and around Chambless.
Despite being almost a Ghost Town in the middle of the Mojave Desert, Chamberless has some key attractions. This includes the Chambless Camp, the US 66 Shield, the Summit Cafe, and the Roadrunner’s Retreat, also a restaurant and cafe.
Weather in Chamberless is extremely dry and hot, with temperatures ranging from 78.8°F to 107.4°F. In winter, the average high is 65°F, so it might be best to visit during spring or fall.
5. Turtle Mountain
The Turtle Mountains consist of broad bajadas, volcanic peaks, cliffs, and spires. Due to its exceptional natural values, much of Turtle Mountain is widely recognized as the National Natural Landmark.
Multiple species of wildlife reside in the area’s numerous springs and seeps, including bighorn sheep, coyotes, ground squirrels, kangaroo rats, roadrunners, and several species of birds and lizards.
When rockhounding, you’re guaranteed to find top-quality chalcedony and agate samples, along with several beautiful jaspers and opalites. You’ll find these rocks in locations such as Mohawk Spring, Mopah Peaks, and Negro Peak.
The Turtle Mountains offer some interesting hiking and animal watching opportunities. Along with rockhounding, horse riding, hunting, and tent camping are permitted activities.
Unfortunately, vehicles aren’t permitted inside the wilderness boundaries, so you’ll have to do the majority of your exploring on foot. There are no campgrounds for RVs in the surrounding wilderness areas, either.
6. Chief Mountain
The Oceanview Gem Mine and Pala Chief mine, found in Southern California’s Chief Mountains, is a fee-pay mine that allows you to dig for gems and the like. You need to book a reservation and pay a small fee before entering, but you get to keep everything you find at no extra charge.
Employees also provide you with all the tools you need to get started, including buckets, shovels, screens, water, and more.
The minerals you’ll find include tourmaline, aquamarine, lepidolite, morganite, quartz crystals, feldspar crystals, and many more. You’re also joined by expert miners, geologists, and trainers, making it the perfect activity for young rockhounds and mineral lovers.
Chief Mountain trails are particularly popular in summer weeks, so we recommend visiting during early mornings or weekdays. The scenery is incredible, so you might want to carry your camera on your trip to the mines. Since it’s a popular camping site and hiking trail, camper amenities are found in abundance.
7. Clear Creek
Clear Creek is home to over 150 semi-precious minerals and gemstones, including quartz, jadeite, cinnabar, garnets, and the California State rare gemstone, benitoite. There’s a lot of open ground to explore, so we recommend taking a good vehicle on your trip. You can usually find these minerals near streams and rocky outcrops.
It’s important to keep in mind that several commercial gem collectors work in the area and maintain mining claims. Therefore, you need to be careful when rockhounding in this area; make sure you’re within public land and not on private land.
Clear Creek contains areas with serpentine soil, which has naturally occurring asbestos said to be a health hazard. As a result, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) highly discourages the use of asbestos portions in this location.
Along with rockhounding, Clear Creek is also a great place for hunting, hiking, mountain biking, and camping.
8. Calico Mountains
The surrounding hills of the Calico Mountains are a great place for rockhounding. Along with grossular Garnet, you can also find calcite, hedenbergite, quartz, jaspers, and chalcedony in abundance.
You can find these minerals in all sorts of nooks and crannies. Best of all, you won’t have to travel too far. You have a good chance of finding beautiful rocks at just about any wash and hill. Gold and petrified wood samples can be found in this area, as well.
The Calico Mountains are chock full of historical mines, so great caution is advised. Hundreds of open mine shafts and holes scatter the area, so anyone could easily lose their footing if distracted. Look before you step!
Rockhounding in Southern California reached its height of popularity during the late 50s. Today, it remains to be one of the US’s top locations for rockhounding. We highly encourage you to visit any of the mentioned locations if you have the chance. Good luck, and have fun!