Utah is a state practically made of rock. The vast lands of southern Utah are intricately carved into the red and white sandstone limestone layers of the Colorado Plateau, leaving behind well-known monuments in locations like Canyonlands and Zion National Parks. However, there is plenty of other rocks and minerals aside from the red sandstone of southern Utah. This state is even known by some as the Rockhounding Capital of the United States.
Destinations throughout Utah provide diverse and unique rockhounding sites, with the central part of the state offering the most concentrated diversity. Popular finds include moqui marbles, fossils, dugway geodes, wonderstone, topaz, opal and petrified wood.
Although rock collecting is permitted on most public lands for personal use, you need to research the area you plan to collect in and be aware of boundaries. Be sure that a permit is not required and check for mining claims. Do not collect on mining claims without the proper permission from the claim owner. Check out some the Rules And Regulations Regarding Rock, Mineral, and Fossil Collecting In Utah to stay in the know and be an ethical land user.
Below you will find detailed information on some of the most popular rocks and fossils collected in Utah along with destinations ideas to get out for yourself and explore.
Read More: Where To Find Trilobite Fossils in Utah
- Completely updated and revised
- Full color images
- Each description of the 86 state's sites includes concise information on the material to be found there, the tools to bring, the best season to visit and what type of vehicle to drive.
Utah Rocks And Minerals
Let’s start off by taking a closer look at some of the interesting finds you can discover across the state. From crystals to fossils, this list can only scratch the surface of what Utah has to offer.
Moqui marbles are a fun and often abundant rock formation found in the spectacular red Navajo Sandstone regions of southern Utah. Moqui marbles are spherical dark colored concretions of iron and sandstone commonly range in size from pea size to several inches in diameter, although some can be as large as grapefruits.
These formations developed underground when iron minerals seeped through rock layers from flowing groundwater. Over eons, the overlying rock layers eroded and the Navajo Sandstone revealed weather-resistant iron concretions of “marbles”, many of which are amassed in large groups on the surface. They occur in many places in southern Utah either embedded in or gathered loosely into “puddles” on the ground near outcrops of Jurassic-age Navajo Sandstone, having the appearance of a floor of marbles.
-Fossils In Utah-
With a little research and some time and effort spent splitting and hammering in the field, fossils can be found in several locations across the state. Before getting too excited though, like most other public lands, only common invertebrate fossils and petrified wood can be legally collected. Dinosaur bones and other fascinating fossils certainly have the chance to be uncovered when rockhounding in Utah. If you do happen to come across what you think is one, take a GPS location and pass it on to archaeological professionals or the land management agency.
For those interested in collecting fossils in Utah, you can find and collect small invertebrates (such as the common trilobites) at several locations across the state. Trilobites, remnants of a hundreds of millions of year old sea, are certainly one of the more abundant and common targets for rockhounds. In several locations across the state, deposits of shale stone can be worked and split by rockhounds to collect different invertebrate fossils.
Like many other forms of geodes, Dugway Geodes formed when hot gasses bubbled up and were trapped within a bubble, leaving beautiful crystal formations. The contents of Dugway geodes vary and at times can be solid quartz, while other times they are hollow with small crystalline formations. These geodes carry the name designation based on the area they’re found.
The Dugway Geode Beds are one of the most popular rock-hounding destinations in Utah for enthusiasts and amateurs alike. Take a look below for information on visiting this site and collecting some for yourself.
From an ancient lake that covered much of the modern state of Utah approximately 60 million years ago, deposition of sediments that formed rocks known as the Flagstaff Formation. Although these rocks are technically a limestone, the stone industry has termed this particular deposit as “marble.” The now individual rocks contain fossilized remains of algae ball structures and are commonly referred to as “birds eyes.” These unique round features were formed by algae that surrounded things such as snail shells or other debris. Birdseye Marble is a decorative stone used in high end stone masonry work and crafting.
Red Beryl holds a unique distinction of being one of the rarest gemstones on the earth, and Utah is one of the few homes of this brilliant pinkish red gem! The crystals of this gemstone are usually small and generally not able to be faceted. Though the rare red beryl crystal is large and pure enough to be cut can sometimes sell for thousands of dollars per carat.
Red beryl gemstones are generally found in a host rock of rhyolitic lava flow. The rarity of this brilliant gemstone comes from the coincidence of two rare events, leading to it only being found on a select few places on earth. It is thought that the mineral forms once lava has cooled down to form rhyolite. Then rarely found high quantities of beryllium-rich gases move through the cracks in the rhyolite. Lastly, years of descending groundwater carry essential and specific minerals that combine with the beryllium-rich gases to form the the brilliant pink crystals. In Utah, red beryl is found in the Thomas and Wah Wah Mountain Ranges and can even be found at Topaz Mountain on our locations list below.
The beautifully striated wonderstone is a welded-vitric tuff (vitric means glassy) of rhyolitic composition. This volcanic rock forms during explosive eruptions when the molten rock sticks to other materials upon landing. If it is then buried while hot, it take this compacting action to form the mineral into a soft glassy-like welded-tuff material we know as wonderstone.
Wonderstone is generally given it’s characteristic yellow, orange, brown, and red matrixes of colors from the years of staining from dissolved minerals such as iron oxide. This captivating concentric bands and interflowing matrixes of color lead to the name of “wonderstone”. Check out Vernon Hills on our list below for a chance to find wonderstone yourself.
Where To Go Rockhounding In Utah
1. Dugway Geode Beds -
Southeast of Salt Lake City, within the diverse mineral laden lands of central Utah, the Dugway Geode Beds are a popular stop for rockhounds from all over the world. Geodes can be found amongst a portion of public BLM land, and digging deeper amongst previous excavation sights is likely to produce your best chances of finding good specimens. The geodes will be found with the soft dirt and will be distinguishable by their characteristic round appearance and suspiciously light overall weight.
There is also a private claim which exists in the area. Make sure you know where the boundaries of this private property begin, so as not to inadvertently wander onto private property. Alternatively, you can sometimes pay a small fee to access the private property claim. Be sure to complete the trip with a stop at nearby Topaz Mountain, number 3 on our list. Lots of information exists online for the Dugway Geode Beds and specific excavation site locations.
2. Vernon Hills Wonderstone -
Located just southwest of Salt Lake City, the Vernon Hills are a public access area on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) owned land which allows for the collections of this unique mineral. To get here travel south of Tooele on State Highway 36 about 31 miles to the town of Vernon. Continue on highway 36 an additional 4.5 miles to a dirt road adjacent to and west of the railroad tracks. Turn north (left) onto this dirt road and continue to the next set of railroad tracks (~1.7 miles) until the road curves to the northwest. From the curve, travel 0.4 miles to the end of the road.
Visitors will find their first indications of wonderstone amongst the piles discarded at the end of the road location. A private mining claim is located area so do not collect on any marked claims or rock piles showing signs of recent mining activity and be aware of your surroundings. Otherwise, the majority of the land is BLM and open to your public recreational use.
3. Topaz Mountain-
If you happen to be making a trip to the Dugway Geode Beds on the western side of the state. consider swinging south just a short distance to Topaz Mountain, a well-known concentration of a variety of gems and minerals. Topaz Mountain is a location highly sought out by rockhounds seeking an abundance of different kinds of finds. For the avid rock collector, many minerals can be found at this great Utah rockhounding location including topaz, garnet, amethyst, red beryl (very rare), hematite, and opal.
Fitting to the name, topaz is one of the most abundant items to be found. To find the best topaz specimens (and maybe other finds) it is recommended to use a chisel and hammer to excavate in the natural rock pockets of the rhyolitic cliffs. Directions to the site are somewhat involved and a high clearance 4x4 vehicle is highly recommended for the last bit of road. The “Topaz Mountain Rockhounding Area” is well-signed and a plethora of information exists on how to get there.
4. U-Dig Fossils Trilobites -
Though most of our recommended locations are free public land sites, if you are looking for the highest abundance and highest quality trilobite fossil specimens, consider paying the small fee to access the quarry owned by “U-Dig Fossils”. Located on the western side of the state just north of highway 50, for a small fee of $70 or less, you can have all-day access to the site and keep whatever you can collect! Users are provided with buckets for collections and even rockhounding tools if you need some to borrow. Spending the day splitting apart shale, you can expect to find a handful of quality specimens that are all yours.
5. Birdseye Marble Quarry-
While the actual quarry is privately owned for commercial harvest, rockhounds can still get their hands on some birdseye marble in the near vicinity of the quarry. To do so, travel south from Salt Lake City on I-15 approximately 50 miles to Spanish Fork. Take Spanish Fork Canyon (Rte 6) east for about 13 miles and turn south onto Hwy 89. Continue on for 5.8 miles until you see a gravel road to your left. Make the left turn and proceed up the road until you reach a gate. This gate marks the beginning of Forest Service Road 126. Before you proceed up the road, remember to close the gate after yourself.
Once on the forest road, you must travel 1.5 miles until you see a sign indicating that you have crossed into the Forest Service lands and off private lands. After this point, specimens can be found and collected along and near the road. You can even continue up the rough road for about 2.5 miles to an abandoned quarry and dig deeper to find some of the best birdseye marble specimens. Birdseye marble responds beautifully to a great polish and is fun for making unusual decorative bookends.
A great part about rock hounding in the mountain west is our access to available public lands. For rockhounds like us, this means cheap (often free) collection sites and areas to camp in beautiful remote settings. Remember to practice responsible and ethical rock collecting and camping practices when utilizing this public resource so that we do not lose it.
The diversity of rockhounding opportunity which exists in Utah is what makes it such a popular destination. As such, a wealth of information exists on the site specifics of rock hounding around the beautiful state of Utah. A comprehensive rock collectin trip around Utah can take you from the brilliant red canyon lands of southern Utah, to the rolling grasslands and Juniper hills, all the way to the high elevation pine covered mountains. Enjoy the resources the public lands of Utah has to offer and treat it with respect. Happy hounding!