If you Google “rockhounding,” you will see a variety of articles, forums, and tools, which might make rockhounding seem technical or difficult.
The truth is that learning how to go rockhounding is much simpler. In this article, we’ll cover the three main questions you need to answer to get started rockhounding.
Getting Started Rockhounding: Three Questions To Answer Before You Set Off
Rockhounding is just a term for looking purposefully for rocks and other desired specimens. I can walk out my front door and look at my lawn for rocks. I can walk down the street, look in ditches, check my garden, dig through gravel piles nearby.
While this is the easy way to rockhound, finding anything has much more to do with luck than it does with anything else.
To get started rockhounding (and to have a successful trip), you need to do some research and answer some basic quetsions before you leave your house, though not always in this order:
- What type of specimen do I want to hunt for?
- Where do I want to look for rocks (or other valuable pieces)?
- What do I need to do my hunt once I am at the location?
Question #1: What type of specimen do I want to hunt for?
Rockhounds and collectors often have a specific type of rock that they want to find. Maybe the find of the day is agate, or amethyst, or a fossil, or gold. Not every type of rock/specimen is going to be available at every site you decide to go to.
If none of these names sound familiar to you at all, then I would recommend that you first sit down with a book like Basic Rockhounding and Prospecting: A Beginner’s Guide to start learning about the types of rocks that rockhounds regularly collect.
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Once you have an idea of what you want to collect, then you can do your research and figure out whether that specimen is one that can even be found anywhere near where you live or plan to be visiting.
At this point in your journey, you may not yet be interested in a specific rock. You might just want to go places to find rocks that look cool, without caring necessarily what kind of rock that it is.
Either way, the next question will become very relevant.
Question #2: Where do I want to look for rocks (or other valuable pieces)?
In general, the most likely places unique and beautiful rocks are:
- Places where water meets the land (like ocean beaches, river banks, shallow creek beds)
- In the dirt that was dug up from major construction projects (home foundations, roads, ponds, irrigation)
- Rocky areas (rocky cliffs, gravel bars/bed, ridges, etc)
Even if you don’t have something specific in mind, if you go to one of these types of places, you’ll definitely find something of interest to add to your budding rock collection.
Not sure where to go?
Aside from the ocean beaches which are obvious and easy to find, you can venture out to places where you would normally engage in outdoor activities like hiking, frisbee golf, kayaking, backpacking, and camping, and actively look for rocky areas to scour for rocks.
Just figure out where people in your vicinity go to do outdoor stuff, and then check it out.
Or take a look at the map and look for anything that looks like public green space, and again, check it out. Explore. Half the fun of rockhounding is just getting outside and tromping around.
But let’s say that after your research, you’ve got a specific kind of rock that you want to find and bring home with you.
In general, you’ll be able to quickly identify well-known rockhounding spots for that particular kind of specimen by doing a quick search for your location and that specimen.
As you do your research, you’ll also be making sure that the places you choose to go are places where it is legal to be present on, to hunt for specimens, and also to take items back with you (and how much).
There are some places you can’t collect rocks (National Parks like Zion, as an example). Make sure you are sure it’s legal before you take anything home with you.
Question #3: What do I need to do my hunt once I am at the location?
Answering Questions 1 and 2 Will Help Answer 3. Once you know what you are hunting and where you are going to be hunting it, you’ll be able to figure out what you’ll need to take with you.
For example, if you are planning on going to the beach to look for agates, jasper, shells, fossils, and petrified wood, then the likely items you will want to take with you are:
- A bucket or bag for your rocks
- Weather appropriate clothing
If you are planning on heading out to the local river and hiking along the shores (and in the water), then the likely items you might want to bring are:
- A small to medium daypack
- Water sandals or knee high boots
- Trekking poles or a walking stick (for balance in swift water)
- Sunglasses (to reduce glare and so you can see the rocks through the water)
- Weather appropriate clothing
If you are planning a more forest/mountain hike and planning on hunting established rock beds for thundereggs, quartz, and petrified wood, the likely items you might want to bring are:
- Medium to large sized backpack
- Thick gloves
- Goggles to shield your eyes
- Knee Pads
- Geologist Pick, a hammer, chisels
- Close toed shoes
- Water (for drinking and also for cleaning off rocks to get a better look at them)
- Weather appropriate clothing
If you need links to any of the above mentioned tools, we’ve assembled a master list with quick links to Amazon so you can see what tool we are talking about and check out the specs in our articles, Rockhounding Tools for Beginners: A Getting Started Guide and The Ultimate Rockhounding Gift Buying Guide.
This certainly isn’t EVERYTHING you could or would bring with you.
After all, the packing list is going to depend heavily upon whether the mineral you want to bring home with you can be collected from the surface, or if you need to dig it from the ground, or if you need to carve it out of a stone wall.
Make Common Sense Preparation A Priority As You Figure Out How To Go Rockhounding
In general, I also recommend that if you are headed to go rockhounding well out into the woods or far from an urban area that you do the following:
- Take a map (not on your phone or electronic device)
- Tell someone where you are going and then GO THERE and not somewhere else
- Tell someone when you plan to be home
- Take off with a full tank of gas
- Take extra food and water
Everyone (from beginner to expert) makes mistakes, gets lost, or has a run of bad luck. But taking a little extra time to do some common sense preparation can make the difference between a fond memory and a devastating disaster.
Still have more questions as you plan your rockhounding trip? Check out our knowledge hub for more articles that should help you get started.