77 miles east of Bend, Oregon, Glass Butte is one of the most popular places in Oregon to hunt and collect obsidian. Not only is it legal to collect the beautiful material, but it is also really easy to find.
In this article, we’ll give you information you need to know in order to plan your first Rockhounding Glass Butte trip to collect obsidian.
The information provided in this article by YesDirt.com is for informational purposes and is subject to change. Laws are updated. Accessibility guidelines and restrictions change. Be sure to confirm the land status and collection rules before you travel to an unfamiliar location or collect any material.
What Can Be Found at Glass Butte?
Glass Butte is known for obsidian.
Most Oregonians have picked up the shiny black shards of obsidian at various times in their life, while hiking or camping.
Few of them know that obsidian actually comes in many different (and beautiful colors): brown, green, red fire, pumpkin, rainbow, gold sheen, silver sheen, and more.
You might also find agates, as well as petrified wood.
How To Get to Glass Butte
Glass Butte is fairly far from Portland (almost five hours not accounting for traffic), but not exactly too far off the beaten path.
To get to Glass Butte (there’s two actually, Glass Butte and then Little Glass Butte), you need to get onto highway 20 that goes east out of Bend towards Burns.
Depending on where you are coming from, you might go through Bend or you might jump onto 20 east of Bend if you drive through Sunriver from the south or Prineville from the north.
The trouble is that the right turn off of highway 20 when you are going east is unnamed, and GPS may or may not be functioning.
The road we prefer to use is 12 miles past Hampton Station, in Brothers, Oregon. (look for Milepost 77, though you might also turn at about mile post 75 (rough road), or milepost 81.
If you see a sign for “Obsidian Road” around MP 77 that’s probably the best road to drive in on.
Once you turn off highway 20, you’ll have about 10 miles of driving on gravel roads to get to Glass Buttes. It will probably take you 40-50 minutes, depending on how fast you drive.
As you drive along the gravel road, you’ll likely notice some dry camping areas, as well as the BLM camping area called Knapper Camp.
There isn’t much special here, except that you’ll find some wide pull out areas surrounded by trees. No services to speak of (no toilets, etc) but they are close to the obsidian dig areas.
Where To Dig at Glass Butte
While people talk primary about “Glass Butte” there are actually several digging sites in the area.
You can focus on Glass Butte, Little Glass Butte, or any one of the many small and not well known sites not far off the roads that criss and cross this remote area.
The free maps online do not do a good job laying out where the various colors can be dug.
You can drive around yourself and look for areas where other people have dug, or you can stop in at any of the local rock shops in Bend/Prineville and get some more specific directions from the locals who often will provide you with a simple map.
You can dig if you want to (especially if you are after really big pieces) but most folks (especially beginners) can find some really beautiful pieces on the surface.
We kid you not….the obsidian is everywhere. In many cases, it covers the ground like gravel.
Tools or Supplies You’ll Need at Glass Butte
If you are planning on surface collecting, here’s what we recommend you bring:
- appropriate clothing for the weather
- extra water (it can be hot and remote here)
- boots or closed toed shoes to keep the obsidian shards out of your toes
- something to protect your knees if you want to kneel down or sit
- bag or bucket to carry your finds, with some think cloth or old t-shirts to layer your pieces so that they don’t chip or break as you carry them around
- small hammer
- thick gloves
If you are planning on digging, here’s what we recommend in addition to the above:
- full size shovel/spade
- geologist pick or larger hammer/chisel
Collection Rules/Limits at Glass Butte
As a BLM managed site, the BLM rockhounding collection rules apply.
Without a permit, you can collect and take home a reasonable amount of material daily, which is vague sounding. In general, “reasonable” means less than 250 pounds, fitting easily in your vehicle, for non-commercial use.
More than reasonable is “a full pickup truck load), involves more than one trip, weighs more than 250lbs, for commercial use, or requires power equipment to collect.
If you are collecting petrified wood, you are limited to 25 pounds per day, with no more than 250 pounds per year.
As always, archaeological or historical materials cannot be collected (arrowheads, flakes, pottery, etc).
Notes for Rockhounding Glass Butte Trips
Glass Butte is extremely remote, and while it is popular, there is no guarantee that other people will be out there to give you a hand if you have a break down.
The road is covered with obsidian shards, which means that people occasionally blow a tire out there. Have a spare with you, or a plan if you end up with a flat.
In dry months, four wheel drive probably isn’t necessary. In wet/winter months, the road can be muddy and soupy in places, so we recommend it then.
There are some mining claims in these areas, and we don’t recommend that you venture into them to collect materials. Obsidian is not subject to mining claims, though people do try to stake claims for them.
Any holes that you dig should not be any deeper than four feet (though you might see this).
BLM requests that you fill in holes once you are done, but you’ll also see that many people do not bother and leave the excavation areas open for the next visitors to continue working in.
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Planning a trip to Oregon to rockhound? Check out our list of top places in Oregon to hunt for rocks that you won’t want to miss.