What better way is there to spend a day or two on the weekend or during a vacation in Mendocino County than to go on a rock hounding or gold panning excursion?
The North Coast region of California has some great locations to visit and can be a good day’s hike as well.
Rockhounding In Mendocino County (Let’s Go)
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.
While there are not a lot of known fossils or fossil hunting locations in the county, there are a number of rock shops that do carry fossils of all kinds.
Each of the destinations in this article, with the exception of Leech Lake as it is rather outside of any towns than the other locations, have at least one nearby rock shop (which I will mention) and all are worth checking out.
The most accessible and obvious choice for an amateur geologist excursion would be the National Parks within Mendocino County.
There are a number of rules to be aware of if you decide to rockhound in the parks and some activities may require a permit.
You can find all the rules and info you need to know about these activities in the parks here: Mendocino National Forest Service Homepage. Review the rules before removing any material to take home with you.
Outside of the parks themselves, here are five of the more notable locations to go rock hounding and some of the things you can potentially find near each of them:
Leech Lake and the surrounding Eel River area are known to yield Jade, Jadeite, Pectolite and Nephrite specimens.
Manganese has also been discovered in the area (mostly on the NW side of the mountain) as far back as 1917.
There is a great book that has some hand drawn maps of the area and where to find public domain sites to search for jade called “California Gem Trails” published in 1974 by Darold Henry.
The first chapter, Mendocino Gems, talks about nephrite, jadeite and jasper and gives an idea of where to stop and look.
There are plenty of foot accessible areas as well as vehicle-friendly roads and the Eel River Campground makes this a great getaway destination for a weekend or vacation trip.
As mentioned above, there are no notable rock or gem shops close to the location that I could find.
EDIT: We have recently had contact from a member of the Neighborhood Safety Committee near Willits, CA. This individual advises that the rockhounding areas near Impassable Rock are now mostly private property. If you intend to hunt for rocks in this area, you’ll probably need to know the landowners or otherwise gain permission in advance.
Nestled in the Little Lake Valley near the town of Willits is Impassable Rock.
This area is known to yield Rhodochrosite, Inesite, Bemetite and Neotocite specimens in the area.
There are a number of hiking trails and backroads to take into the hills of the “Heart of Mendocino County” and this is a great place to spend time enjoying the outdoors while searching for some ground treasures.
Also of note, while in the area, it would be to check out the Skunk Train that winds into the redwood forests.
Be sure to stop by George’s Geodes And Gems if you pass through Willits and have a gander at their great selection.
South of Hopland and north of Cloverdale along the 101 is Pieta and nearby Pieta Creek.
This area is known to yield Actinolite Prisms.
While a more obscure mineral to most collectors, Actinolite Prisms can be quite stunning. It’s one of those hunts that keeps you searching for an even prettier looking piece.
Actinolite Prisms are also worth discussing a bit further in depth for those wishing to learn more about them.
Actinolite Prisms generally occur in long, slender, glassy, prisms of greenish color.
Actinolite forms a full substitution series with the common calcium and magnesium mineral, tremolite.
While in the area, be sure to check out Elena’s Rock Shop.
If you don’t have any luck of your own, you may find some cool treasures here.
Just south of Fort Bragg along the Shoreline Hwy is Agate Beach, or more specifically, Agate Cove.
This is a great place to look for agates and do some diving at the same time.
Agate Bay is a more touristy destination to be sure, but probably one of the nicer places to do some rock hounding.
There is the added bonus of searching the beaches for shells and other treasures of the deep, such as sea glass.
This seems like a great choice for families looking to mix a bunch of different activities together for a weekend getaway or a vacation trip.
While I couldn’t find any rock or gem shops right nearby, there are two worth checking out in Fort Bragg (about a 17-20 minute drive north).
First there is The Quarry which has a more average selection of what you might expect to find in a gem shop.
The second shop is Beautiful Earth.
They often have a selection of smaller pieces that are not on display for a cheaper price, so if you see something you like but it’s a bit outside of your price range, just ask them if they have a smaller piece that may be closer to the range you are willing to spend.
Laytonville is a small, quiet town nestled in the rolling hills North East of Fort Bragg.
Laytonville’s surroundings are a bit of a sleeper hit but can yield some specimens worth looking for, including: Deerite, Zussmanite, Howieite, Graphite, Quartz, Pyrite and a host of other minerals and lesser gemstones.
The surrounding areas are pretty easy to access via foot or vehicle.
It may take some time to find a spot that you like in the area, but a bit of discussion with some of the locals at a coffee shop or cafe could yield information that will lead you to what you are looking for more quickly.
If you have the time, be sure to stop in and check out the local gem shop here as well. Khairzadas Rugs, Gems and More is quite the, well, pardon the pun, gem.
California Rockhounding Resources
If you like to have a physical book in hand (like when there’s no cell service), here’s a few popular options:
Rockhounding California: A Guide To The State’s Best Rockhounding Sites
Gem Trails of Southern California
Gem Trails of Northern California
Smithsonian Rocks and Minerals Identification Guide
Disclosure: These are links to Amazon. As an Amazon Associate, I may earn a commission from qualifying purchases at no additional cost to you.
There are plenty of other great locations to go sightseeing and rock hounding, but these are some of the more notable areas that have come up over the years with solid information as to what can be found in the area.
In closing, be mindful and respectful of private property while out rock hounding and before taking any samples with you from the area. Happy hunting!
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