Minnesota has long been known for its huge wilderness, political independence, and being depicted in the movie Fargo a bit inaccurately.
However, for geology lovers and rock hunters, rockhounding Minnesota is treasure-hunting experience with the amount of geological prizes possible all over.
The state has it all, from agate, to volcanic forms, to vast sea bases from millions of years ago.
In fact, in terms of rock hunting, Minnesota is so attractive, folks usually travel regionally to the state to see what they can find not available in other states.
Here are some of the more promising sites in Minnesota worthy of a visit by either expert geologists or the budding amateur trying to build an initial collection.
Where To Go Rockhounding In Minnesota
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.
Lake Superior Beaches
Being one of the most common places to find amazing stones and rocks known as agate, Lake Superior coastline provides rock hound aficionados of all ages a chance to find something interesting.
Being found in red, yellow and orange coloring thanks to containing iron, agate ends up on the shores of the great lake as a result of erosion.
Originally, the lake area was a large lava bed area. As it cooled and both water and air got into the trapped bubbles, minerals including iron and quarters got trapped.
Eventually, the agate was released by glacier action in the area. In almost all the cases the agate found today tends to be small, but occasionally a larger stone can be found. Some of the biggest examples have weighed in at over 20 pounds.
Moose Lake is another water location with a sizable amount of agate to be discovered as well.
The local town by the same name has so much fun with agate, they have an Agate Days Celebration in July where they put a whole bunch of smaller rock on main street with plenty of agate mixed in.
Thomsonite Beach is another location, also on Lake Superior and its northern shore (Cook County) where instead of agate rock hounds can chase down thomsonite, no surprise.
This type of rock comes with a distinct banding and a variety of colors ranging from white to yellow to pink to orange.
Again, a result of volcanic behavior in the area billions of years earlier, the thomsonite found today is essentially a form of a zeolite.
Cuyuna Iron Range
Located in Crow Wing County, the area is known for producing binghamite, which is a very hard to find form of quartz.
Being a combination of hematite combined with iron content or geothite with the same, many samples are found in a range of colors from yellow and gold in hue to red and even dark almost black versions.
Occasionally, rock hunting sleuths will find some multi-colored versions as well. Binghamite is not found anywhere else in Minnesota, which makes this location and these finds very unique.
Hill Annex Mine State Park
Run by the state, this Park took over what used to be a giant open mining pit for iron ore.
In it visitors can visually examine the Coleraine Formation as well as walk the pit in terms of its time range spanning anywhere from 60 to 150 million years of geological evidence.
The site is particularly interesting because it provides proof of a sea-covered zone that was part of the Mesabi Range.
Folks will be able to find all types of fossils with the Park tours, scheduled by reservation, including various types of ocean crustaceans, crocodile and shark teeth and plenty of fossilized clams.
Note that rock collecting is generally not allowed in Minnesota state parks without permission.
Sitting off of Highway 33 North, Get Pickin is a viable spot to learn about rocks while practicing finding and looking for them in rock piles.
The property and store generally provide visitors a bag for a basic ticket price, and folks go through the rock piles to see what they can find and fill in the bag.
Where does the supply come from?
The owner of the business literally brings in piles of rock by the large truckload and piles them up.
They were used for construction, road-laying, foundations and similar and the remainder is excess. Get Pickin gets the material in exchange for removing it from build sites who need to clean up their work leftover.
Folks are advised to bring their own rakes or shovels and dress for the environment, in other words plan to get dirty and dusty.
Located in Cloquet, MN, Get Pickin provides an ideal way for a family or a rockhounding Minnesota beginner to get in on rock hunting with kids without the risks or dangers of being near deep water or out in the wilderness.
The Superior National Forest
The Superior National Forest has a number of outcroppings and rock formations in it that provide an extremely visible record of geological history that occurred in the area.
Because the bedrock is full exposed, visitors can see and track what sort of earth changes occurred that would otherwise be under hundreds of feet of dirt elsewhere.
However, like other parks, the National Forest is for looking only. Rock hounding activities involving digging or picking are not allowed.
Only naturally visible features are allowed to be examined with no souvenir-taking.
Aside from professional business location, Cloquet also has a number of natural sites near the town that are rich with rocks funds and geological treasures.
A number of mine dumps as well as area creeks and streams, excavation locations and gravel pits all provide rich potentials for rock hounding.
Finds in the area will include agate, garnets, pyrite, marcasite, magnetite, and greenalite.
Populated with a number of beaches in the Park territory, folks can find plenty of agate in this location just walking along the beach and strolling for the day.
Just make sure to wear good shoes, dress for the weather, and have a decent bag to carry finds in.
The Mary Ellen Mine
Sitting a mile to the west of Biwabik and next to highway 35, the Mary Ellen Mine is a well-known location for jasper.
The mine was dug into the Mesabi range.
The stone found will typically range from a red to pink coloring to a white to red variation. Much of the coloring was caused by the fossilization of algae from billions of year earlier.
There is also the possibility of finding chert, flint, and even flecked versions of jasper in the location as well.
Anorthosite can be found in both Cook County and Lake County, generally on the top of the local peaks.
Carlton Peak is an ideal location as well as locations near Highway 61 and Silver Bay.
Anorthosite can be located by its coloring which has a shading that ranges from white to a translucent green or even an odd blue-black mix.
This particular location has a number of area mines that had plenty of diggings thrown aside that were rich in rock finds.
Rock hounds have been very rewarded with samples of chalcocite, chalcopyrite and fool’s gold or pyrite. It’s also a good place for extended day hikes.
The Osseo Gravel Pits
On the outside of the Twin Cities are a number of used, working and abandoned gravel pits that have been worked over the years for foundations and road beds.
As a result, they have dug up an amazing amount of earth as well as busted up some huge loads of rock.
Both activities produced a tremendous amount of other rock which makes these gravel pits an ideal location to go looking for rock finds.
Additionally, creeks running through the gravel pits have also picked up various minerals and rocks, including some very small bits of gold in rare circumstances.
The Soo Line Pits
Located off of highway 27, the Soo Line Pits are now a recreation area for both hiking, off-road biking and trekking.
The pits are the results of tons and tons of earth and pilings created from railroad line work in the state decades back.
Folks find all types of rocks and lots of agate in this location.
The actual large Soo Line Pit itself is a bit of a hike into the location, but it offers a lot of finds that the whole family can engage in for the day.
Finding Old Pits
The State of Minnesota Department of Transportation maintains an old library of pit maps and locations in the state that were used for gravel and road-laying material.
This bank of information hasn’t been updated since 2003, but the data files are useful for any rockhounds who want to focus on gravel pits and similar deep ground locations that produced a lot of byproduct and refuse piles to go through.
Some of these public gravel pits are closed off but others are accessible and frequented by rockhunting visitors on a regular basis.
Where Can I Pan for Gold in Minnesota?
Generally, the state is not one of the best locations for gold.
While it will occur in creeks and rivers that run through a lot of loose rock locations, most of the state is the result of glacier till and a good amount of any gold that did exist in water areas is long gone and washed away.
Panning for gold is allowed in public areas as long as it is not destructive, and you’re just basically sifting sand in the river bed.
Sizable excavation, sluicing, and big disturbances with power washing, digging or similar is usually not allowed at all.
Folks might be tempted to go hunting through private land for valuable rocks in Minnesota, but it’s a recipe for getting into trouble.
More than one trespassing visitor has found himself on the wrong end of a barrel being nicely but firmly escorted off the property in question.
The earliest gold in Minnesota was identified in the mid-1800s with development and increased expansion of private property.
The most notable finds were on the Zumbro River near the town of Oronoco.
Later, additional finds were found near Lake Vermilion, and there were enough ore samples in the area to create a new town, Winston City, MN.
However, the area for decades later was more known for its iron deposits than anything else. Visitors today though might find specs or a few small treasures around Ely, Lake Vermilion, Trout Lake and Soudan in the area.
Up north, near Rainy Lake on the national border some mines operated at the end of the 1800s. The area is now known and located as International Falls.
Again, much of the digging in the area ended up focusing on iron, but some of the piles and leftover might have specs of gold for an intrepid hunter and rock hound.
Folks will also find samples of copper and nickel as well as a rare but potential finding of platinum looking hard enough.
It’s pretty much a sure thing there is no great fortune of gold to find in Minnesota these days, but that alone shouldn’t be a reason not to try.
Gold panning or exploration in the state gives folks a great chance to see the Minnesota landscape from the south to the north, as well as much of the state’s mining history, the geology and locations, and a good amount of exposure to the outdoors as well.
If nothing else, the hunt alone with all the potential locations will keep gold bugs busy exploring plenty of locations off the beaten path that are both historical and scenic as well as worth the trip on their own without the gold involved.
Last Thought – Being Prepared
For any amount of trekking when rockhunting be prepared: Bring a good walking stick, a backpack to keep your hands free with plenty of water, a map of the area and a compass, and a few compressed power bars or similar for energy.
Most folks are not used to active hiking and will burn through water and breakfast very quickly.
Dehydration on warmer days can creep up on a person very fast, resulting in serious sickness and an inability to get out of the location safely.
Always travel into hinterlands with a partner, and let folks know where you are going in case you get lost or can’t get back out.
A bit of precaution can save on a lot of headaches if something goes bad.
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