Rockhounding Mt. St. Helens: A Beginner’s Guide To A Great Trip

The Gifford Pinchot National Forest National Forest, which spans over 1,320,000 acres, is home to the famous Mt St Helen National Monument, which is known for its 15-mile high deadly eruption more than four decades ago.

These days, rockhounding Mt. St. Helens has become a rage, particularly for gold, especially since it’s an active volcano and people come from near and far to collect rocks from this iconic site.

Let’s take a trek up the mountain to see what rockhounds are so excited about, what the requirements are as well as limitations.

Disclaimer

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.

Rockhounding Mt. St. Helens: Can you Collect Rocks at Mt. St Helens?

The short answer is no!

Mt St Helens is a National Monument, so you can’t rock hunt there, but you can do so within the other sections of the forest, engulfing it with free rockhounding permits, regardless of how small the amount is.

While you can collect rocks in the forest, specific requirements and the Bureau of Land Management will deal seriously with people who go outside the law.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture(USDA) Forest Service, “Gathering rock, stone, and minerals may require a permit.

If you want to harvest rock from the Gifford Pinchot National Forest for personal home landscaping, check with your local ranger district to determine where you can get rock and which areas you can’t collect material from.

Please seek a permit before removing rock from the forest. The price of this permit will be determined by the amount of material gathered.

On public land in Oregon and Washington, you can collect a vast range of rocks, minerals, and semi-precious gemstones. Rock gathering is permitted on most BLM and USFS properties.

Collectors should be aware that depending on the amount of material gathered, how it is collected, where it is obtained, and whether the material will be utilized commercially, a free or paid permit may be necessary.”

It’s important to note that the Forest Service limits the number of climbers daily during what is known as the “Quota Season.” 

How Much Rock can you Collect?

The bulk of rock and mineral gathering locations are located on BLM (Bureau of Land Management) or US Forest Service-managed federal properties.

The number of specimens you can gather is limited to ten by the US Forest Service. Due to wilderness designation, some places inside the National Forest are forbidden to collect.

The BLM (Oregon & Washington) has no-fee daily collecting limits of rocks and minerals for personal use, including semi-precious gemstones, mineral specimens, and common invertebrate fossils in appropriate amounts. 

Petrified wood, the state gem, can be harvested for personal use up to 25 pounds per day plus one piece, with a maximum of 250 pounds per calendar year.

Unless the BLM has designated an area as a rockhounding area, the collection does not occur in developed recreation sites or regions.

In the Wilderness Area, rockhounding is limited to surface gathering only.

Items That Aren’t Likely to be Collected

Any tangible remains of ancient or ancient human life or activities, including vertebrate fossils (dinosaur bones, fish, – anything with a backbone) and shark teeth

‘Arrowheads’ and earthenware are examples of projectile points.

Caution: Mine sites that have been abandoned are unstable and extremely dangerous. Rotten wood, unprotected shafts, toxic fumes, and a lack of air can all be deadly. Entering and exploring abandoned mines is never a good idea.

Where are The Best Rock-hunting Spots on Mt. St. Helens?

Outside of the apparent waterways, which are always fantastic for rockhounding, especially for beginners, the areas around Mt St Helens to go rock collecting are:

Mt Adams Ranger Valley – 509-395-3402

Mt St Helens Ranger Valley – 360-690-5231

Cowlitz Ranger Valley 360-497-1100 Amber

The attached numbers you’ll call to get the limited rockhounding permits in the three zones. The rangers are quite friendly but do not expect too much info on the phone. 

They’ll remind you not to get more than a handful of rocks, point you to the information online and firmly remind you not to collect anything from the monument. So, please don’t. Stick to the allowed areas and the quarries. 

If you’re uncertain about what you can or can’t take, call Forest Services at 3606905231.

Go to their office Monday to Friday, where you’ll get a free permit to collect a maximum of 20 rocks. If you need large portions of stones from the Forest, special permits will be given by either the Mt Adams or Cowlitz Ranger Valley to do so at one of the quarries in the area.   

Some of the following areas, like Ape Cave, are for viewing purposes only; no rock collecting is allowed!

As A Rock Hunter, What Kinds Of Specimens, Rocks, Treasures, And So On Can, You Expect To Find?

The number of rocks, gems, and fossils available in Mt. St Helens’ forest is vast. Petrified wood can be found just about anywhere.

You can find:

Agate, Jasper, Chalcedony, Quartz Crystals, 

Opal, Fossils, Geodes, Petrified wood, Albite, Anorthite, Orthoclase, Magnetite, Mt. St. Helens Albite, Orthoclase, Enstatite, Ferrosilite, Ilmenite, Diopside, and Hedenbergite.

A lot of the latter ones are more challenging to obtain.

Is a Permit Required for Everyone?

Yes! On Mount St. Helens, climbing permits are necessary all year.

A Climbing Permission enables an individual or group (maximum of 12 people) to remain in or on the Mount St. Helens Closure Area #2 (PDF) for the 24 hours specified on the permit.

Permits for Climbing

Do you want to join us on our climb? Each year, the Mount St. Helens Institute offers a limited number of guided climbs to Mount St. Helens’ peak. This website has further information and a sign-up form.

At 8,328 feet high (as measured by the USGS in 2009), it provides climbers with a stunning vista from the crater rim. 

Although it is not a technical climb, it is difficult and dangerous due to ice, enormous boulders, loose pumice, rapidly changing weather, and volcanism. 

Climbers must be in excellent physical shape, well-equipped, knowledgeable about volcanic risks, and have ample water and food.

The Mount St. Helens Institute has teamed up with the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument to help safeguard the volcano’s delicate characteristics and guarantee climbers a safe, low-impact experience.

Please study the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument’s climbing restrictions, road and trail conditions, and other vital information before climbing Mount St. Helens.

Obtaining a Permit

Permits to climb cost $15 per person, per day. Per transaction, there is a $6 reservation fee. The purchaser can make a reservation for up to 12 total climbing group members of the climbing permit.

The permit buyer must be a member of the climbing party. At the time of purchase, the permit buyer must supply the names of all group members.

While climbing group members can be changed after the permit is acquired, all members of a climbing group must have identification that matches the list of climbers on the license.

The permit holder is the person who purchases the climbing permit and must be present on the climb.

Purchasers of permits should check Recreation.gov frequently because policies can change at any time.

Season of Quotas

From April 1 to October 31, the number of climbers per day on Mount St. Helens is capped to minimize crowding and conserve natural features.

Permits must be obtained in advance during the quota season. You can print a permit up to 14 days before your reservation.

You will not be able to make modifications to your permit once it has been printed. Passes are free and self-issued at the trailhead outside of the quota season.

Only 300 climbers are allowed every day from April 1 to May 14. Purchases must be made in advance online.

From May 15 to October 31, there are 110 climbers per day. Purchases must be made in advance online.

Climbers are welcome from November 1 to March 31. At the trailhead, you can self-issue a permit for free.

Cancellations/Planning Changes

The purchaser has up to 7 days before the climb date to make adjustments to the permit reservation. Within seven days of the climb date, no alterations are permitted.

List of Summit Climbing Gear

Be reminded that everything you see while climbing the trails is for viewing purposes only when you go climbing, and you can be fined up to $300 for going off the official path.

This is a list of recommended equipment for MSHI guides, staff, volunteers, and participants.

ATTIRE: Wear garments made of synthetic materials (polyester, polypropylene, nylon, or acrylic). COTTON IS NOT ALLOWED! 

Climbing Mount St. Helens should not be done in cotton garments. 

Cotton will not dry out if it gets wet from rain or sweat, and it will not keep you warm. Wet cotton is unpleasant and dangerous (polyester/cotton blends are acceptable). Dress in layers so that you can regulate your temperature while hiking and relaxing.

Boots: Hiking boots that are waterproof and have sufficient ankle support (mid-high top) are essential. Climbing Mount St. Helens should not be done in running shoes. Winter climbing may necessitate the use of mountaineering boots.

Socks: Hiking socks made of polyester or wool. Liner socks, which are available as an option, help with insulation and reduce the danger of blisters.

Gaiters: Keep ash and snow out of your boots with these.

  • Synthetic or wool long-sleeve base layer
  • Mid-layer for the upper body: a polyester fleece jacket or a down jacket.
  • Waterproof rain jacket, for example, Jackets made with Gore-Tex.
  • Waterproof rain pants, for example, Gore-Tex, is a type of material that is used to make
  • Pants made of synthetic materials, such as polyester zip-off pants and hiking pants
  • Polyester or wool for the bottom base layer
  • Warm and waterproof gloves, such as thin liner gloves and waterproof shell gloves
  • Hat (Warm)
  • A baseball hat, for example, is an excellent example of a sun hat.
  • Close-fitting sunglasses to block out windblown ash and snow reflections
  • STORAGE BAG: (APPROX. 30 LITER BACKPACK)
  • Four liters or more water: Hydration bladders or filled bottles Electrolyte drinks are available as an option.
  • Snacks and Lunch: Trail mix, sandwiches, trail bars, beef jerky, hard-boiled eggs, summer sausage, and cheese are all high-energy items.
  • Ice Axe (seasonal): Standard Mountaineering Ice Axe with a wrist strap, adjusted to your height. These may be leased at your local climbing/outdoors store or REI if you don’t have one. 5′ of webbing can be turned into wrist straps. When it’s required, we set aside time in our programs to educate participants on how to use ice axes.
  • Microspikes/Crampons (seasonal): Crampons or Microspikes are applied to your boots for more excellent traction on slick or snowy slopes. When crampons/Microspikes are required on our programs, program time is set aside to teach participants how to utilize them.
  • Toiletries
  • Lip balm with SPF and sunscreen (SPF 30 and above)
  • Small First Aid Kit (this should include your medicines, over-the-counter drugs, and blister care). Bring additional prescription medications in case of delays.)
  • With an extra set of batteries, use a headlamp or flashlight.
  • Cotton is acceptable for a bandana.
  • Pack extra clothing layers and socks in a dry bag or rubbish bag if the weather forecast calls for rain.
  • Multi-tool or Pocket Knife
  • Hiking poles that can be adjusted (optional)
  • camcorder (optional)

When is The Best Time of Year to Plan a Trip to Hunt for Rocks at Mt. St. Helens 

The best time to go to Rockhounding Mt. St. Helens depends on the type of activities you plan to do there and what you’d like to see outside of collecting gems. 

If you’d like to go rock collecting, the Spring to Autumn months are ideal. If you’d like to participate in winter activities, there won’t be much rock collecting as the streams would be frozen and the mountain covered in snow.

Many of the entrances(gates) to the Forest are also closed off during the winter months.

Final Thought

Washington has a long history of massive geologic activity, which, as you can see, has resulted in an astounding array of stones.

It’s worth a trip out there simply for rockhounding Mt. St. Helens, so give it a chance if you’re planning a trip to the Pacific Northwest in the near future.

Check out our Rockhounding Oregon and Rockhounding Washington for more information about rock hunting in the Pac NW.