Rockhounding is a fun way to go out in nature, get some exercise, and learn about the different geology of Earth through collecting.
Rockhounding Boise can be a great experience, and there are a variety of places to visit to collect the best gems, rocks, and fossils in Idaho and the next state over in Washington, as well as in Oregon.
Rockhounding Near Boise, Idaho
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.
1. Boise National Forest
Perhaps the best place to go rockhounding is Boise National Forest.
This expansive area is only a 2 hour drive from Boise, and is open to the public to study rocks.
About 90 percent of the Boise National Forest is what is known in Geology as the “Idaho Batholith.”
This expansive area was once home to volcanic activity, which created metamorphic rocks that can now be found throughout Boise National Forest.
The most common rocks in this area are granite. However, to the south and west of the forest, basalt intrusions can also be found.
Additionally, precious minerals such as gold, tungsten, and antimony can also be found within the Boise National Forest.
To prepare for your journey into the forest, choose one of 70 campgrounds and book ahead of time through the recreation website.
There is a standard $15 fee for those interested. Hiking trails are well-paved in some areas, and allow dogs, bikers, and people walking on foot.
2. Little City of Rocks
Just north of Gooding is the Little City of Rocks, which is one of the most unique geological formations in Idaho.
Best of all, it’s a less than 2 hour drive away from Boise.
The Little City of Rocks is a geological formation of hoodoos from rock formations that appear like stacks made of mushroom caps, arches, spires, pillars and fins.
The rocks that make up the Little City of Rocks are composed primarily of rhyolite.
Rhyolite forms from pyroclastic lava flows, which are later hardened, and are different from Idaho’s typical basalt formations.
The rhyolite that makes up Little City of Rocks is, in essence, hardened ash.
To visit this area, make sure conditions are dry as it can be closed during wet seasons.
There is one main hiking trail that cuts straight through Little City of Rocks. To gain access, look for a BLM sign 12.5 miles north of Gooding on Hwy 46.
3. Owyhee River
The Owyhee River is located in Oregon and is only an hour and 15 minutes driving from Boise.
It is by far one of the best places to go rockhounding near Boise due to its vast sediment deposits, amazing beauty, and natural preservation.
Owyhee river has been in the making for 16 million years, which is relatively young in terms of geology.
However, it still has a plethora of lava flows and rocks to explore. Some rocks here include pink rhyolite, basalt, lava sediments, pink and white plume agate, and opal within volcanic rocks!
The fossils in the Owyhee river are also unique, and include leaves, pollen, wood, fish, and ancient mammals.
A four-wheel drive is recommended to reach the Owyhee river, whether you decide to hunt for rocks and fossils, or simply to fish.
4. Jordan Craters
The Jordan Craters fields are located in Oregon just South of the Owyhee River’s beginning.
It is only a 2 hour drive from Boise, and offer some of the most unique and astonishing opportunities for Rockhounding near Boise.
The Jordan Craters are a new formation of craters that are only about 3200 years old.
They are composed of basalt fields formed in the Cenozoic era as well as scoria cones, more popularly known as volcanoes!
The great thing about the Jordan Craters is that they are free and open year-round to the public.
5. Shoeshone Falls
Shoeshone falls is a 212-foot tall waterfall sometimes referred to as the “niagara falls” of the west.
Shoeshone falls is located northeast of Twin Falls city, only 2 hours away from Boise.
This is one of the more beautiful locations for rockhounding near Boise.
Shoeshone falls has a variety of rocks to collect and study.
Primarily, it is made up of ancient rhyolite. It also has basalt formations intersecting throughout.
To visit Shoeshone Falls, it’s best to visit during the spring time when the falls are full of water.
There are a variety of ways to reach the entrance.
However you get there, keep in mind that between March 1 and September 30, there is a $5 fee per car to enter the park.
Visiting any other time during the off-season is free.
6. Snake River
The Snake River empties partly into the Shoeshone Falls, and is one of the best places for Rockhounding Near Boise.
The Snake River is is the largest tributary of the Columbia River, and is over 1,000 miles long stretching through Idaho.
Common rocks that can be found in the Snake River in Idaho include rhyolite, an igneous rock that has a high concentration of silica.
In addition to rhyolite, basalt can also be found as it is a remnant of the formation of the Owyhee Plateau and Snake River Plain.
In addition to rhyolite and basalt, rich deposits of breccia can also be found in Snake River.
Breccia is a type of rock that is composed of other smaller rocks and is made through a process of erosion.
Breccia can be found above rhyolite deposits in the Snake River.
People can enjoy hiking near the river as well as taking their boats out onto the water.
7. Haggerman Fossil Beds
The Haggerman Fossil Beds are located only an hour and a half southeast of Boise.
They are some of the most historically significant geological formations, and are highly studied by geologists and anthropologists alike.
The Haggerman fossil beds provide ample opportunities for learning about rockhounding.
These fossil beds were formed during the Pilocene era, and have fossilized some amazing mammals for visitors to see.
Although you can’t take home fossils from the site, it’s a great way to learn about the history and geology of the area.
You can even visit the Emigrant trail located parallel to the Haggerman Fossil Beds and see if you can find similar fossils!
Some mammals that have been preserved and can be seen at the Haggerman Visitors Centers include the saber-toothed cat, mastodon, rodents, camels, bears, ground sloth, even smaller animals such as frogs.
Of course, the most famous fossil might be the Haggerman Horse.
To visit the site, make a free reservation with the Haggerman Visitors Center. It is open year-round to the public.
8. Bruneau River Canyon
Idaho is known as the gem state for a good reason.
There are a variety of precious gems and rocks located in Idaho, available to take home, mine, and even polish and sell.
One of the best places to go gem rockhounding near Boise is Bruneau Canyon, which is only an hour and a half from Boise.
At Bruneau Canyon, there are rich deposits of Bruneau Jasper made of an aggregate of microgranular quartz and rhyolate.
Bruneau canyon has the highest concentration of silica-rich rhyolite flow within the canyon. Although this jasper is precious, Bruneau canyon is, unfortunately, not easily accessible.
To get to the river canyon, visitors must pay close attention, as there is virtually no way to tell you’re at the canyon until looking at it from its rim.
To get there from Bruneau, turn east on Hot Springs Road for 15.6 miles on a road that is dirt, but also described as “having only cattle.” Turn right at the “Overlook” sign posted by the Beaureu of Land Management and continue for another 3 miles.
Visitors should visit during cooler months such as in spring, and can hike past the railing at their own risk.
9. Squaw Butte
Squaw Butte near Emmett is another gem-rich area located in, of course, Gem County Idaho.
It is located an hour and half drive north of Boise near Sweet, Idaho.
In Squaw Butte, lava beds have formed fire opals that can be found alongside cherry and salmon pink opals.
These opals consist of non-crystalline form of mineral silica, and can even be beautifully polished.
Before visiting Squaw Butte, keep in mind it is a moderate, not easy, hiking trail.
As such, it’s best to take a four-wheeler or even ATV’s with you while exploring for gems.
You can also hike the trail along with your dog, however, it’s best to visit during spring as the snow can be a hindrance and only for experienced hikers.
From Emmett, travel north along highway 52 and continue driving north on Van Dussen Road until you get to Butte Road.
Then, travel 2 more miles east to a cattle guard. At the cattle guard, turn left and drive up.
Squaw Butte can also be accessed through the Black Canyon Dam and Butte Road just outside of Sweet, Idaho.
Keep Safety In Mind
For rockhounding near Boise, these areas can all prove to be fun and memorable.
Always keep a GPS, map, hydration, and all other hiking gear with you if going onto a hiking trail.
If you can take an ATV or go off-roading, follow safe practices for these vehicles as well.
In addition, make sure you’re following the rules of the state you are in, whether it’s Idaho, Oregon, or Washington, for rockhounding.
For instance, in Idaho, gems cannot be collected for commercial purposes or bartering, and there is a limit to specific items.
For instance, petrified wood, only 25 pounds can be collected daily, with an annual limit of 250 pounds. Hand tools and metal detectors are also the only tools that can be used for rockhounding.
For more information on rockhounding near Boise in Idaho, follow guidelines from the Bureau of Land Management.
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