Visiting the Denver area?
In this article, we’ll give you what you need to get started on a local rockhounding adventure!
Rockhounding Near Denver (A Visitor’s Guide)
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.
Colorado has long been a rock hounding destination as a state.
The combination of mountains, ranges, geological formations and a significant amount of manmade mining in the larger region makes the state ideal for finding rocks, fossils and formations that otherwise would likely remain hidden without very heavy equipment.
However, the area around Denver, Colorado is immediately adjacent to the big mountain zones.
In fact, Denver itself is fairly flat and prairie-like.
That doesn’t mean there’s not rockhounding to be had in the greater area of the state’s capital.
For the most part, even around Denver, the best times to go rock hounding are in the late spring and fall.
Much of the reason has to do with the fact that the Denver area gets a tremendous amount of rain and snowfall during the winter months.
That literally makes many of the country areas outside of the urban center inaccessible by most cars, unless driving a full 4×4 truck which, in some cases, may still be risky.
However, all the above said, the Denver regional area remains one of the top locations in Colorado for rock hounding in general, with a wide abundance of rock types and minerals.
The range includes deposits of agate, amethyst, fluorite, garnet, rhodonite, sphalerite, and plenty of fossilized organic remains from millions of years earlier.
It’s not uncommon for many hikers to go for a walk in areas that have just been changed by erosion and weather to find a significant fossil sample uncovered and recently exposed.
In fact, rocks and specialized minerals are so extensive in Colorado, a number of them are identified as official state symbols.
Western Denver/Jefferson County
One of the best deposits of rocks and minerals for collectors adjacent or within range of Denver is going to be in Jefferson County.
That great majority of the area provides rockhounds a portfolio of rock types easily collected from the local riverbeds, creeks, and dig spots.
Most collectors find plenty of samples of aquamarine, calcite, fluorite, quartz and zeolite.
For immediate locations in the County, look around the following:
- Wigwam Creek – Easily going to find Amazonite, lots of quartz and some fluorite in the purple variety.
- Exposed areas along the west side of Route 74 – Chalcocite, fluorite, sphalerite, gold and silver if you’re lucky and have a good eye, and willemite.
- Areas of the north and southern parts of Table mountains – These zones were regularly used for mining or open quarry digging. Visitors hiking in the area can easily find multiple samples of apophyllite, calcite, zeolite crystals and samples, some stilbite and even aragonite.
- The northwest side of the Centennial Cone – Folks will find more aquamarine in this location along with beryl and bertrandite, and smart observers will likely find quartz crystals as well.
- Traffic road cuts all over the County – Because these gigantic changes exposed so much hidden rock, rockhounds are still likely to find sizable samples of garnets, epidote, allanite, hornblende, sphene and even magnetite.
The Clora May Mine
If folks have a bit of time, two hours southwest of Denver sits the town of Buena Vista.
Another 20 minutes east one will find the Clora May Mine Access point, an easy hike that takes about 15 minutes.
Bring good shoes and maybe a walking stick with a bottle of water, since you will be travelling uphill.
Once you’re at the location, hikers and rockhounds will be rewarded with an abundance of rock types including biotite, feldspar, mica and very big samples of quartz.
Occasionally, folks find tourmaline in the area as well.
This is a bit spotty, and not everyone will see a sample right away.
However, if one is really lucky on a visit to the Mine, there is a chance to catch some odd and uncommon minerals.
These include aeschynite as well as xenotime.
One has to know what they are looking for as the samples available will be many times nondescript, but they are interesting finds for purist collectors.
Just remember to handle any collections carefully and maybe put them in a small lead box.
Some can be radioactive, which will set off alarm bells at an airport.
In the same general proximity of Buena Vista, going about 20 minutes further south, one will get to Ruby Mountain.
It’s a hike to the prime hunting area, but not strenuous.
For folks who are big fans of obsidian, this is worth the trip.
At about the halfway point up the peak, there will be an outcropping.
This particular location has a sizable deposit of perlite and obsidian in it.
Folks can also find garnet and rhyolite in the immediate area, and a careful eye may even turn up a stray topaz crystal or two.
Most of it has been scoured by years of people visiting before, but there’s still some samples to be had any given day.
Note, part of the location is private land, so be careful where you go surveying without permission.
This location is a bit more for the experienced rockhounder who has the ability to read the weather well and avoid bad situations.
The location is hard to get to, blocked most times of the year, and folks shouldn’t even try going hunting here without knowing the area or having a local, experienced guide.
After all that trouble, however, the payoff can be notable.
This location is famous for sizable aquamarine finds that collectors love to have in their collection and be able to tell a story about it as well.
Mount Antero is a bit of a drive to the southwest of Denver, so plan to make a weekend of the trip.
Other Colorado Locations Southwest of Denver
- Salida – Sitting southwest of Denver, Salida was a well known quarry and mining area. The town still has plenty of access to the locations and provides easy, walking zones for rock hounding.
- Midway Springs – In the same area as Salida, Midway offers deposits of aragonite, especially with bright red and bright white samples. Some deposits have even formed speleotherms.
- Browns Canyon – Similarly, in the Salida region, Browns Canyon might offer some drive-by locations to look at and examine. Much of the opportunity is in the form of fluorite at a local mine in the area. However, there are hydrothermal formations in the area, and these sometimes have exposed Volborthite.
- St Elmo – a local ghost town and tourist spot for folks driving through, this location is pretty much a summer-only access. Note, while there are lots of samples to find nearby, much of the land has active claims where you can’t hunt, so be careful where you go walking and pick up rocks.
- Hartsel – In the same general area as above, Hartsel has private claims of Barite available for access if one pays a fee of $5 at the Bayou Salado Trading Post in town. Folks reference plenty of crystals peppering the ground at the claim site, essentially easy to find and collect. The crystals tend to stand out against the red dirt and mud, glittering blue in the sunlight. But it does get hot in the area during the summer, so bring hydration and shade, especially if you’re thinking about digging for a bit to find bigger samples.
There are plenty of other rock hounding locations further away from Denver as the entire state is a geological gold mine.
However, remember to pay attention to notices of local claims, private land rules, and public land limitations.
State and federal parks can be rather touchy about any digging or sample collecting, which has gotten more than one person in trouble.
Do your homework first before visiting and picking things up.
Carry With You
If you are planning a hike where there will be rocks to pick through, consider packing one of the following:
- National Audubon Society Field Guide to Rocks and Minerals (small book with pretty colored pictures to help identification)
- National Audubon Society Field Guide To North American Fossils (small book with pictures)
- Gemstone & Crystals Properties (durable fold-up guide)
- Small UV Flashlight
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