Sacramento is not the first place people think of for California rockhounding and similar geological finds, but the City and its surrounding region do have a lot to offer.
Ranging from riverbed sifting to ancient volcanic beds to the gem of Lake Tahoe, the greater Sacramento Region gives folks a hefty bit of real estate to find lots of different rock types, and all are within easy driving distance with an international airport right on the Northern part of the City.
In short, Sacramento is at the crossroads of the west coast with a lot to offer if you know where to look for geology.
Rockhounding Near Sacramento
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.
A River Town City
For decades, Sacramento has been one of California’s inner farm areas, only recently booming with residential growth and development in the last 20 years at best.
And cutting through the inner part of the Sacramento area are three main rivers, the American River, Consumnes River and the Feather River on the west side of town.
All three of these major waterways have numerous access points for the public to enter as well as go rockhunting at.
From the most obvious public beaches under the City’s signature golden bridge span to the various sand bars and beach points further east along the rivers’ edges, plenty of opportunities exist for finding geological gems brought down every year from the mountains with the rain runoff.
Generally, most of the City areas are fair game.
One does have to watch out for the state park zones along the American River Parkway, Folsom State Park and reservoir areas up by Folsom.
State parks do not allow rock or artifact collecting, and the reservoir at Folsom is actually federal territory, where similar laws apply as well.
Make the mistake of pocketing minerals up there and you could find yourself facing a federal charge and court fine of a couple thousand dollars.
Park rangers in either jurisdiction don’t have any sympathy for tourists, so don’t even think about trying that excuse.
Down by the bridge area and further south, getting even down as far as Galt and Isleton, lots of different locations exist for basic river sifting and poking around.
While the majority of beach zones tend to be mud, river sludge and lots of vegetation common with delta flows, sometimes there are some interesting finds.
These zones favor the more periodic type of rockhound who is willing to go out on a regular basis along the rivers and snoop around or just looking for a relaxing day on the water-sifting and dropping things with a pan.
Another easy access point on the Feather River northwest of town is under the I-80 overpass near the boat ramp.
This location is a regular beach and boat access favorite on the river, and it’s easy to get to off of Garden Highway heading west away from town.
Just take I-5 until you see the Garden Highway exit just north of Sacramento City center and then head west on the levee road.
Eventually, you get to the boat ramp situated underneath the huge cement towers of Interstate 80 overhead.
That’s your river access location.
And, when you’re done slumming in the water and hungry, you can go over to Swabbies just nearby and get fried tacos.
Believe it or not, a lot of interesting stones end up in the Delta which can be walked and surveyed by foot during the summer when things are dried out.
Between Sacramento and Davis to the west is the Causeway.
This stretch of highway bridge ends on the Davis side with an exit named E Chiles Road.
Just take the exit, loop under the highway and you will find a levee wetlands visiting area.
Park your car, get out and start hoofing it.
You’re deep in the middle of a wetlands zone that regularly sees river runoff in the winter, which dries out in the summer and becomes rice or similar farmland.
For the keen of eye the area can promise some interesting finds, but a lot of the area is covered with old mud that’s dried out in the summer heat.
You could try the same in the winter, but the water level and wet mud makes any kind of foot travel almost worthless.
The Vacaville Rock Shop
A favorite on Interstate 50 if you keep going West from Sacramento, this warehouse set up located in Vacaville is a rockhound and collector’s favorite pitstop on the road heading to the Bay Area or back.
The shop is easy to see from the highway but a bit of a pain to get to.
You basically have to overshoot it and drive back on the parallel city road.
The location itself is made up of two or three buildings with a massive collection of rocks, minerals, and everything in between for sale.
Missing a rare geode type for your collection?
They probably have it. Folks from all over visit the place, and they still process all the sales on a 1970s type cashier box with the manual buttons.
Granted, the Vacaville Rock Shop is not a hike or natural location per se, but it definitely is a nice stop two and from other locations for those who love geology and everything that comes with it.
Even better, because their collection of inventory is so varied and huge, it’s a great place to pull over and compare notes with real items you might not have or are looking for to complete a collection.
The kids will love the place too.
Highway 49 is a state route that cuts north and south in the Sierras.
The interesting thing about the road is that it goes by a lot of geological sites that were cut and opened up to make way for the road.
Rockhounds occasionally find and odd volcanic item or two in these locations along the route.
More importantly, there are repeat sites along the route that simply show off the difference in geology from one part of the Sierras to the next.
Most folks take Interstate 50 up to the Sierras, and then they turn off on Highway 49 at Placerville.
Heading northwest, the route will wind through the Sierras until you reach Interstate 80 and can head back to Sacramento.
Mid-way you could have lunch in Coloma, an old mining center and now a Sierra tourist town.
If you’re up for a bit of a drive into the greater Sacramento region, the Sierras are accessible both on Interstate 50 and Interstate 80 heading east.
Highway 50 gives you access to Desolation, halfway up the Sierras to Tahoe, and a great hike into hardcore mountain granite zones.
You will find plenty of high altitude rock formations, snow and wind blasted granite caps, and plenty of crags and trials through the area for either day hikes or longer excursions into the interior.
Just remember, you’re in a federal forest and federal artifact and mineral rules apply.
There’s plenty to look around for, but nothing to take home.
Use your portable phone or device instead to take pictures for memory.
If from out of town, just head east from Sacramento City or, if flying in, rent a car at airport and take 50 or 80 up to the mountains heading east.
It’s about as simple a way to get to the Sierras as one can have.
All the rest stops on the way once you’re in the Sierras give you plenty of great spots to go walking around, rockhounding and exploring.
The Tahoe Region
About two hours east of Sacramento and on the border with Nevada is Lake Tahoe.
This area is chock full of geological goodies.
Granted, just like the entrance into the area, a good amount of the rock is predominantly ancient granite of immense size.
However, near the creeks, rivers and beaches, there are plenty of opportunities for finding other minerals that have broken free from the main rock in the mountains around the lake and eventually flowed down with rainfall, snowmelt and similar.
First off, if you like water-smoothed rocks of any sort, the Lake and connected rivers have plenty of it.
The Truckee River in the northern part of the lake funnels lake waters and runoff constantly, smoothing out lots of rocks of different sizes in its waters.
Some panning is possible with a basic goldminer’s pan only, and occasionally folks do find a bit of the yellow fleck in the granitic sands sifted out of the waters.
Lastly, Old Sacramento
No, you aren’t going to find any amazing rocks in Old Sacramento itself, but you can visit the State Museum there and check out the gold nuggets they have on display.
And there is the Old Sacramento archeology tour, which is a bit of a historic walk through of what the place looked like during its earliest years of settlement as a gold rush town.
It’s a nice, easy side trip to enjoy if you’re in town and can’t get away for a full hike or venture into the hills or down the river.
Rockhounding near Sacramento isn’t the best location in California, but the area does have a few options for folks if they happen to be in the locale.
With the above and a bit of sleuthing, one can find a few day adventures to fill up the calendar with and maybe even find a bit of gold in them thar hills!
We are getting ready to go rockhounding near Palm Springs, we’ll let you know how it goes! Where are you headed next?
Other articles you might enjoy: