San Joaquin is filled with a variety of rockhounding locations. The Panoche Hills, full of rocks and crystals, comprise quite a bit of San Joaquin’s western side.
The Tumey Hills, located just south of the Panoche Hills, is also full of rockhounding sites, although it is less popular.
In this article, you’ll learn more about some good options for rockhounding in San Joaquin County, California.
Rockhounding San Joaquin County, (Let’s Go)
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.
Area 54 and Little Panoche Creek
Area 54 is a popular site in the Panoche Hills.
This area is known for its plentiful gem pits, though it is not as well-known as you would expect.
Some of the rocks at this site include jade, agate, and jasper, as well as Blue G, known commonly as Lawsonite.
The site itself is a former gravel pit quarry in the bed of Little Panoche Creek.
Area 54 and the Panoche site cover about 180 acres, though not all of them are still accessible.
Driving to the location is recommended, but to get to the quarry, the trek will need to be completed on foot.
Make sure you have a reliable pair of shoes for the trek.
Many of the rocks in Area 54 are classified as “cuttable,” meaning that tools are required to remove them from the rock.
However, the cuttable rocks are very close to the surface and easy to remove.
Most rockhounds bring buckets to the site, due to the high quantity of collectible rocks.
If you collect a lot of rocks in buckets, make sure you are prepared for the trek back to your car.
To get to Area 54 in Little Panoche Creek, you take I-5 exit #379.
At this point, drive to the Iron Posts, after turning right at the guard station.
There are several stopping points for rockhounding in Area 54, all accessible on foot from the canyon floor.
After entering through the posts, you come to a fork in the road.
The south road leads towards the first creek deposits.
The first two spots, the “Parking Lot” and the “Bowl” are fairly easy to locate.
The “Parking Lot” is known for its easy rockhounding and kid-friendly terrain.
To get the most out of a family trip, this would be the site to spend most of your time at.
The “Bowl” is the biggest site, where you can collect from the main gravel pit.
The next spot is just north of the “Bowl,” and is known as the “Big Candy Rock Mountain,” where layers of rock deposits can be found.
The path to these sites is not a circle, so you will return the same way you arrived.
The spot after that is famous for its boulders.
Known as the “Pinchpoint,” this site was created after the narrow canyon walls formed a type of funnel that prevented the larger rocks from passing through.
You can find plenty of gems and rocks to cut from these boulders. From there, the remaining sites are smaller, although they still contain many cuttable gems. This includes “Central Park,” “The Rim,” “The Island,” and “The Boulder Patch.”
You will need cutting tools like a rock hammer, jeweler’s loupe, rock chisel, and the appropriate safety gear to collect at this site.
The best forms of protection are safety goggles and thick gloves.
A magnifying glass and camera are also helpful tools for identifying rock types.
Area 54 is a great place for family-friendly rockhounding.
It’s important to keep in mind that rock cutting tools are essential and the sites are currently only accessible on foot.
Several of the sites are close to private property, so make sure to stay in the canyon and avoid the nearby farms.
Be prepared for quite a bit of walking and physical labor while cutting rocks. The main road has been chained off for cars, but the guards will let travelers through on foot.
Near Area 54 is the original Little Panoche rockhounding site, approachable by car on Little Panoche Road. This site includes a variety of rocks and crystals on the left of the road.
To get to Little Panoche rd. we can take the same I5 exit as area 54.
Though many rockhounds believe this site to be picked over, for the dedicated rockhound, there are still plenty of crystals to collect.
About an hour south of the Panoche Hills is another great area for rockhounding.
This spot, the Tumey Hills, contains quite a few of the same rocks as Area 54.
To get to Tumey Hills, take the same I-5 exit, #379, then continue on CO Hwy J1 for about 47.5 miles.
The area has two public entrances that are always open to walking access, and seasonally open for car access.
It does not have any specific rockhounding sites, but many rockhounds have found beautiful specimens while searching free-range.
The Tumey Hills are known for their rolling nature and sagebrush-dotted landscape.
Selenite and quartz-infused Jasper are common stones in the area.
Depending on the season, the area can reach up to 100० Fahrenheit, so light clothing is ideal.
Many rockhounds prefer to visit the site in the morning when it is less likely to be hot.
Along with light clothing, hiking boots or shoes are a must-have item.
The most important thing to bring with you for rockhounding is drinking water.
Cutting the rocks requires a lot of energy, making hydration essential.
In addition to water, many rockhounds recommend bringing a physical map of the Panoche Hills, just in case the Wi-Fi signal is weak.
The terrain in the Panoche Hills is very hilly, so you may need a walking stick. There is little to no shade coverage, so make sure to use sunscreen.
The best place for rockhounding and crystal collecting in San Joaquin county is undoubtedly the Panoche Hills.
With mountainous terrain and former quarries, Little Panoche Creek, Area 54, and the Tumey Hills are the perfect sites for family-friendly adventures and more serious rockhounding endeavors.
Good luck and don’t forget your tools!
California Rockhounding Resources
If you like to have a physical book in hand (like when there’s no cell service), here’s a few popular options:
Rockhounding California: A Guide To The State’s Best Rockhounding Sites
Gem Trails of Southern California
Gem Trails of Northern California
Smithsonian Rocks and Minerals Identification Guide
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