Rockhounding South Dakota: 7 Gorgeous Locations To Find Unique Treasures

Talk about Pegmatite, Fairburn agates, and Black Hills gold, and you’re talking about rocks found in South Dakota, which is a paradise state for rock collecting enthusiasts.

The National Rockhound and Lapidary Hall of Fame is located here, which drives home that this is the ideal place to find beautiful gems, from Fairburn Agate to Quartz and gold. 

If you’ve been wondering where to dig Fairburn Agates in South Dakota, we have a few places listed below for you and your loved ones or colleagues to go.

Let’s go rockhounding South Dakota!

Where To Go Rock Hunting In South Dakota

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.

Black Hills – Fairburn Agate, Quartz & 40+ minerals

Black Hills is the central point to head for when considering where to dig Fairburn Agates in South Dakota.

It’s a vast area and just about every rock collecting attraction is located there or nearby, but you must be careful where you collect your rocks or dig.

According to the USDA Forest Service, “A permit is not required to collect tiny rocks or mineral specimens from the surface for personal use on the Black Hills National Forest.”

However, it is not permitted to collect from historical sites in the Forest.

Please do not disrupt historic sites; they should be left as they are for future visitors to appreciate.

Contact your local Ranger District office if you have any questions about safe rock-hounding sites.”

Fairburn Agates are stunning examples of the many states in South Dakota, but they aren’t easy to come by.

It takes a lot of practice to find them.

Their rarity is, of course, part of what makes them so unique in the first place.

Hundreds of dollars can be made on even the tiniest of pieces.

Identifying Fairburn agates in the field, especially for beginners, can be difficult.

Dirty, unpolished stones are difficult to distinguish from those that have been cut and polished.

You must retain a sharp eye and be aware of where to look.

Fairburns are available in various colors, including white, pink, red, purple, black, and orange.

The Fairburn Agates can be distinguished not only by their unusual colors but also by their characteristic parallel banding.

A few pieces will have beautiful coloring and tight banding.

Fairburn Agates may also be distinguished from other rocks by their smooth, external appearance.

They have a broken surface as well.

Additionally, Agates may be found by looking for the “thumbprint” characteristics that appear on some stones.

This is an excellent signal, but you’ll have to look closely at most of them to notice it.

Fairburn Agates might also be discovered by searching for rocks with changing layers that feature semi-circular contours of various widths and colors.

The majority of the pieces are less transparent than the majority of agates found all over the world.

Several other Agates from Prairie to Bubblegum Agate South Dakota are also found in the vicinity.

A large stretch just outside the Black Hills, extending from Rapid City to Nebraska, is the primary location for those Agates and other rocks found in South Dakota.

The Dig Site at TeePee Canyon – Fairburn Agates

The dig site is located near the South Dakota-Wyoming border.

TeePee Canyon, South Dakota Agates, have dramatic purple, red, and orange designs that are wrapped in brown limestone.

Their nodules can be discovered in uncovered rock layers in the TeePee Canyon section of the National Forest, to the western end of Custer, which lies off Highway 16.

These Agates are many feet underground within the brownish limestone and have to be broken free, unlike other Agates found on or embedded in the surface of soft tuff.

If going there from Hot Springs, use Highway 79 north and the opposite to Custer and Rapid City.

An exit toward French Creek Road, Highway 18, is designated with a sign for the community of Fairburn.

The road is made of gravel, although it is well-kept. When you get to Fairburn, walk through the town until you reach the road that leads eastward from the city.

Drive for about twelve miles northeast on this gravel road to the French Creek Campground at Buffalo Gap National Grasslands.

You’ll see the Agate Beds situated across the creek from the campground. To get to the rock collection area, take the four-wheel-drive route.   

Railroad Buttes – Fossil Agate and Quartz

Wondering where to find Rose Quartz in South Dakota?

Railroad Buttes and their environs are ideal locations.

Quartz, Fossil agates, and petrified wood can be found in beds along Highway 44 to the west of Interior.

This location on Highway 44 is stunning, with colorful hills dotting the terrain and the Badlands peaks in the background.

Because camping is permitted on the property, it provides for a truly unforgettable outing.

The collecting region is situated off of Highway 44 toward the east of Rapid City.

Jump onto the highway heading east toward New Underwood crossroads.

Follow this route south, which will take you through Rapid Creek.

From Highway 44, you can notice the Railroad Buttes appearing in the distance.

Continue along the gravel path till you reach your destination.

Park anywhere off Highway 44 close to Interior, where there are two more agate beds.

Buffalo Gap National Grasslands – Agate 

For anyone interested in rocks, minerals, gemstones, and fossils, the Buffalo Gap National Grassland and its environs are gem heaven.

With rare exceptions, rockhounding is permitted all over the National Grasslands.

When you choose to go rockhounding South Dakota on private property you, need the owner’s approval.

In federal areas, a permit is necessary for the gathering of “vertebrate paleontological specimens, including their trace fossils (tracks).”

These permissions are only granted for scientific study and education. Call their office for more details.

“The following are the restrictions that apply to rockhounding: collecting anything for commercial reasons is prohibited; trading and bartering are considered commercial activity.

“Digging in, excavating, disturbing, harming, destroying, or in any way damaging any prehistoric, historical or archeological objects is banned,” according to USDA Forest Service policy and advice in 36 CFR 261.9.”

Every type of Agate in the state can be discovered in the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands’ agate beds.

The volcanic badlands’ colorful hills and buttes emerge from the plains, covered in stones that lay bare due to erosion.

You’ll see Agates among all of these pebbles.

If you were contemplating where to find rose Quartz in South Dakota, all types of lovely Quartz pebbles, as well as rare fossils, can be discovered here.

The beds of South Dakota Agates in Kadoka, Railroad, and Fairburn, some of the most productive places for you when searching for where to dig Fairburn Agates in South Dakota.

You’ll be happy to know that Buffalo Gap National Grasslands permits camping everywhere when you go rockhounding South Dakota. 

Most areas are primitive, with only French Creek Campground providing fire pits and an outdoor toilet.

Because this is a rough and quickly shifting environment, bring lots of water, food, and equipment.

There’s no covering, so during the warm months, temperatures can reach the high 100s.

Avoid camping during the rainy season, as even the best all-terrain vehicles can get stuck.

Rush Mountain Adventure Park – Gems, Fossils, Minerals

In the Gemstone Mining section, your family will enjoy sifting through dirt and sand in a real sluice box, looking for various gems, fossils, arrowheads, and minerals.

You’ll compare your rocks to photographs to figure out what kind of rock you’ve found.

You may also learn about how that particular sort of rock formed, as well as other intriguing geology facts: it’s a terrific hands-on, entertaining, and informative adventure for an entire family.

In the Gift Shop, there are several different types of mining dirt to choose from. It is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day.

The Rushmore Cave Gift Shop, situated at the front area of the Visitor Center at Rushmore Cave, offers Mining Dirt Packages.

You get to keep the treasure you uncover.

Rush Mountain Adventure Park is located 5 miles to the east of Keystone on Highway 40.

13622 Highway 40, Keystone, South Dakota 57751

Email: info@rushmtn.com Phone: 1-605-255-4384

Paleo Adventures – Fossils

PaleoAdventures is a commercial paleontology firm dedicated to preserving valuable vertebrate fossils. 

They are located in the stunning Black Hills, just a short distance from some of the world’s most notable dinosaur excavation sites. 

They’re about an hour’s drive east of Devil’s Tower, an hour’s drive west of Mt. Rushmore, and only half an hour to the north of Deadwood.

Adventure Tours at Dinosaur Dig Sites

A thrilling adventure for almost everyone aged ten and up and is the ultimate rockhounding South Dakota trip.

All training and equipment are provided, and unlike many other expeditions, you are permitted to keep a few of the known fossils discovered.

For an extra fee, you can buy “commercially important” fossils such as T. Rex teeth and more comprehensive bones of Triceratops, etc.

Only museums are allowed to display “scientifically significant” items.

You must be in good physical shape and capable of hiking in high and unstable terrain.

It takes a lot of effort to dig for dinosaurs.

It would help if you exercised patience and caution.

The digging conditions are challenging.

Extreme weather conditions are expected, with strong breezes and hot temperatures.

Prepare for a thrilling trip in a remote but gorgeous section of the United States!

They take you to private ranches where you might hope to uncover fossils in secret spots.

The trips are authentic, with all the benefits and drawbacks of an actual paleontological excursion. 

This isn’t sanding down plastic or planting bones.

This implies there’s a potential you’ll come across some pretty fascinating fossils, but there are no guarantees. 

You’ll have to dig, but more importantly, you’ll have to be patient and careful since dinosaur bones are usually brittle and of scientific significance.

All-day trips depart the field station in Belle Fourche at 8:00 a.m. Around 7:30-8:00 p.m., you return to the field station.

Most novices should try a one- or two-day trip to discover if it is something they enjoy.

The days are long and exhausting.

Most families will have enough time to acquire a sense for the real paleontology adventure and take home a few good common fossils after 1-2 days.

Veteran diggers and budding paleontologists may wish to extend their stay to the 2-4 day range.

You can retain your discovery if it’s not exceptional, uncommon, scientifically significant, or financially valuable. Your guide will choose what you can keep and what they must keep.

Commercial Grade Fossils are available for purchase between $50 and $2,000. When it’s ready, they’ll prepare, repair, pack, and ship it back to you.

Fossils of Scientific Grade: These are exclusively found in museums and colleges. If you locate one of these rare and interesting artifacts, your name will be added to their logbook as the finder, but you’ll not be able to retain it.  

What You Need to Bring

Your guide will offer you the necessary tools, glues, preservatives, collecting supplies, and equipment. 

Guests should pack as if going on a day hike or spending the day at the beach.

It is recommended that you bring a cap, sunscreen, water bottles, a small cooler, a knapsack, personal amenities, a camera, and hiking boots. Prepare yourself for a day in the badlands.

On the way to the dig sites, they stop at a convenience store to ensure everyone has lunch.

Big Thunder Gold Mine – Gold

Big Thunder offers you a museum, mine your and gold panning experience all in one setting.

This is an ideal way to go rockhounding South Dakota with the entire family.

Even if any member of your party has physical struggles, the facilities are set up to accommodate everyone.

Located in the fabulous Keystone, this mine tour allows you to pan for gold.

It’s easy walking and has wheelchair accessibility. 

You get a hard hat and a pan, and just like in the olden day, you begin panning for gold.

Also, you could end up finding other gems. 

Additionally, you’ll see artifacts and get a complete understanding of the mining process.

Everyone old and young will enjoy this experience. 

Whether you find something valuable or not, there’s a gift shop where you can purchase artifacts and items made of gold, of course.

There is a picnic area too, so you can relax and eat after your gold panning expedition. 

The facility is known for excellent customer service, and they’ve copped a few awards, so that should build your confidence.

There are hotels nearby and other attractions like the Keystone Museum.

Overall, no matter where you go in the Black Hills and its surroundings for rockhounding South Dakota, you’re bound to get some South Dakota Agates, even if it’s not the elusive Fairburn.

Scores of other gems await you as well, including the Bubblegum Agate South Dakota, so plan to spend a few days.

Enjoy!

You might also enjoy learning about rockhounding available in Ohio, Lake Erie, Lake Superior, and Montana.