Rockhounding In Washington State
Washington state offers some amazing rockhounding for those who know where to look. Impressive silica-based minerals litter creek beds, gold is found in flowing streams, and crystals can be dug from the earth if you know where to look.
Getting started rockhounding in Washington state? Read on and we’ll show you what can be found and where to find it!
Minerals and Rocks in Washington State
The minerals and rocks spread across the state are pretty diverse but in line with what most of the Pacific Coast offers. That includes silica-based stones like agate and jasper, jade, and even gold. That said, let’s dig into some of the more common offerings to give you an idea of what to expect in the Evergreen State.
Like California, one of the best places to find agates in Washington is in gravel beds along beaches. They’re easy to recognize since they don’t wear down quite as much as other stones.
Most of the Washington agates are either red-colored or transparent white with solid white banding. Grey specimens and black patterns also exist. It’s beautiful stuff, even if it’s not quite on par with Morrocan Seam Agate.
For picky collectors, these beach agates are a lot better to search for than the faintly patterned chalcedony you find in some places.
The agate on the beaches occurs offshore, so your best bet is to find gravel beds that aren’t constantly picked over. New pieces may wash up after storms as well. When the water disturbs the stones underneath the surface it often dregs up dense stones that have been covered for some time.
Like all chalcedony, classification is hard. Some pieces of red chalcedony wash up with no patterns at all, just great color. These are actually classified as carnelian, while the patterned stones are often called carnelian agates.
Confusing the matter, you can also find red orbicular jasper in the same places. Jasper is an opaque, patterned form of cryptocrystalline quartz that occurs alongside agate frequently.
It may sound a bit confusing but the truth is simple: Washington State has some great rocks lying along the coast if you love the color red.
Jade is another stone frequently found on the Pacific Coast, and Washington has it in quite a few places. The jade in Washington is nephrite jade, differing from the jadeite jade that many people think of when the stone comes to mind.
Washington Jade comes in tones ranging from blue to green for the most part, but some varieties have inclusions of different colors. The real treat is the fact that Washington is one of the few places in the world where you can find botryoidal jade.
Botryoidal jade is a formation where the surface appears to be made of bubbles. If you’ve encountered grape agate in the past then you’ve seen a botryoidal stone, and the nephrite jade here sometimes forms into similar formations.
Unfortunately, jade is rarer than the agates that litter Washington beaches. There are rumors of sources deep in the Washington wilderness, but harsh weather and forbidding terrain have made exploration hard.
For that reason, most jade is found in riverbeds and along certain beaches. The most famous location to find jade in Washington is Whidby Island, which we’ll cover below.
3. Petrified Wood
The state gem of Washington is petrified wood, and it can be found in quite a few locations across the state. Most of the wood has retained it’s wooden color, but in some places you can dig out opalized wood that has many different hues.
The most famous location is, of course, the Gingko Petrified Forest State Park. Unfortunately, there is no collection allowed from the site so it’s of passing interest to many rockhounds. It’s still a great place to see massive formations.
Most of the claims with good petrified wood are held by rock clubs and other private sources. That can be a pain for collectors, but joining a reputable rock club in Washington is a great idea for those interested in Washington Jade.
This isn’t the kind of stuff you’ll get rich off of, but it’s a great stone. It’s also a challenge to collect and identify in the field, making it a favorite for those who enjoy the thrill of the hunt.
4. Quartz Crystals
High in the state’s mountains, quartz crystals can be found. They’re both dug from the stone and pulled from riverbeds, but the harsh terrain has kept many from making the exploration.
Those who are willing to take the trip, dig out the crystals, and hike them back are few but they’re rewarded with great quartz specimens and the occasional amethyst.
And hard work it is, a canyon in King County is known as “Dead Rockhound Gulch” for the recorded deaths of would-be collectors in the area. It’s not only harsh terrain, it’s also outside of many rockhounds’ experiences.
Fortune favors the bold, of course, and not every site is highly remote or dangerous to reach. A bit of care goes a long way in that instance as well, including making sure that you have supplies when you decide to head out.
While quartz can certainly be found in less challenging areas, the hunt for crystals in Washington is a great way to explore the rainforests in addition to finding yourself a few specimens to bring home.
These crystals are found across the mountains in three counties: King County, Snohomish County, and Okanogan County. The latter is the most forgiving of the three areas and allows for easier access to the rockhound who doesn’t want to play at mountaineer.
Panning for gold is a time-honored tradition for those of us who seek minerals in the wild, even when it’s wildly unproductive. You may not have that problem in Washington state, at least if you decide to dip your pan in the right areas.
One of the nicer things about panning is that it usually requires less paperwork than collecting rocks when the land isn’t open for everyone to fill their pockets.
The state is rife with areas that hold gold, including most of the rivers in the state. The best places seem to be near old mining claims that actually hit it big, The truth is that you can prospect a bit of gold in most places in the state You can expect very small amounts of fine dust for the most part.
No one said panning for gold was going to make you rich these days.
On the other hand, one of the cooler parts of finding gold in Washington is the fact that some beaches contain precious metals. For instance, the Seashore Conservation Area is open to small-scale prospecting.
The areas where the river meets the sea contain a lot of precious metals, especially where the soil turns into beach sand. The main problem for most, at that point, is separating the metal from the sands since they’re roughly the same size.
It can be a challenge, but bringing back a bit of gold is always worth the work.
6. Geodes and Thundereggs
Geodes and thundereggs can be found in many locations across Washington, including most of the best inland collecting sites for agates. Walker Valley is the most famous site, but there are far more.
The geodes in this area are usually quartz. They come with various crystal formations inside their hollows, often with fully terminated points inside. The hollow is how they’re differentiated from thundereggs.
The thundereggs from Washington are generally earth tone with strong banding. Others may have some of the carnelian colors inside, but they’re all a joy to split open with a proper slab saw.
Geodes abound in Washington’s formerly volcanic regions, so keep an eye out for that strange round shape no matter where you’re hunting!
Where To Go Rockhounding in Washington State
The following are just a few examples of the places to seek out when looking for stones in Washington. The state has a lot of hotspots for different gems and minerals, and looking over local forums can often give you insight into new potential places.
Greenwater is famous for one thing: agates. Well, there are also geodes and thundereggs to be found, but the majority of them are some form of chalcedony.
You’ll head south from Greenwater and turn onto FS-70. There are a ton of locations along the way and turnouts where you can begin your search. The stones are often a bit deep in the woods, but you shouldn’t need an ATV or 4×4 to get through most of the year.
You can find some green and purple agate here if you’re lucky, which is different than the carnelian agate found on the beaches throughout the state. It’s a bit rare, so don’t count on the find but it’s a nice surprise for most people.
You should also get downright suspicious about round rocks. Both thundereggs and geodes dwell here. Make sure you know how to identify them before you head out.
The area south of Greenwater is a unique place to hunt agates, at least in the state of Washington. Just time it right so that you’re not dealing with a downpour, which is one sure way to ruin a rockhounding expedition!
2. Walker Valley
Walker Valley is a geode collection site where the public is allowed to collect. That’s enough to get most rockhounds running, but let’s take a look into what makes that area so great.
You’ll need to head about 9 miles east of Mount Vernon to get there. Fortunately, as a public site, all you need to do is click a link to find a map.
This is hard rock digging. Bring a shovel, a pick, and a rock hammer at the very least. A sledgehammer and chisel also aren’t a bad idea. You can use a chisel to identify geodes in the field, but I recommend waiting until you can put the specimens through a proper rock saw.
If you break the brown rock down lower in the formation, you’ll find thundereggs. Contrary to the carnelian agate found along the coast, the chalcedony here is often blue with golden needles through it. These thundereggs make great specimens.
Note: Historically, this collection site had been worked over routinely by heavy machinery in order to expose new material to dig through. This seems to be happening less and less which is resulting in it becoming more and more difficult to easily find material. It’s still there. It just might take more effort than in years past.
3. Saddle Mountains
The Saddle Mountains contain a lot of petrified wood, and it’s one of the most popular spots for recreational rockhounds to hit. Unlike the Gingko Petrified Forest, you can bring home specimens from this location.
The wood here tends to be brown in color, but it’s occasionally opalized. The opalized wood is white and softer than the exterior cast which is a harder mineral in most cases. Limb casts are found here, but often you’ll find broken chunks.
That’s not to say that nothing unique comes from this area. Some people have found Petrified Cyprus Root, which has an amazing black and white internal structure. Like all petrified wood locations, the exact mineral makeup can make a big difference in the end look.
If you’re headed to the Pacific Northwest and want to bring back some petrified wood to work on in your shop, this is a fun spot to hit.
4. Whidby Island
When it comes to Washington jade, the one name that comes up time and time again is Whidby Island. Mind you, not everyone brings home jade from their rock-hounding trips on the island.
Instead, most people find agates along the shorelines. The agates here are typical of Washington beaches: carnelian agate is dominant alongside white agates of various clarity levels. They’re easy to find in gravel beds.
If you have a sharp eye, however, some great jade finds have been made here. It’s quite rare, and often hard to identify in the field, but a dedicated search can add some to your collection.
Like gold prospecting… don’t expect to get rich. Washington Jade is pretty and great for collectors, but it’s not worth the high values that most people connect with the word jade.
One of my favorite locations to look for agates and other stones is along the many beaches in Washington. And you should always keep an eye out for beaches with exposed gravel beds, as those will most likely be your best spots.
Many of these gravel beds are completely covered by sand the majority of the time. But when storms come and the ocean decides to remove the sand, these newly exposed gravel beds can be a hotspot for rock collectors.
The Pacific coastline is home to a lot of different stones. You just have to know where to find them for the most part, but those on the hunt for agates can often score big.
The beaches hold jaspers as well. In particular, there are a few varieties of orbicular jasper sometimes found along the Washington coast. You can also find chunks of carnelian.
Among the very rare finds are jade and amber. The latter isn’t something to count on. As a general rule, the amber found in the US isn’t high grade. It’s something that many hope to chance upon, and the area near Damon Point seems to hold the best chances.
Your best bet is to find gravel beds and get digging. I prefer to get down by the water where things are wet. One thing you’ll quickly learn about gravel beds is that the larger stones stick to the top, there are usually smaller layers of stone underneath.
Most of these agates will be an inch or two across, so you can dig down. The nice thing about agate is that it’s very hard compared to most of the rocks around it. That means it’s often a bit rougher in shape than the heavily rounded stones around it.
Beaches are a treasure trove in Washington, but there’s one way to make them better: areas where rivers meet the sea.
6. Rivers and Creeks
If you’re looking for a way to quickly fill your rock tumbler with a variety of different types of stones, the rivers and creeks spread across this state are going to be an excellent destination for you.
The rivers and creeks in this state are excellent for locating large numbers of agates, jasper, petrified wood and many other rocks and minerals.
During the summer months when water levels recede, focus on the exposed gravel bars. The heavy currents of swollen rivers in the winter months move the rocks on the gravel bars around like crazy, even creating new gravel bars, which constantly exposes new material to go through.
If you can access a gravel bar that not many folks have been on, you’ll be surprised at how fast you’ll fill your buckt.
I like to walk the water line where the stones are already wet, keeping the sun to my back. This makes spotting them much easier.