When it comes to rock and mineral collecting, there are few things more essential than a quality quartz specimen. For most collectors, quartz will be one of the first things they add to their collection. It’s a super common and affordable mineral and is also very aesthetically pleasing, making it one of the most popular items for collectors. But even though it’s very common, you might be wondering how and where to find your very own quartz crystals.
Quartz crystals can be found in old mine tailings, mineral veins in both igneous and sedimentary rocks, in pockets of soil, and even laying on the ground. They can also be found in large quantities at certain pay-to-dig sites, or purchased at local rock shops.
The great thing about quartz is that it is so common that you’re almost sure to have one of these options available to you. Which one you try will depend on what kind of experience you’re looking for and your local geology. Each one of these methods can be very rewarding and with any luck you’ll end up with your very own quartz crystals when you’re done!
Old Mine Tailings
One of the most common places for rockhounds to look for any minerals, including quartz crystals, is old mine tailings. These are the piles of leftover rock and debris from old mines that often still contain crystals that were tossed out with everything else. The operators of the old mine tossed the baby out with the bath water, you might say.
These tailings are some of the best places to look because most of the heavy lifting has already been done for you. Finding quartz crystals in nature can often be hard work because they can be trapped inside mineral veins inside solid rock. The mine tailings have already been broken up by heavy machinery or blasted to bits with dynamite, so the rock is just a pile of rubble instead of solid mass.
This makes it relatively easy to sift through the bits of rock to look for your quartz crystals. All you really need to do is pick through the pile and keep an eye out for pieces you’d like to keep. Even if other rockhounds have searched through the same material you’re working in you can usually still make some good finds.
When searching, practice the ‘high-grading’ method. This is considered common courtesy among rockhounds. Don’t take every single piece you find – take the best few pieces that you’d like to keep but leave the rest for others to find. Sometimes this can really work to your advantage because other searchers may leave some finds in a more exposed area, making them easier for you to find.
If you’re going to search these old mine tailings, it is critical to get permission first. This can sometimes be difficult because it’s not always clear who owns the land. If you have heard about the site from other rockhounds they will hopefully also know who to contact for permission. If you don’t get clearance from the owner then you could be charged with trespassing, so be sure not gloss over this step.
Tip: Always get permission from the land owner before searching old mine tailings.
Also, please be sure never to enter old mine shafts. The mine tailings are relatively safe to search because they are above ground, but old mine shafts are notoriously unsafe. They are unstable and can collapse on you, and often contain dangerous gasses. Always be responsible and safe when rockhounding, both for your benefit and so as not to give other rockhounders a bad reputation.
Finding these old mine tailings is often the hardest part for aspiring rockhounds. In most cases, joining a local rockhounding group and getting to know your local rock shop owner will be your best bet for finding the best places to look. You can also search online or buy a local rockhounding guide book.
One of the most exciting places to find quartz crystals is in quartz veins. These veins run through various types of rock and can contain large, high quality crystals. You can find them in both igneous and sedimentary rock, which means that you can probably find one fairly close to you regardless of where you live.
Most quartz veins form in already existing cracks in rock. These cracks can be in pretty much any type of rock, they just need to be large enough to allow for the formation of crystals. Water seeps into the cracks carrying dissolved silica, and the silica then forms into quartz crystals.
Prospecting and locating these veins is tricky and can take years of experience to perfect, but there are some basic methods you can start with. You’ll want to start by looking for cracks and voids in rock beds. If you can find an exposed rock face or hill with lots of outcrops then that will be a good place to start looking.
If a quartz crystal vein is present in these areas then you should be able to find some evidence of them near the base of the rock outcrops. Over time, these rocks will be weathered and worn, but the quartz crystals will remain intact because they are harder and more resistant to weathering. That means the crystals will fall out of the vein and onto the ground, where they will gradually be moved by natural processes.
Since these crystals tend to collect at the base of the outcrops and gradually move downhill, if you do find any amount of quartz on the ground you’ll want to move uphill in search of the vein it came from.
Once you do locate a vein you’ll need to be able to extract the crystals. This isn’t always easy because they can be entirely encased in rock or located in pockets that are nearly impossible to reach into.
If the vein is completely encased in rock then you will need some heavy machinery in order to break it up and hopefully find a more exposed pocket, or you’ll need a lot of patience and skill to extract any crystals from the rock matrix. Your best bet will be to dig around at the base of the vein and look for any crystals that have naturally fallen out of the vein over time.
If you find crystals hiding in a pocket then sometimes you can just reach in and grab them. More commonly, you won’t be able to reach your hand in comfortably, and even if you did you’d get pretty scratched up by the crystals inside. Having some specialty pocket tools like extra-long flathead screwdrivers and long needle-nosed pliers will come in very handy in this situation.
Laying on the Ground
Believe it or not, sometimes you can find quartz crystals just laying on the ground! If you’re out rockhounding in the wilderness, you may be lucky enough to stumble upon a quartz crystal just sitting there staring up at you.
Tip: Go rockhounding after a good rain. The rain exposes and cleans off crystals, making them easier to spot.
Obviously, you won’t find quartz crystals laying just anywhere, but if you go looking in areas that have higher potential then you may be in luck. Try searching in the soil near areas with rock outcrops that you think have the potential to hold quartz crystals. Stay downhill from these outcrops, as the crystals may have eroded from the rock and been transported down the slope over time.
Creek beds can be one of the best places to look for quartz crystals. The running water moves a lot of material and routinely kicks up fresh rocks to look at. If a quartz crystal has been eroded from a pocket or vein then there is a good chance it will make its way into a creek bed at some point. If you go this route I would suggest checking by tree roots and digging through the shallow banks, as those places are where crystals tend to accumulate.
If you do find a quartz crystal on the ground then this is a great sign that there are more to be found in the area. The crystal can be of any size – it doesn’t have to be large. That crystal came from somewhere, and chances are that there are more where that came from.
Use a little critical thinking and consider where the crystal came from. Look uphill from where you’re at and see if there are any outcrops in the area that are worth investigating. Look at the base of those outcrops and keep an eye out for any signs of quartz veins in the rock.
If there are no prospective rock outcrops in the area then you should consider the next option, which is digging for crystal pockets in the ground.
Crystal Pockets in the Soil
If you’ve found a quartz crystal on the ground and there are no visible rock outcrops in the area from which it may have come, you should start to do some digging. You can also start to dig some exploratory holes slightly uphill from where you found your crystal. Dig about 2′ deep and see what you find, if anything. Dig a few of them and if you’re lucky you’ll uncover at least one more crystal.
If there is an increasing frequency of these crystals means you’re getting closer to a pocket. It’s sort of like playing a game of ‘hot’ and ‘cold’. If you are finding more crystals then you’re getting closer to a good pocket. Below is a good video of this process that ends up paying off big time.
In the video you see that he started by finding a quartz crystal with some visible planes and edges on the ground. He then started digging in the area and uncovered more and more crystals, letting him know he was on the right track. His work was eventually rewarded with some very large and high-quality finds! This obviously won’t be typical of every search, but it is a good example of the process you can follow.
If you haven’t had any luck finding your own quartz crystals out in the wild there is a sure-fire way to make a score instead. There are plenty of places across the U.S. that will allow you to dig for your own crystals on their property for a fee.
See my article that includes the best Pay-to-Dig sites in the U.S.
If you want a complete list of the best pay-to-dig sites in the U.S., check out my article that I linked above. Each site has a different experience, but in my opinion, the best places to search for quartz crystals are:
- The Wegner Quartz Crystal Mine in Arkansas
- The Crystal Grove Herkimer Diamond Mine in New York
- The Emerald Hollow Mine in North Carolina
Tip: Herkimer Diamonds are relatively rare double-termination quartz crystals with points on both ends.
There are plenty of other great pay-to-dig sites across the country (and the world) that are worth checking out. Their prices and the experience will vary but if you want to find quartz crystals in nature then these types of places will be the easiest way to go about it.
At pay-to-dig sites, you will usually either be allowed to dig through soil and rock that they haul in from their local mine or you will sift through buckets of ore using their sluice. I prefer doing some digging (the experience seems more authentic and rewarding when you make a find) but in either case you are very likely to leave happy with crystals in hand.
The specimens you find at these sites will vary, but in general they will be of a higher quality and larger in size than anything most of us will stumble upon on our own. These sites make their money because they are well known, established localities for crystal finding. Some of them have pretty steep prices but in my opinion they are worth it because you can find a lot of quality material in a single day of searching.
Local Rock Shops
Of course, you always have the option to just go to a local rock shop and buy yourself some quartz crystals. This is undoubtedly the easiest and surest way to acquire a quartz specimen to add to your collection (although perhaps not the most rewarding).
Buying from a shop also bypasses the need for you to clean your quartz crystals. If you find crystals in nature they will almost always be covered in dirt and clay. Those are fairly easily removed, but with them often comes iron staining which is more difficult to take care of. Cleaning quartz crystals properly takes time and a little bit of experience, not to mention dealing with acids and other harsh chemicals.
Aside from the obvious benefits of ease and time, you will also likely be able to find higher quality specimens in a rock shop than you would by searching on your own. You will probably have a variety of clean, mounted, display-worthy specimens to choose from and you can pick whichever piece fits your personal style and price point.
If you don’t even feel like visiting a local rock shop to pick up your quartz crystals then you can always shop online. eBay is fairly popular with mineral collectors and there are several specialty online auction sites that deal only with mineral specimen sales. If your price range is higher then you can also contact online mineral dealers.
For a complete guide to buying minerals please see my article below.
See my article: Where to Buy Rocks and Minerals (Reliably!)