Idaho is one of the very best states in the entire country for rockhounding. The number of rock and mineral varieties that can be found here is almost limitless, as are the number of potential collecting sites spread throughout the landscape. The rich and complicated geologic history of the area is dominated by the Idaho Batholith – a massive igneous intrusion that originated with the rise of the Rocky Mountains. The recent and complex geologic activity has resulted in some of the most mineral-rich land you can find anywhere.
To make things even better for us rockhounds, much of Idaho’s land is owned by the BLM or the National Forest Service, which means that it is largely open to the public for collecting. The landscape is dotted with mines and prospects – some active, some abandoned. While it is true that you can find interesting rocks and minerals almost anywhere in Idaho, it is certainly helpful to know exactly where to look.
The best places to rockhound in Idaho are in streams and river gravels, particularly in the Clearwater and Salmon Rivers. Old mine tailings in areas like the Seven Devils district are great for finding gemstones, and the Spencer Opal Mine is a great option for finding raw fire opals.
This article will dive deeper into the many great rockhounding sites across the state (along with maps), but I’d like to highlight a few standouts here. The top 10 rockhounding sites for rocks and minerals in Idaho:
- Spencer Opal Mine – Opal, Fire Opal
- Empire Mine – Fluorite
- Rock Flat – Diamond, Garnet, Ruby, Sapphire
- East Fork Emerald Creek – Star Garnet
- Lewiston – Agate, Jasper, Chert, Garnet, Opal
- Hog Creek – Amethyst Thundereggs
- Homedale – Agate, Petrified wood
- Seven Devils mining district – Epidote, Garnet
- Big Lost River – Geodes
- Pole Creek – Geodes, Quartz crystals
Rocks and Minerals Found in Idaho
Idaho is one of the most mineral-rich states in America, so it should come as no surprise that there is an enormous number of rocks and minerals to be found here. There is a long history of commercial mining in the state, much of which is ongoing. In addition to commercial ores, there is a wide variety of collectible materials including precious and semiprecious gemstones.
Idaho also boasts a long history of gold production. While the lode gold deposits were never top-tier and are now largely depleted, panning for gold remains a popular activity in rivers and streams all across the state. If you’re interested in panning for gold I’d recommend this panning kit from Amazon.
The most commonly found and collected rocks and minerals in Idaho are:
- Petrified wood
Through quite a bit of research and cross-referencing of available literature, I have compiled this list of some prospective locations in Idaho which I would recommend to people looking to do some rockhounding. These are mostly comprised of river bars, old mining prospects, washes, streams, and historically known rock and mineral collecting sites. For additional reading, I’d highly recommend these books you can find on Amazon:
Please remember that rock collecting locations are constantly changing. Specimens may become depleted from other collectors, the location may have been built on or altered, locality information in literature may be inaccurate, and property ownership may have changed hands. Joining up with a local rockhounding club for a group trip can often get you access to otherwise off-limits locations like privately owned mines and quarries. There are many rockhounding clubs in Idaho so you can most likely find one you like nearby.
Though there are many locations listed here, this list is far from exhaustive. A location’s listing here is not a guarantee of accuracy. Be safe, never go underground, and make sure to get permission from the landowner to search for and collect specimens.
If you’re planning on heading to the field, make sure you have all the gear you’ll need! To get started, you can check out my recommended gear page which contains my full reviews for every Geologist’s favorite rock hammer and the best hiking backpack I’ve ever owned.
Rockhounding Sites in Idaho
Idaho Panhandle Rockhounding Sites
The Idaho Panhandle is home to some fantastic rockhounding destinations – far more than I can list possibly list here. The rivers and streams that cut through the mountainous terrain are well known for their gold placer deposits, making gold panning a very popular activity in this part of the state. The Clearwater River and Salmon River (plus their tributaries) are some of the most frequented gold panning areas.
The Emerald Creek area in the Idaho Panhandle is the best place to find Star Garnets. You can scour the creek bed in National Forest land and often find your own Star Garnet specimen. Other varieties of garnet including almandine are also relatively common throughout the Idaho panhandle, as are opal, quartz, and many other desirable rock and mineral varieties.
Boise & Southwestern Idaho Rockhounding Sites
Southwestern Idaho is, in general, the best place to search for quartz family gemstones like agates, jasper, petrified wood. Almost any creek gravel or freshly uncovered soil will have the potential to turn up something worth keeping, but locations like Bruneau Canyon and the area south of Homedale are particularly notable.
As with the rest of the state, there are countless old mines and claims whose tailings can be picked through for some great finds including fluorite, epidote, and garnet. For a chance to find more exotic gemstones like diamond, ruby, and sapphire, you can try searching in the area for Ruby Flat which has long been a favorite of rockhounds in Idaho. I would also recommend trying your hand at looking for some geodes along the stretch of Highway 93 just north of the Nevada border.
Southeastern Idaho Rockhounding Sites
Southeastern Idaho has a fantastic array of rocks and minerals to be found, and no shortage of locations in which to search. You can find everything from agates and quartz crystals to geodes and thundereggs, depending on where you’re searching. Mining tailings will generally be your best bet for finding minerals like galena, malachite, and marcasite, but you can also go picking through stream and river gravels for things like agates and petrified wood.
For a more relaxed and family-friendly rockhounding excursion I would highly recommend checking out the Spencer Opal Mine where, for a fee, you can dig through the ore and find your own fire opal specimens. Going this route virtually ensures that you will find something beautiful worth keeping and adding to your collection.
Where to Find Geodes in Idaho
Geodes are extremely popular specimens with rockhounds wherever you are in the world, and Idaho is no exception. In fact, Idaho is among the best states in the U.S. for hunting geodes thanks to its complex geologic history including basalt flows which lend themselves to geode creation. These geodes are usually roughly baseball-sized and can contain crystals of minerals like quartz, chalcedony, and amethyst.
While geodes are relatively abundant in Idaho, you can’t find them just laying around anywhere. You need to know where to look and know just what to look for. If you’re wondering how to spot a geode I would recommend checking out my article here.
The best places to find geodes in Idaho are in the southeastern part of the state, particularly in the Antelope Creek area, basalt exposures near Pole Creek, and the gravels of Big Lost River. Geodes can also be found in beds all along Highway 93 just north of the Idaho-Nevada border.
Where to Find Crystals and Gemstones in Idaho
There is nothing quite like uncovering a quartz crystal with a perfect termination or finding a beautiful agate that has been waiting in a river bank for you to come along and take it home. Gemstones are some of the most enjoyable specimens that rockhounds can find, but it’s not always easy to know where to look.
Tip: Check out my Complete Rock Tumbling Guide to make your rocks and gemstones really shine!
Idaho is home to quite a few interesting gemstone varieties thanks to its complicated geological history and varied topography. Thanks to the volcanic activity, mountain building, and countless rivers and streams that cover the landscape, you can find almost any crystal or gem you can think of if you know where to look. In addition to semiprecious gemstones like agate, opal, and jasper, you can find crystals of minerals like quartz, garnet, and feldspar in relative abundance.
The best places to find crystals and gemstones in Idaho:
- Shoshone County – Calcite
- Mica Mountain – Beryl
- Lewiston – Quartz
- Upper Priest Lake – Feldspar, Quartz
- Priest Lake, shore – Quartz, Feldspar
- Burke, Gem, and Murray – Quartz crystal clusters
- Rock Flat – Diamond, Garnet, Ruby, Sapphire
- Empire Mine – Fluorite
- Pole Creek – Quartz
Where to Find Garnets in Idaho
Idaho is quite possibly the best state in the U.S. for garnet hunting. Many varieties of garnet can be found in locations all over the state, but the most sought-after and desirable is the Star Garnet. In fact, Star Garnet is Idaho’s official gemstone, and it is one of only two places in the world it can be found. The best place to find Star Garnet in Idaho is the East Fork of Emerald Creek, near Bovill and Clarkia. This is U.S. Forest Service land and typically requires a fee to enter, but many small Star Garnets can be found in the gravels of Emerald Creek and its tributaries.
Garnets can typically be found in exposures of shists and other metamorphic rocks. While you can use a hammer and chisel to remove them, they are more commonly collected from gravels and sands near the outcrops they weather out from. Almandine is the most common form of garnet found in Idaho, but if you’re specifically looking to collect garnet you’ll undoubtedly want to find at least one good specimen of Star Garnet to add to your collection.
The best places to collect garnet in Idaho:
- Emerald Creek, near Fernwood
- Riggins, near Little Salmon River
- Deadwood Gulch
- Ruby Creek
- Lewiston, all area creeks and streams
- Pack River, in sands and gravels
- East Fork Emerald Creek, near Bovill & Clarkia
- Purdue & Canyon Creeks
- Rock Flat, in area gravels
- Idaho City, in area mining dumps
- Seven Devils mining district, in tailings
- Silver City, general area
- Iron Mountain
Where to Find Opals in Idaho
One of the biggest highlights of Idaho rockhounding is the opportunity to find opals of many different varieties. Depending on where you look, you can find opalized wood, common opal, hyalite opal, and even dazzling fire opal. While Idaho has some of the best locations in the country for collecting opal you still need to have a pretty good idea of where to look in order to score your own specimens.
The best place to find opal in Idaho is the Spencer Opal Mine which is open to the public and allows you to dig for opal for a small fee. You can also find opal near the towns of Lewiston and Agatha, in basalt ridges to the east of Little Squaw Creek, and in the gravels of Camas Creek.
Idaho Rockhounding Laws & Regulations
One of the most common questions rockhounds have is whether or not they are allowed to collect at a certain location. It is the responsibility of each rockhound to obtain permission from a landowner to search and/or collect on a piece of property.
The ownership and status of land can and does change frequently, making it impossible to document accurate information for every location on this page. However, I have compiled a list of resources here so that you may investigate and obtain permission for any locations (found here or elsewhere) for yourself.
Public Land Resources
I have written entire articles which cover the rockhounding laws and regulations for nearly every type of public land you can think of. I encourage you to check them out if you are curious about the legalities of rock and mineral collecting.
- Rockhounding on Public Land: Laws and Regulations
- Can You Collect Rocks in State Parks? All 50 States Answered
To determine what type of public land a particular location is on, I would recommend starting with the BLM’s recreational maps of Idaho.
Private Land Resources
As with most states, each county in Idaho will have records of who owns each piece of property. You can also usually get the landowner’s name and address by visiting the county records office. I would probably start by contacting the clerk in whatever county you’re interested in and getting whatever contact information you can for the landowner.
Sources & Further Reading
The locations and information contained in this article are primarily derived from academic papers, online resources, and other outside sources. If you would like to read some of the source material for yourself I have listed them below. The majority of these locations are my interpretation of Robert Beste’s A Location Guide for Rock Hounds in the United States. Other sources include: