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Iowa Rockhounding Location Guide & Map

Iowa Rockhounding Location Guide & Map

Iowa is a fantastic state for rockhounding, thanks in large part to the world-class geode beds centered around the town of Keokuk. Collectors and amateur geologists flock to this area for a chance to find their own geodes filled with beautiful crystal varieties like amethyst and chalcedony. Iowa has much more to offer than just geodes, though. Fossilized coral specimens can be found in many locations across the eastern part of the state. They make for great additions to any collection and can even be used to make attractive pieces of jewelry and art. Lake Superior agates abound across the state thanks to relatively recent glacial activity, making almost any gravel bed in the state a potential rockhounding site.

The best places to rockhound in Iowa are the Keokuk geode beds and the streams and tributaries to the northwest of Keokuk which contain geodes and other interesting rocks and minerals. Almost any stream bed or rocky outcrop in Iowa is a great place to search for quartz-family minerals like agates.

State Symbols
State Mineral
State RockGeode
State Gemstone
State FossilCrinoid (unofficial)
Source

Geode
Geode

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 Iowa:

While Iowa is a fantastic state for rockhounding, it leaves something to be desired when it comes to the varieties of rocks and minerals that can commonly be found within its borders. With rare exceptions, by far the most commonly found and collected rocks and minerals belong in the quartz family. Semiprecious gemstones like agates, jaspers, petrified wood, and quartz crystals are fairly common finds. Geodes, of course, are the highlight of Iowa rockhounding and are often lined with some variety of quartz. Freshwater pearls can be harvested from the mussels found in the Mississippi River, and high-quality fossilized coral is often found in the eastern part of the state.

The most commonly found and collected rocks and minerals in Iowa are:

  • Geodes
  • Agates
  • Jasper
  • Freshwater Pearls
  • Chalcedony
  • Petrified wood
  • Quartz crystals
  • Chert
  • Fossilized Coral
  • Pyrite
Petrified Wood
Petrified Wood

Through quite a bit of research and cross-referencing of available literature, I have compiled this list of some prospective locations in Iowa which I would recommend to people looking to do some rockhounding. These are mostly comprised of 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 Iowa 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 Iowa

Western Iowa Rockhounding Sites

Compared to the rest of the state, western Iowa is fairly limited when it comes to rockhounding destinations. Still, there are plenty of places where collectors can search with a reasonable expectation of finding worthwhile specimens. The best places to rockhound in western Iowa are gravels and streams which often contain Quartz-family minerals like agate, jasper, and chalcedony. Any quarries or rocky exposures in the area also have the potential to yield a variety of specimens including chert, petrified wood, and fossils.

LocationRocks & Minerals
Orient, area 5 mi. to NEAgate, Quartz crystals, Petrified wood
Fremont County, area limestones and streamsFossilized coral, Stromatoporioids
Red Oak, in limestone quarry to NWChert, (gem-quality, ‘Protozoa agate’)
Ames, area stream gravels, quarries, etc.Chalcedony, Fossils
Nevada, in gravels of Indian Creek to EAgate
Bells Mill Park, in outcrops and veinsCalcite (black, cones)
Emmetsburg, all area streams and gravelsAgate, Jasper, Petrified wood
Graettinger, all area streams and gravelsAgate, Jasper, Petrified wood
Fort Dodge, area quarries and exposuresGypsum

Northeastern Iowa Rockhounding Sites

Northeastern Iowa is a fantastic area for rockhounding. While the Keokuk area in southeastern Iowa gets most of the attention when it comes to geodes, they can also be found in many locations in northeastern Iowa – particularly in the gravels all along the banks of the Cedar and Iowa Rivers. Northeastern Iowa is also the best part of the state to find agates. Lake Superior agates abound in gravels and streams, and a unique multicolored variety locally known as ‘coldwater agate’ can be found in several counties.

LocationRocks & Minerals
Harper’s Ferry, in river mussel shellsPearls
Black Hawk County, all quarries, gravels, streams, etc.Agate (‘coldwater’ agate, gem-quality, multicolored)
Bremer County, all quarries, gravels, streams, etc.Agate (‘coldwater’ agate, gem-quality, multicolored)
Benton County, all quarries, gravels, streams, etc.Agate (‘coldwater’ agate, gem-quality, multicolored)
La Porte City, in streams and gravelsAgate
Riverview Recreation Area, in gravelsGeodes
Brandon, in creek gravelsGeodes, Fossils
Shell Rock, in area gravelsAgate (Lake Superior agates)
Clayton County, area quarries and mining dumpsGalena, Limonite, Pyrite, Sphalerite
Guttenburg, all area washes, gravels, etc.Jasper
Dubuque, in river gravelsAgate (Lake Superior, moss, oolitic agates), Moonstone, Jasper, Petrified wood, Fossils
Fayette County, all area creek gravelsAgate (Lake Superior agates)
Chapin, N towards SheffieldGeodes
Sheffield, area quarries and fieldsGeodes
Eldora, area stream gravels and quarriesGeodes
Steamboat River, along Iowa RiverGeodes (quartz lined)
Union, stream and river gravelsGeodes
Bellevue, in Mississippi River gravelsAgate (Lake Superior agates, Moss agates), Carnelian, Moonstone, Jasper, Petrified coral

Southeastern Iowa Rockhounding Sites

Southeastern Iowa is a veritable Mecca for rockhounds. The town of Keokuk is world-famous for its geode beds which have produced countless high-quality geodes over the years. These geodes can be lined with one or more minerals including amethyst, calcite, chalcedony, marcasite, and pyrite. Not surprisingly, these geodes have become known as ‘Keokuk geodes’ after the town around which they are concentrated. You can also find geodes in many gravels further upstream.

In addition to world-class geode hunting, southeastern Iowa is a fantastic place to find agates, jaspers, and coral fossils. Most of the agates found in this area are the highly sought-after Lake Superior agate with distinct banding and beautiful coloring. The coral fossils of eastern Iowa are also as famous as the geodes. The silicified corals and hexagonaria are often used for unique jewelry pieces.

LocationRocks & Minerals
Centerville, area quarriesGypsum
Centerville, many area mining dumps to SEPyrite, Selenite
Burlington, in river gravels and dredge pilesAgate (Lake Superior agates)
Burlington, all area creek gravelsAgate (Lake Superior agates), Quartz crystals, Geodes
Skunk River, in gravels btwn Rome and LowellGeodes, Petrified coral, Limonite
Lowell, in Mud Creek stream bedGeodes (Keokuk geodes)
Mount Pleasant, in limestone exposuresChert (gem-quality, banded), Geodes (quartz lined)
Skunk River gravels near Mount PleasantAgate
New London, regional stream beds and gravelsAgate, Jasper
Coralville, area quarries and exposuresSilicified coral, Calcified coral
Donnellson, area pits and quarriesGeodes
Farmington, area gravelsGeodes (Keokuk geodes), Coral (Hexagonaria)
Keokuk, all regional gravels and bars of the Des Moines River and tributaries to the NWGeodes (Keokuk geodes, lined with amethyst, calcite, chalcedony, limonite, marcasite, pyrite, sphalerite, etc.)
Cedar Rapids, in stream gravelsSilicified coral, Calcified coral
Cedar Creek, entire length to Skunk RiverSilicified coral, Calcified coral
Pershing, an area mineCalcite (long crystals)
Muscatine, mussels in sands of Mississippi RiverPearls (gem-quality, pink, gold, red)
Muscatine, area gravels to SAgate (Lake Superior, Moss, Sagenitic), Chalcedony, Quartz crystals
Farmington, area stream bedsGeodes (quartz lined)
Bentonsport, area to S near bridgeGeodes (Keokuk geodes)
Keota, area quarriesAgate

Where to Find Geodes in Iowa

If you’re collecting rocks in Iowa, it’s pretty much guaranteed that you’ll be wanting to find some geodes. These crystal-lined treasures are some of the most highly sought-after specimens by rockhounds, but Iowa takes it to an entirely different level. When it comes to geode collecting in the United States there are very few (if any) states that can compete with Iowa.

Geode
Geode

The most popular and frequently visited location in Iowa for geode collecting is undoubtedly the town of Keokuk. The geode beds surrounding the town are some of the most prolific producers of high-quality geodes in the entire country. The geodes found here can contain crystals of one or more of several attractive mineral varieties including amethyst, quartz, pyrite, chalcedony, and marcasite. Most of the geodes found here are approximately baseball-sized but are known to vary anywhere from golf ball to even beachball-sized.

Keokuk geodes naturally occur in the Warsaw formation surrounding the town. There are many exposures throughout the area where the Des Moines River feeds into the Mississippi River. Extending into the region northwest of Keokuk, almost any stream gravels or rocky exposures have the potential to yield geodes. Just to the west of the town of Lowell there is even an entire state park devoted to geodes.

Tip: Not sure if the rock you’ve found is a geode? Check out my article about how to identify a geode.

The best places to find geodes in Iowa:

Where to Find Gemstones in Iowa

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. Luckily, there are plenty of places to search for gemstones and crystals in Iowa where collectors can usually score some great finds.

Carnelian
Carnelian

The best places to find crystals and gemstones in Iowa are:

Tip: Check out my Complete Rock Tumbling Guide to make your rocks and gemstones really shine!

Where to Find Agates in Iowa

Agate

Agates are some of the most commonly collected rocks, and it’s easy to see why. They have a lot of character and variety and occur in relatively abundance. Their characteristic banding patterns and interesting variations like ‘moss’ and ‘sagenitic’ agates mean that no two agates look quite the same. Iowa is a great state for agate collecting both for the abundance of locations they can be found and the many variations that can be found. The most desirables agates in the area will be Lake Superior Agates, transported by recent glacial activity and river currents. Almost any stream or rocky exposure in Iowa will be a good place to search for agates, but there are certainly some locations which are more prospective than others.

The best places to find agates in Iowa:

Iowa 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 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.

To determine what type of public land a particular location is on, I would recommend starting with Iowa’s Public Lands Maps.

Private Land Resources

As with most states, each county in Iowa 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 assessor 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: