When it comes to rockhounding, North Dakota is often overlooked for its neighboring states, but it has a lot of potential for any collectors looking to get out and do some searching. The relatively tame surface geology of the state doesn’t lend itself to a wide variety of rocks and minerals, but those that are present are high-quality and fairly abundant.
In most states, some of the best rockhounding locations are around old mining districts and eroded mountain ranges. In North Dakota, however, the prospective rockhounding locations tend to be more well distributed and accessible.
In general, the best places to rockhound in North Dakota are along major rivers and their tributaries, particularly the Yellowstone, Missouri, and Cannonball Rivers. Quartz-family gemstones like agate, chalcedony, and jasper are commonly found in their bars, banks, and gravels.
North Dakota is fairly underappreciated by rockhounds, but a determined collector can have many enjoyable rockhounding excursions all across the state. Keep reading and I’ll give you a map of locations you can check out and what you can find there.
Rocks and Minerals Found in North Dakota
While North Dakota is a pretty decent state for rockhounds, it is pretty lacking in the overall variety of rocks and minerals you can find here. Due to the overall lack of volcanic or mountain-building activity, there are very few places where a collector can hope to find interesting pegmatite or metamorphic minerals.
That being said, there is plenty to be excited about as a rock and mineral collector in North Dakota. Quartz-family gemstones like agates, jasper, chalcedony, and petrified wood are abundant all over the state. The agates found in some parts of North Dakota are pretty unique and would make great additions to any collection.
Beyond the quartz-family minerals, in select locations you can also hope to find calcite and selenite crystals, or even something a little more exotic like thenardite or glauberite.
The most commonly found and collected rocks and minerals in North Dakota are:
- Petrified wood
Where to Rockhound in North Dakota
Through quite a bit of research and cross-referencing of available literature, I have compiled this list of some prospective locations in North Dakota 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 North Dakota so you can most likely find one you like nearby.
I have tried to take care not to list locations within National Park boundaries since collecting is illegal there, but please remember that it is up to you to make sure you have permission to collect wherever you are. There is plenty of BLM and National Forest land to collect on in North Dakota which is, in general, open for public use. Still, there may be privately owned mining claims inside those boundaries and you’ll need to get permission to collect on that location.
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.
North Dakota Rockhounding Sites
Rockhounding in North Dakota is fairly straightforward. There aren’t really any ‘hot spots’ where the rockhounding is great, but almost anywhere around the state has some potential. North Dakota isn’t well known for mining operations of gemstones, so unlike most of the surrounding states, you can’t really plan on sorting through old mine tailings looking for interesting material.
That being said, quartz-family minerals like agates, chalcedony, and jasper can be found in almost any stream or river by looking in the gravel beds and banks. These rocks are left over from ancient mountain ranges and have been distributed all across the state by rivers and glaciation. Because quartz is relatively hard, they can be transported great distances and withstand countless years of weathering while waiting to be discovered by you.
Much of North Dakota is covered in sedimentary rock formations which are rich in fossils. In fact, North Dakota is home to some of the most famous fossil beds in the world, and if you search in the right places you can find fossils from countless ancient species of plants and animals (including dinosaurs!)
Collectors in North Dakota will most likely be highly interested in finding some unique varieties of agate.
‘Montana moss agates’ are unusually transparent with interesting inclusions, and are sometimes accompanied by carnelian. In North Dakota, they can be found near the western border along the Yellowstone River and its tributaries.
‘Fairfield agates’ are most commonly found in the Black Hills of South Dakota and extending into Nebraska, but can sometimes be found as far north as the southwest corner of North Dakota.
North Dakota is also home to a fairly unique variety of petrified wood. ‘Teredo petrified wood’ is the fossilized remnants of wood that has been bored through by tiny clams, giving it a very distinctive appearance. Teredo petrified wood is most commonly found between the towns of Lisbon and Mandan in southern North Dakota.
|Location||Rocks & Minerals|
|Hettinger, in gravels along length of Cedar Creek||Agatized wood|
|Medora, in badlands and area surfaces||Agate, Chalcedony, Silicified wood, Concretions|
|Bismark, sands and gravels along Missouri River||Agate, Chalcedony, Silicified wood, Jasper|
|Cannonball River, entire length in Grant County||Agate, Chalcedony, Silicified wood, Jasper|
|Hettinger County, area to N along Thirty Mile Creek||Agate, Chalcedony, Silicified wood, Jasper, Selenite crystals|
|Richardton, broad area to S||Agate, Chalcedony, Agatized wood, Jasper, Selenite crystals|
|Tappen, area to E in gravels||Agate, Chalcedony, Jasper, Fossils|
|Souris River, between Denbigh and Velva||Quartz gemstones, Agate, Chalcedony, Jasper, Fossils|
|McKenzie County, gravels of major rivers and tributaries||Agate (‘Montana moss agate’), Jasper, Silicified wood|
|Little Missouri River, in gravels NW of Grassy Butte||Agate (‘Montana moss agate’), Jasper, Agatized wood|
|Crowley Quarry, near Golden Valley||Flint (gem-quality)|
|Mandan, area gravels, washes pits, etc.||Agate, Chalcedony, Chert, Silicified wood (‘Teredo petrified wood’)|
|Stanley, on shores of lakes to NW||Glauberite, Halite, Thenardite|
|Tongue River, in limestone outcrops S of Concrete||Calcite crystals, Fossils|
|Sheyenne River, in gravels of Ramsey and Pembina Counties||Quartz gemstones, Petrified wood, Fossils|
|Lisbon, in gravels surrounding town||Quartz gemstones, Petrified wood (‘Teredo petrified wood’)|
|Turtle Mountain, area gravels and pits||Quartz gemstones, Agate, Chalcedony|
|Dickinson, area surfaces and gravels||Agate, Chalcedony|
|Minot, area gravels and pits||Quartz gemstones, Agate, Chalcedony, Jasper, Fossils|
|Williams County, all area stream and river gravels||Agate (‘Montana moss agate’), Jasper (red, yellow)|
|Killdeer, area streams and gravels SE to Bismark||Flint (‘Knife River Flint’)|
Where to Find Geodes in North Dakota
Everyone enjoys the prospect of finding their very own geodes out in the wild, and it’s easy to see why. Cracking them open reminds me of opening a Kinder-Egg with a surprise toy inside. You never know what type of crystals or patterns you’re going to find inside and it makes them incredibly exciting.
Unfortunately, there are no known sites where geodes can be found in North Dakota. In order to find your own geodes, you will need to expand your search radius to include neighboring states like Montana and South Dakota where they can be found in several locations.
Tip: Not sure if the rock you’ve found is a geode? Check out my article about how to identify a geode.
Where to Find Agates in North Dakota
I love finding agates because you never know what sort of beautiful patterns and colors they might contain. They are some of the most popular rocks to tumble, and it’s easy to see why with their intricate banding and unique designs.
Agates also happen to be some of the most commonly collected rocks in the United States, including North Dakota. In fact, North Dakota is home to some fairly unique varieties of agate including the highly sought-after Fairfield agates and Montana moss agates. While those particular types of agate are more commonly found in South Dakota and Montana, respectively, they can be found in North Dakota along with other, more common, varieties.
If you’re looking to start collecting rocks in North Dakota, agates are a great place to start. They are probably the most commonly collected rock around here, largely because of their relative abundance. They are widespread and fairly easy to find if you have a general idea of where to look.
In general, the best places to find agates in North Dakota are in the gravels of rivers and streams all throughout the state. Gravel beds and washes which contain freshly exposed material will present the best opportunity for finding agates, particularly after a strong rain.
Tip: For more info about agates and where to find them, check out my article here.
For additional locations to search for Fairburn agates (and other varieties) you can check out my South Dakota Rockhounding Location Guide.
North Dakota 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
Private Land Resources
As with most states, each county in South Dakota 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 checking the public records in the 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:
- North Dakota Game and Fish Department
- North Dakota Geological Survey
- North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources
This post is part of my State-By-State Rockhounding Guides series. Please check out more states for thousands of additional sites to go rockhounding!