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Rockhounding in Winter – The 11 Best Practical Tips

Rockhounding in Winter – The 11 Best Practical Tips
A person walking through snow and rocks

Rockhounding is a fantastic way to spend time outdoors and connect with nature, but it gets harder to do once the weather turns cold and the days get shorter. Luckily there are still plenty of ways that I’ve found to continue enjoying rockhounding even in the middle of a cold winter.

Here are 11 of the best ways I’ve found to continue rockhounding in winter:

  • Search on Beaches After Winter Storms
  • Look in Creek Beds After a Thaw
  • Research and Plan Out Trips for Spring
  • Tumble Rocks You’ve Already Found
  • Search in Areas That Are Usually Too Hot
  • Go Check Out Some Rock Shops
  • Organize Your Collection
  • Attend a Mineral Show
  • Go Caving or Spelunking
  • Wire-Wrap Your Rocks for Jewelry
  • Go Hunt Despite the Cold

All of these options are great, but which ones are best for you will depend on where you live, what materials you have available, and how much time you have. Each one of them can be a lot of fun and together they will be more than enough to feed your inner rockhound until Spring arrives.

Search on Beaches After Winter Storms

Winter can sometimes be the best place to rockhound if you’re looking in the right spot. Beaches are a fantastic place to go to find rocks in the winter, especially right after a good storm.

The wind and waves from a good storm will always churn up new rocks to find. New material will be eroded away from nearby rock formations and brought in on the currents and larger waves, so even if that area has been picked over by other rock hunters you will be able to score some good finds.

The rain will also uncover some good rocks that might otherwise be obscured in the sand. Raindrops will preferentially compact and wash away the smaller sand grains, making the rocks much easier to find since they are exposed and glistening!

Some specific beach locations to check out if you’re able are the Oregon Coast and the Great Lakes, particularly Lake Superior. These places are world-famous for producing high quality agates in great quantities, and if you’re brave enough to weather the elements they are well worth visiting in the winter.

You don’t need to be near the coast to employ this strategy, either. I live in Oklahoma (about as far away from the beach as you can get, unfortunately), but there are plenty of large lakes in my area with beaches that are still great to check out after a good winter storm.

Look in Creek Beds After a Thaw

Another great place to check out in the winter is in creek beds, especially right after a good thaw. If your area has been hit hard by winter storms and freezes then this is prime rockhounding time!

The constant cycle of freezing, thawing, and re-freezing will create a ton of fresh material for you to find if you’re looking in the right creek beds. This process is known as frost-wedging and is one of the biggest drivers of erosion.

When the ice and snow melt there will be a surge in the water levels of the creek, causing new rocks to be moved and uncovered. If you go searching in well-known rockhounding locations during these times then you’re sure to have the first pick of the litter.

Another reason it’s good to search in creek beds in the winter is that you’re going to beat the spring rains. Depending on where you live, it’s likely that once the spring comes those creeks will be full of moving water. In the winter you can usually wait until things dry out after a good melt and then search a relatively dry creek bed.

Research and Plan Out Trips for Spring

Of course, rockhounding isn’t always about spending hours wandering around the wilderness looking for rocks (fun as that would be). The winter can be a great time to research and plan future rockhounding trips.

For most of us, this won’t be as fun as actually getting out there and finding cool rocks, but it is usually a necessary first step to a successful outing. Why not get it out of the way while the weather is crumby? When the weather is nice you’re not going to want to be wasting your time looking up locations and tracking down leads.

The winter would be a good time to check out locations on mindat.com, or plan a road trip to a well-known pay-to-dig site. There are a lot of sites that aren’t open or accessible in the winter but you can map out and plan trips to take when they are.

You can also take this time to join a local rockhounding club if you haven’t done so already. Chances are they are less active during the winter, but you never know. It could give you a chance to make some new friends with a common interest and also get the inside scoop on the best local rockhounding locations.

Tumble Rocks You’ve Already Found

One of the most common winter activities for rockhounds is rock tumbling! This is a great year-round hobby in and of itself. Chances are you’ve found quite a few cool looking rocks throughout the year and that there are probably some good candidates in your collection for tumbling. If you’ve never tumbled rocks before and want to give it a shot, check out my complete how-to article.

If you plan this out beforehand you can collect rocks year-round and save them to tumble in the winter. Just keep an eye out for good tumbling candidates (quartz, jasper, agates, etc.) throughout the year and keep them in a bucket until it’s time to go to work.

If you don’t happen to have enough (or any) rocks to tumble then you can always order some! There are plenty of good places online where you can order tumbling rocks by the pound. This isn’t the cheapest way to enjoy the hobby but it will do in a pinch.

Of course, you will also need to have a rock tumbler. I personally recommend National Geographic’s 3 lb Professional Rock Tumbler. You can check out my complete review and why I love it so much here.

Search in Areas That Are Usually Too Hot

Sometimes the winter is just the best place to go rockhounding, period. This is going to depend on where you live, of course, but there are plenty of places where winter would be my preferred time to head to the field.

The southwestern part of the U.S., for example, is a super popular destination for rockhounds. There are so many geological features to visit and great places to find unique rocks & minerals that it is probably the busiest area of the country for rock enthusiasts. The only problem is that a lot of this area is desert and it can get super hot in the summer! The winter would be the ideal time to spend a day rockhounding in this area.

It’s not just the summer that can be a problem, either. In spring you often have to deal with a lot of rain and storms, which will lead to muddy conditions in a lot of places. In the fall there are often a ton of leaves on the ground which will obscure the rocks you’re trying to find. If you go rock hunting in the winter you likely won’t have to deal with these problems as much!

Go Check Out Some Rock Shops

If you just want to look at some rocks and see what you can find, then what better place to go than your local rock shop? This applies year-round, but especially in the winter. Sometimes you just want to add something to your collection and it’s not practical to search for anything in the wild. Rock shops are open year-round so they will be a great option when you can’t get to the field.

Rock shops are also a great place to make connections and find leads on localities to check out. The owner of the shops will undoubtedly know about any local rockhounding clubs and will probably be familiar with all the best spots in the area. Often times local rockhounds won’t share that information online, so the only way to find those places is to network and make some new friends.

While it isn’t nearly as fun as visiting a rock shop, you can also browse for rocks and minerals online. There are plenty of online auction sites, specialty dealers, and of course eBay. If you want to know the best places to buy rocks and minerals check out my post about it here.

Organize Your Collection

If you’re stuck at home on a cold winter night you might want to consider organizing your rock and mineral collection. It’s easy to fall behind on cataloging and properly displaying everything throughout the year, so why not put this time to good use and get all caught up?

Sometimes getting everything labeled and displayed can seem like a daunting task. I actually wrote a post on how to organize a rock and mineral collection that you may find useful. Depending on the size of your collection and how neglectful you’ve been about keeping up with things, this activity could keep you occupied for a few cold winter nights.

Attend a Mineral Show

What better way to enjoy some rocks than going to a mineral show? These shows are a playground for rockhounds and can be a great way to break up the months of cold. There are dozens of quality mineral shows throughout the country – you just need to find one near you during those cold winter months.

As it so happens, the Mecca of gem and mineral shows is usually held in Mid-February. The Tuscon Gem and Mineral show runs for 4 days and would make for an awesome vacation for any rockhound. It has the added bonus of being held in a relatively warm place, so if you’ve been cooped up in the cold for months on end this trip would be well worth it.

Even if the show is smaller and closer to home, you still get to check out some awesome rock and mineral displays. It’s an easy way to get your hands on some new specimens and perhaps add something new to your collection.

Go Caving or Spelunking

Me in an old lava tube surrounding by ice crystals
Me in an old lava tube with large ice crystals!

If you are really desperate to get into nature but don’t want to be overly exposed to the elements, plan a trip to a nearby cave. It doesn’t matter if it’s raining or if there is snow on the ground – once you’re in the cave it may as well be any other day. In fact, it may be warmer inside the cave than it is outside.

If you do choose to go this route, make sure you have done your research and people know where you’re going. Better yet, go to a public or commercialized location with a guide.

Chances are you won’t be allowed to bring any cool specimens home with you from a place like this, but at least you’ll get to put your hands on some rocks and see some awesome geology.

Wire-Wrap Your Rocks for Jewelry

This is a great activity to compliment your rock-tumbling. It’s great to have super polished and beautiful stones, but it’s even better to have something to do with them.

Wrapping your stones in wire can be a relaxing creative outlet. You can get really fancy with the designs and each one will be unique. A lot of people do this as a side-hustle and sell the jewelry once they get good at it (but could you part with your rocks?)

The best part of this hobby is that you get to carry your finds with you and show them off to everyone you meet. Imagine your friends asking you where you got that necklace and being able to tell them that you found the rock, tumbled and polished for weeks by yourself, and then turned it into a fantastic piece of jewelry. Much more interesting than buying it at the mall!

Go Hunt Despite the Cold

Sometimes you just need to suck it up and go! That might not be what you wanted to hear, but it’s true. Cold weather can be surprisingly invigorating and fun to work in if you just have the right mindset (and the proper clothing!)

The only thing that would really hold me back when I get the itch is a lot of snow on the ground or a cold rain. It just isn’t practical to go looking for rocks when there is a foot or more of snow on the ground. Likewise, a steady rain in 40-degree weather isn’t my idea of fun.

If it’s just a cold, brisk day then I think that is an absolutely great time to go rockhounding. Dress warmly in layers and enjoy the experience! In fact, if you’re in a location that requires a lot of work like digging or climbing then the cold will feel a lot better than the heat.

Even if your trip turns a little miserable, at least you’ll have a good story to tell. The best stories are always created when things go wrong, after all. If you manage to score any good finds then you’ll forever remember the conditions you found it in. It will be an additional point of pride whenever you look at that specimen – even if you weren’t very comfortable at the time you found it.