If you’re wanting to do some rockhounding in South Dakota you’ll be excited to learn that there are some truly amazing rocks and minerals to find here, and plenty of places in which to find them. Most of the best rockhounding sites are in and around the Black Hills, but the rest of the state is not without potential.
The highlight of South Dakota rockhounding is undoubtedly the highly prized and valuable ‘Fairfield agate’, a variety of agate noted for its vibrant colors and distinctive fortification banding. These agates are named after the town of Fairfield around which they are most commonly found, and they are very popular with lapidary artists and collectors.
While South Dakota is a great state for rockhounding in general, it helps to have a good idea of where to look and what you can find in each area. I have put this article together to give you a sense of they kinds of rocks and minerals you can find and where to start looking.
The best places to rockhound in South Dakota are in Custer County where Fairfield agates and rose quartz are both found in relative abundance. In general, the gravel beds, pegmatites, and old mine tailings of the Black Hills are by far the most popular rockhounding destinations in the state.
|State Mineral||Rose Quartz|
|State Gemstone||Fairburn Agate|
|State Fossil||Duck-billed dinosaur|
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. Here are 10 of the best rockhounding sites for rocks and minerals in South Dakota:
- Fairburn – Agates, Jasper, Agatized wood
- Hell Canyon – Agate, Jade, Jasper, Geodes
- Pleasant Valley Creek – Agate, Rose Quartz, Geodes
- Oelrichs – Agate, Jasper, Calcite
- Spearfish Canyon – Amethyst, Geodes
- Whitewood – Amethyst, Geodes, Petrified wood
- Scenic – Carnelian, Chalcedony, Tourmaline, Agate
- Pennington County – Amethyst
- Rattlesnake Butte – Large Calcity crystals
- Cheyenne River – Blue Chalcedony
Rocks and Minerals Found in South Dakota
One of the biggest reasons rockhounds flock to South Dakota is the wide variety of rocks and minerals that can be found here. Most collectors are primarily interested in the Fairburn agates and rose quartz the state is famous for.
South Dakota has a long history of mining gemstones, as well as precious metals like gold and silver. In addition, you can also find many semiprecious stones scattered across the landscape. Quartz-family minerals like agates, jasper, chalcedony, and petrified wood can be found in relative abundance if you know where to look.
There is almost no limit to the number of rock and mineral species you can find in South Dakota, although some are obviously rarer than others. What types of rocks and minerals you can find will largely depend on where you are looking, especially considering how varied its surface geology is.
The most commonly found and collected rocks and minerals in South Dakota are:
- Rose quartz
- Petrified wood
- Quartz crystals
Where to Rockhound in South Dakota
Through quite a bit of research and cross-referencing of available literature, I have compiled this list of some prospective locations in South 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 South 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 South 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.
South Dakota Rockhounding Sites
Most of the best rockhounding sites in South Dakota are located in the Black Hills. This range in the southwestern corner of the state is most famous for Mount Rushmore, but for us rock and mineral enthusiasts it contains so much more. This area has a long history of mining and is home to some of the best rockhounding anywhere in the United States.
The most notable area for rock and mineral collecting is undoubtedly the agate beds located about 12 miles to the east of Fairburn. This area is home to the world-famous ‘Fairburn agates’ which are coveted by rockhounds all over the world. Their unique, distinctive banding and coloring make them a favorite of lapidary artists and collectors, and a high-quality specimen can be worth quite a bit of money.
Further east from Fairburn is a town called Scenic, which is another prime spot to do some rockhounding. The badlands and ravines surrounding Scenic contain high-quality pieces of quartz-family minerals like carnelian, agate, and chalcedony. Some of the chalcedony found here is a striking shade of blue.
The Black Hills are also home to innumerable old mines and prospects where valuable minerals and ores have been mined for decades. If you can gain access, the tailings of these old mines are a great place to find a variety of collectible material including fluorite, quartz crystals, and many varieties of tourmaline.
Aside from the Black Hills, most of the rest of South Dakota is disappointingly barren of worthwhile rockhouding destinations. The banks and gravels of the Missouri River and its tributaries will sometimes yield petrified and agatized wood.
|Location||Rocks & Minerals|
|Wagner, E to Scotland in road cuts, stream gravels, etc.||Selenite (roses)|
|Elm Creek, in Pierre Formation near Missouri River||Barite (gray, rosettes)|
|Mound City, area W to Missouri River||Petrified wood, Opal|
|Little Eagle, area stream and river gravels, ridges, etc.||Petrified wood, Opal|
|November Mine, SE of Needles Eye Tunnel||Arsenopyrite, Fluorapatite|
|Buffalo Gap, large area W to county line||Agate (‘Fairfield agates’)|
|Laughing Water Creek, area mines||Columbite, Gold, Silver|
|Tin Mountain, area gravels||Fluorapatite, Quartz crystals, Garnet (almandine), Cassiterite, Mica, Tourmaline, Zircon|
|Tepee Canyon, diggings on N side of highway||Agate, Beryl, Garnet (almandine), Lepidolite, Staurolite, Tourmaline|
|Fairburn, area 10 mi. NW||Agate (‘Fairburn agates’)|
|Fairburn, area badlands to SE||Agate (‘Fairburn agates’, gem-quality), Agatized wood, Jasper (yellow)|
|Cheyenne River, in gravels of Custer County||Agate (‘Fairburn agate’)|
|Hell Canyon, N of Jewel Cave Natl Monument||Agate (banded), Jade, Jasper, Geodes, Fossils|
|Pringle, general area S to Minnekahta||Agate (‘Fairhill agates’)|
|Pleasant Valley Creek, SW of Pringle||Agate (banded), Jade, Jasper, Fossils, Geodes|
|Ardmore, badlands to ESE||Agate (‘Fairburn agates’), Agatized wood, Jasper (many colors), Chalcedony, Rose quartz|
|Parker Peak, general area||Agatized wood, Silicified wood|
|Oelrichs, area surfaces to S and E||Agate (‘Fairburn agates’), Jasper, Calcite (cone-in-cone), Agatized wood, Concretions|
|Oelrichs, 18 mi. E, area N of hwy||Agates|
|Camp Crook, in gravels and tributaries of Little Missouri River||Agate (moss agate), Chalcedony|
|Broken Boot Gold Mine, near Deadwood (fee)||Gold, Arsenopyrite, Galena, Pyrite, Sphalerite|
|Piedmont, area just to E||Selenite crystals|
|Summerset, area just to NE||Fossils|
|Savoy, area mines and pits to E||Gold, Fluorite, Silver, etc.|
|Spearfish Canyon, in gravels||Amethyst, Geodes (amethyst, chalcedony), Silicified wood|
|Whitewood Creek, in gravels N of Whitewood||Amethyst, Geodes (amethyst, chalcedony), Chalcedony, Silicified wood|
|Meade County, in banks and gravels of Elk Creek||Barite (crystals, yellow, amber), Whewellite|
|Fox Ridge, ESE of Maurine||Agate (moss agate)|
|Scenic, area ravines, washes, gravels, etc.||Chalcedony (gem-quality, blue), Carnelian (gem-quality), Aquamarine, Beryl, Garnet, Jasper, Agate|
|Sioux Falls, all area gravels, pits, etc.||Agate, Catlinite, Jasper|
|Pennington County, all area creeks and gulches||Amethyst|
|Hill City, area mines||Beryl, Cassiterite (red), Cervantite, Columbite, Graphite, Wolframite, etc.|
|Keystone, area mines||Tourmaline (many colors), Spodumene, Lepidolite, Autunite, Beryl (golden), Quartz crystals, Zircon, Aquamarine, etc.|
|Rapid City, area washes and draws E to Wall||Barite crystals (golden), Fossils|
|Rochford, area mines to SW||Arsenopyrite, Galena, Gold, Pyrite, Silver, Sphalerite, etc.|
|Elk Creek, a wide area in gravels N of Wasta||Barite, Calcite crystals, Quartz crystals|
|Oglala, area NW to Smithwick||Agate, Chalcedony, Jasper|
|Red Shirt, in Cheyenne River gravels||Agate, Chalcedony, Jasper|
|Rockyford, area washes to W||Chalcedony (blue)|
|Mission, banks and gravels of Little White River||Opalized wood, Agatized wood, Fossils|
|Mobridge, along banks of Missouri River to N and S||Opalized wood, Agatized wood|
|Interior, general area to E and N (outside park boundaries)||Jasper (eye jasper), Chalcedony, Agate|
|Rattlesnake Butte||Calcite crystals (large)|
Where to Find Geodes in South 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.
Thankfully, there are a few places you can find geodes in South Dakota. These geodes tend to be lined with amethyst, quartz crystals, or chalcedony and are typically around baseball-sized. While it is possible to find these geodes for yourself you need to know where to look, because they are only present in certain localities.
The best place to find geodes in South Dakota is Lawrence County, particularly in gravels near Spearfish Canyon and the banks of the Whitewood River. You can also find geodes in Custer County, most notably in Hell Canyon to the north of Jewel Cave and in Pleasant Valley Creek near Pringle.
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 South 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 South Dakota. In fact, South Dakota is home to a unique and beautiful variety known as ‘Fairburn Agate’.
Fairburn agates are known for their distinctive red-banded coloring and beautiful ‘fortification’ banding. This gemstone is highly sought after by collectors all over the world for lapidary work and cabbing.
If you’re looking to start collecting rocks in South Dakota, agates are a great place to start. 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 South Dakota are in the Black Hills in the southwestern part of the state, particularly in Custer County. The famed Fairfield agates are most commonly found in the agate beds to the east of Fairburn but are also found from Rapid City all the way into Nebraska.
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 Nebraska Rockhounding Location Guide.
Where to Find Rose Quartz in South Dakota
Rose Quartz is the state mineral of South Dakota, so it’s only natural for us rockhounds to want to find our own specimens to add to our collections. This wonderfully colored pink variety of quartz is one of the most sought-after rocks in the state and is commonly used in lapidary work.
Tip: Check out my Complete Rock Tumbling Guide to make your rocks and gemstones really shine!
There are many locations in South Dakota where you can find rose quartz, and as an added bonus you can often find other interesting rocks and minerals in those same spots including agates, petrified wood, and jasper.
In general, the best places to find rose quartz in South Dakota are in the Black Hills in the southwestern part of the state. In particular, the most popular locations for rose quartz are in pegmatite outcrops east of Custer and in exposures north of the highway east of Pringle.
Tip: For a comprehensive guide to finding your own gemstones and crystals, check out my article here.
South 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
To determine what type of public land a particular location is on, I would recommend starting with the maps from South Dakota’s Game, Fish & Parks Department.
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 with the South Dakota Department of Revenue 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:
- South Dakota Department of Natural Resources
- South Dakota Geological Survey
- Pegmatites of the Black Hills, Loomis
- A Geology of South Dakota, Rothrock
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!