Tennessee is a great state for rockhounding, thanks in large part to the complicated geological history of the eastern portion of the state. The mountain ranges in the east contain a wide variety of minerals and correspondingly have a great many prospective rockhounding locations. In the alluvial river plains of western Tennessee it is fairly common to find quartz-family mineral specimens like agate, jasper, and petrified wood. Tennessee also presents a relatively rare opportunity to find freshwater pearls in the Tennessee River and its tributaries. Almost anywhere you find your self in the state there are likely to be several fun rockhounding destinations nearby.
The best places to rockhound in Tennessee are the mountains of the Cumberland Plateau and central Tennessee, particularly Horse Mountain where unique agate specimens can be found. Other notable rockhounding sites are the Tennessee River for freshwater pearls and Cannon County for geodes.
|State Gemstone||River Pearl|
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 gems and minerals in Tennessee:
- Cooper’s Gem Mine – Quartz, garnet
- Tennessee River – Freshwater Pearls
- Ben Lomond Mountain – Geodes, calcite, celestite
- Douglas Lake – Double-terminated quartz crystals
- Richardson’s Landing – Lake Superior agates
- Unaka Mountains – Unakite, epidote, quartz
- Horse Mountain – Several varieties of agate
- Russellville – Geodes in streams and gravels
- Little Tennessee River – Clear quartz crystals
- Boatland – Calcite, celestite, geodes, pyrite
Tennessee boasts quite a nice variety of rocks and minerals for rockhounds to collect. One of the most unique rocks to the state is the unakite found in mountains of the eastern part of the state. Unakite is a type of metamorphosed granite which has had some of its mineral components replaced by epidote, giving it a distinct and easily recognizable green color.
You can find many minerals and gemstones across the state of Tennessee including agate, freshwater pearls, quartz crystals, many carbonates like calcite and dolomite. Tennessee has a rather unique type of agate known as ‘Paint Rock agate’ which is highly sought after for its distinct coloring and fortification-style banding.
The most commonly found and collected rocks and minerals in Tennessee are:
- Freshwater pearls
- Quartz crystals
Through quite a bit of research and cross-referencing of available literature, I have compiled this list of some prospective locations in Tennessee 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 Massachusetts 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 Tennessee
Western Tennessee Rockhounding Sites
Compared to the rest of the state, western Tennessee is a little lacking in rockhounding destinations. Still, there are plenty of places where aspiring collectors can search with a reasonable expectation of making some worthwhile finds.
The highlight of western Tennessee is undoubtedly the freshwater river pearls which have the distinction of being the state’s official gemstone. To find freshwater pearls in Tennessee, try digging in the sands and gravels of the Tennessee River and its larger tributaries. The mussels you find will need to be shucked, and inside you can find your beautiful reward.
One of the best rockhounding locations in western Tennessee is near Richardson’s Landing on the Mississippi River. Try to find fresh dredge disposal sites or search in the gravels along the riverbank. You can often find agatized fossils and even the famed Lake Superior agates, carried down from the Great Lakes by the river’s powerful current. Other notable rockhounding sites include the limestone exposures in Wayne County and the the area around Springfield where you can find many quality quartz-family gemstones.
|Location||Rocks & Minerals|
|Tennessee River & tributaries, in sands and gravels||Pearls (in freshwater mussels)|
|Coffee Bluff, in sands of Tennessee River||Amber|
|Centerville, area mines||Cobalt, Nickel minerals|
|Lawrenceburg, area road cuts, outcrops, etc.||Chert, Chalcedony, Geodes (calcite, quartz)|
|Springfield, area stream gravels, road cuts, etc.||Quartz (gem-quality)|
|Memphis, in gravels and dredges near Richardson’s Landing||Agate (Lake Superior agate), Agatized fossils|
|Wayne County, all countywide limestone exposures||Chert (gem-quality), Agatized fossils, Flint, Quartz crystals, etc.|
Central Tennessee Rockhounding Sites
Central Tennessee is a great place to do some rockhounding. There are many old mines and quarries in the area that are historically known to produce many varieties of carbonate minerals like calcite, celestite, and dolomite as well as geodes.
For more accessible and generalized rockhounding there are many wide areas such as Horse Mountain, Beechgrove, and Cookeville where any collector can comb through stream gravels and rocky outcrops with the expectation of finding quartz-family gemstones like agate, jasper, and chalcedony.
|Location||Rocks & Minerals|
|Horse Mountain||Agate (Horse Mountain agates)|
|Pannell Ridge, area fields and creeks||Agatized coral|
|Philippi Church, general area||Agatized coral|
|Sugar Creek||Agatized coral|
|Woodbury, area 5 mi. ESE||Geodes|
|Cannon County, all regional gravels, streams, fields||Calcite, Fluorite, Geodes, Goethite, Limonite, Pyrite, Celestite|
|Beechgrove, area to S||Chalcedony (nodules)|
|Crab Orchard, in area quarries||Sandstone (‘Crab Orchard Stone’, polishable)|
|Boatland, area creeks||Calcite, Celestite, Dolomite, Geodes, Marcasite, Pyrite|
|Carpenter Hollow and Buffalo Cove, area quarries||Calcite, Celestite, Dolomite, Geodes, Marcasite, Pyrite|
|Missionary Ridge, area mines||Bauxite|
|Marion County, all area pits, quarries, stream gravels, etc.||Barite, Fluorite, Galena, Pyrite, Selenite|
|Monteagle, in road cuts to S||Calcite onyx|
|Livingston, quarries to NW||Calcite, Celestite, Dolomite, Geodes, Marcasite, Pyrite|
|Cookeville, in stream gravels to E||Agate, Jasper|
|Monterey, 2 mi. N in outcrops and mine dumps||Calcite, Celestite, Dolomite, Fluorite, Quartz crystals|
|Ben Lomond Mountain, W side||Calcite, Celestite, Dolomite, Geodes, Marcasite, Pyrite, etc.|
Eastern Tennessee Rockhounding Sites
Eastern Tennessee is, without a doubt, the best part of the state for rockhounding. The southern end of the Appalachian Mountains and the large National Forests combine to offer a great region for prospective rockhounding sites. You will, of course, want to steer clear of any National Park land since absolutely no collecting is allowed there (National Forests do, though).
There are many old mines and quarries in the area which yield specimens of many minerals including sphalerite, pyrite, garnet, celestite, and smithsonite. If you’re collecting in the area you should try to get your hands on some unakite which is fairly unique to the region. Unakite is a metamorphosed granite in which some minerals have been replaced by epidote, giving portions of the rock an attractive forest green color.
Where to Find Gemstones in Tennessee
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 in Tennessee where collectors can usually score some great finds.
The best places to find gemstones in Tennessee are:
- Douglas Lake – Double-terminated quartz crystals, locally known as ‘Douglas Diamonds’, can be found in the sands of Douglas Lake. For the best chance of success, search when the lake levels are low.
- Tennessee River – The gravels and sands of the Tennessee River and its tributaries are a great place to dig for mussels containing beautiful freshwater pearls.
- Cooper’s Gem Mine – Just south of Blountville, this family-friendly public mine allows you to dig for a variety of gemstones like quartz and garnets for a small fee.
- Springfield – The entire area surrounding the town of Springfield offers a chance to find gem-quality quartz crystals. Try searching in places like stream gravels and the talus at the base of road cuts.
- Horse Mountain – This area is one of the best locations in the state to find agates. The variety found here is locally known as ‘Horse Mountain agate’ or, more generally, ‘Iris agate’.
- Ben Lomond Mountain – The west side of Ben Lomond Mountain is a great place to search for quite a few gemstones including calcite, celestite, dolomite, marcasite, and pyrite.
- Big Creek – The gravels of Big Creek near Bluffton are one of very few places I’ve encountered where you can find green quartz crystals – some of which are gem-quality.
- Little Tennessee River – If you’re searching for rock crystal (nice clear quartz crystals) this is the place for you. Try searching in the red clays on the riverbanks.
- Gatlinburg – The entire area surrounding the town of Gatlinburg makes for great rockhounding with the stream gravels turning up quartz crystals and other gemstones.
- Copperhill – Stream gravels around the town of Copperhill are another fantastic place to search for gemstones of many types including azurite, garnet, pyrite, quartz, and staurolite.
Where to Find Geodes in Tennessee
Geodes are some of the most sought-after rocks regardless of location, and Tennessee is no exception. While Tennessee isn’t particularly well known for its geodes, there are still plenty of places where you can search and have a reasonable chance of finding your own. These geodes can contain one or more of several minerals including quartz, amethyst, calcite, or chalcedony.
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 Tennessee:
- Lawrenceburg, in area road cuts and outcrops
- Woodbury, in the area 5 miles to the southeast
- Cannon County, in gravels, streams, and fields
- Boatland, in area creeks
- Ben Lomond Mountain, on the west side
- Russellville, in gravels, streams, and road cuts
- Carpenter Hollow and Buffalo Cove, in quarries
- Livingston, in quarries northwest of town
Where to Find Agates in Tennessee
Agates are some of the most beautiful and varied rocks collected by rockhounds, and the varieties found in Tennessee are a testament to that. The most famous and desirable type of agate collected in Tennessee is Paint Rock Agate which is usually shades of red, orange, and yellow and often displays fortification banding. Paint Rock Agate is most commonly found in southern Tennessee near the Alabama border.
Tip: Check out my Complete Rock Tumbling Guide to make your rocks and gemstones really shine!
There are several other varieties of agate found in Tennessee but aside from Paint Rock agates the most unique type is known as Horse Mountain agate. This variety is, unsurprisingly, found in the area surrounding Horse Mountain which happens to be one of the best places in the entire state to find agates of any kind.
The best places to find agates in Tennessee:
- Memphis, in gravels near Richardson’s Landing
- Horse Mountain, the entire surrounding area
- Cookeville, in stream gravels to the east
- Jellico, in road cuts south of town
- Green County, in area exposures
- Hawkins County, in area exposures
- Sullivan County, in area exposures
Tennessee 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.
- 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 Tennesee will have records of who owns each piece of property. Tennessee makes it uniquely easy relative to most states to find who owns a piece of land by way of their official interactive property map. You can also usually get the landowner’s name and address by visiting the county records office.
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: