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How to Start Rockhounding: The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide

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Are you captivated by the idea of rockhounding but feeling overwhelmed by the mountain of information out there? This guide is tailored precisely for you. I’ll equip you with the essential knowledge needed to confidently prepare for your inaugural rockhounding expedition.

We’ll cover conducting fundamental research to identify promising sites, assembling the necessary gear and equipment, and ensuring you understand the relevant rules and regulations. By following the steps outlined here step-by-step, you’ll be ready to embark on your first rockhounding adventure feeling poised and prepared.

How to Start Rockhounding The Ultimate Beginner's Guide
What is Rockhounding? The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide

If you want to check out the best rockhounding tools and equipment, you can find them here (Amazon link).

What is Rockhounding?

Let’s start by clearly defining rockhounding itself. At its core, rockhounding is the activity of exploring the outdoors in search of mineral specimens, rocks, gemstones, and crystals. While not as widespread as in decades past, this hobby still attracts enthusiasts of all ages drawn by the thrill of the hunt across nature’s varied landscapes.

The allure of rockhounding stems from a variety of motivations. Some are aspiring jewellers seeking unique gemstones to incorporate into custom pieces. Others are local history and geology students eager for hands-on experience with their region’s mineral wealth. Many simply crave adding an extra dimension of adventure to their hiking treks, transformed into real-life treasure hunts.

Regardless of which specifics initially pique one’s interest, a common thread emerges – rockhounding quickly becomes a richly rewarding passion that captivates newcomers with its endless potential for exploration and discovery in nature’s playground.

How to Get Started Rockhounding

How to Get Started Rockhounding
How to Get Started Rockhounding

The first step to starting a rockhounding hobby is to do your research. By the time your research is finished, you should know:

  1. What are the best rockhounding areas in your region?
  2. What minerals are available in the area?
  3. Are there any rock and mineral clubs nearby?

After determining the answers to these questions, you will be ready to plan the logistics of your first rockhounding expedition.

Finding Your Local Rocks and Rockhounding Areas

As with most things, your initial impulse in looking for the best rockhounding areas and specimens in your region will probably be the internet.

While some broadly focused websites try to collect information from all over the US or the world, you will get better information if your search is more targeted by location.

Searching by city or state should point you to popular rockhounding spots and what you will most likely find there.

Rockhounding can occur on public land, private land, or paid dig sites:

  • There are a lot of public lands where people can collect specimens as a hobby, but some lands are off-limits.
  • Private land should only be accessed with the owner’s explicit permission.
  • Paid dig sites and mines know what is available on their land and can help point beginners in the right direction to find interesting rocks.

I recommend researching your and neighboring states’ official rocks, minerals, and gemstones. Usually, these materials are made official because they are readily found in the area (although not always).

You might also be able to determine the common natural resources by the major exports and place names.

Although the internet can point you in the right direction initially, I also suggest more thorough research using the methods listed below:

Read Books and Magazines

The public library should also be on your list to get information about your new hobby. The library probably has information specific to the geology of your city or state in books or magazines.

They may also be able to provide access to additional online resources, such as scientific journal articles, using your library card.

Librarians are a valuable resource, so be sure to ask at the reference desk if you cannot find the information you seek. They will be happy to help and can direct you to resources that may not be obvious at first. 

Local bookstores are more likely to carry region-specific titles than large chain stores. They can often help you find and order books that are not in stock.

Some bookstores specialize in rare or out-of-print books, so those are an excellent source for more obscure titles.

Rock & Gem Magazine is the leading national magazine that appeals to rockhounds in the US. In addition to having a variety of articles on the topic, they advertise events and maintain a club list on their website.

You can also find articles on this subject in other periodicals that cover natural history or related subjects.

BTW: Do you want to know more about rock and mineral identification? The books listed below are the best ones you can find on the internet (Amazon links):

TIP: There are dozens of books dedicated to nature, geology, minerals, rocks, and gemstones. Check out the article below if you want to know more about the best ones:
5 Best Books for Identifying Rocks & Minerals You Must Read

Connect with Your Local Rock and Mineral Club(s)

Joining a rock club is the best way to find valuable rockhounding information in your local area, and you can connect with some great people who share your hobby.

There may be organized trips or activities that you can join, or you might be able to find an experienced club member who is willing to take you out rockhounding.

Clubs are also very useful for accessing reference materials. Some interesting books about the geology of your local area may be long out of print, but fellow club members are likely to own them.

Finally, a rock club is an excellent place to learn about equipment from people who have experience using it. You may even be able to borrow or purchase equipment from other members.

Start with the American Federation of Mineralogical Societies when looking for rock clubs. Their website links to regional sites, which provide local club listings.

Most club listings include the regular meeting times and locations, but it is a good idea to contact the listed representative to confirm.

Other Valuable Sources of Rockhounding Information

Here you can find other valuable sources of rockhounding information:

  • State Natural Resource Agencies

Most states have agencies that oversee geology and mining. Depending on your location, different names may be called, but they usually have much information about local gems, minerals, and fossils.

A physical location may not be open to the public, but they can generally provide information if requested, and some have a robust online presence.

  • Museums

You can find geology museums and natural history museums of various sizes nationwide. Aside from showing you the specimens that are likely to be available in the area, they often offer educational programs.

  • Local Universities

If you live near or visit a university with a relevant program (geology, mineral engineering, palaeontology), you can probably find resources to support your rockhounding interest.

They may have a dedicated natural history museum or otherwise display some of the most interesting local specimens.

  • Rock Shops

Visiting a shop specializing in rocks, gems, and minerals can be a great way to meet people and see high-quality examples of the materials you have been learning about.

The staff is generally knowledgeable about local rockhounding areas and rock clubs. Stores targeting tourists may also sell a small selection of local rock specimens but are less likely to have informed salespeople than a speciality store.

  • Rock, Gem, and Mineral Shows

These temporary events usually have a low entrance fee and allow you to see various exemplary specimens. Although the vendors are the main draw, these shows often have demonstrations, exhibits, and displays.

TIP: If you have children, starting rockhounding from a young age is definitely advisable. Most young children love rocks so it will be fun for them! If you’re looking for tips on how to get them started, I’ve written a complete article on this topic here:
Rock Collecting for Kids: 13 Tips on How to Get Them Started

Planning Your First Rockhounding Trip

Planning Your First Rockhounding Trip
Planning Your First Rockhounding Trip

After you have decided what you want to look for and where, it is time to start planning the logistics of your trip. For your initial trip, I recommend you visit a place not too far off the beaten track. It should be accessible and reasonably safe.

Paid sites tend to be easier for beginners since they are set up to welcome visitors. Do as much research as possible before you visit to know how to prepare.

Your first rockhounding trip may be more productive if you go with a group or a more experienced person who can give you pointers.

Although plenty of people go out alone their first time, I recommend having some guidance when you are a beginner for the best experience.

Most people go to a site near their home for the first trip, but others prefer to combine this hobby with other activities like camping or hiking.

If you are planning more than a day trip, be sure to see if there are other possible rockhounding locations in the surrounding area. It is a good idea to have a backup plan in case your original site is not accessible for some reason.

Beginner Rockhounding Equipment

After you have planned out the location you want to visit, you will want to collect your equipment. When deciding which equipment you need, it is essential to balance usefulness with portability.

It is difficult to know what you will or won’t use on your first trip, but with experience, you can narrow your equipment list to your most preferred tools.

As you know, there is no required equipment needed to collect rocks. Your first step in the direction of this hobby was probably to pick up an attractive rock while you were out doing something else.

However, several things can make your rockhounding trip safer, more productive, and more comfortable.

Rockhounding Safety Equipment

Safety should be your top priority. Rockhounding can be a dangerous hobby since it involves tools and being in remote areas.

Be sure to research any hazards related to the area you will be visiting so you can prepare any special safety equipment if needed. (Amazon links)

  • Eye protection: If you don’t already wear glasses, invest in a good pair of safety goggles. Rock chips and dust are, at best, unpleasant to get in your eyes and, at worst, can lead to permanent damage, so it is not worth the risk.
  • Work gloves: Heavy-duty gloves protect your hands from cuts and scrapes and keep them clean.
  • Appropriate footwear: Boots with ankle support suit mountains and other rough terrains. You should bring waterproof rubber boots if you plan to be in the water.
  • First aid kit: Since you might be far away from medical assistance, it is important that you have the basics on hand to treat minor injuries immediately.
  • Hard hat: If you are planning to go rockhounding in a cave, under cliffs, or other places where there might be falling rocks, a hard hat is recommended.

TIP: If you need more detailed information about safety equipment for rockhounding, I wrote a complete guide on this topic; you can read it here:
Recommended Safety Equipment for Rockhounding: Stay Safe!

Tools for Gathering Specimens

The tools you need to gather specimens will depend on what you seek. For example, the necessary tools will be quite different in a stream searching for small gemstones compared to breaking large rocks open to get to minerals inside.

Here are the tools most frequently used by beginners, roughly in order of priority (Amazon links):

  • Rock hammer or rock pick: This is the essential collection tool every rockhound should use. It is used for prying or finely chipping away at rocks, but it is not made for breaking large stones.
  • Hand tools: Many small tools can be used to do precise work. These include a sieve or colander, small picks, a trowel, or a knife. 
  • Cleaning tools: For cleaning on-site while rockhounding, you may want to bring a small broom, paintbrush, and a spray bottle filled with water. Being able to clean your specimens will help you identify them more easily.  
  • Crack hammer: This hammer is like a smaller version of a sledgehammer. They are usually available in weights from 2-4 pounds. The 3-pound version should work best for most people, but make sure you can handle it easily. Crack hammers are usually used in combination with a chisel.
  • Chisel(s): Most people want a variety of chisel sizes, some with wide blades and some pointed. Ensure your chisels are rated for masonry use; wood or metal chisels will not be strong enough for these purposes. Chisels with handguards are recommended, especially for children, to avoid painful hand injuries.
  • Pry bar: This tool can be used to move large rocks or other obstacles that might otherwise be too heavy. 18” to 22” in length is sufficient for most uses and will not be too heavy.
  • Sledgehammer or mason’s hammer: This type of hammer breaks big rocks and may not be required for every rockhounding trip. Be sure you can comfortably swing and control this tool, as it can be cumbersome.
  • Shovel: Take a shovel if you anticipate moving some surface material to get to the specimens. Small folding shovels are lighter and easier to transport but tend to be more challenging to use. A standard full-size shovel will be necessary for large jobs.

TIP: If you want to know more about recommended equipment for rockhounding, check out this ultimate guide:
Recommended Rock Hammers, Picks, Chisels & Bars For Rockhounding

Tools for Carrying Tools and Specimens

Obviously, you will need some way to transport your specimens back home with you after a successful day of rockhounding. Although any container can be used, these options will make the job easier. (Amazon links)

  • Backpack: Most people use a backpack to carry their tools for rockhounding. Be sure you choose one that won’t be easily torn by sharp tools and has enough space for all your supplies.
  • Bucket: If you have a lot of specimens, a bucket is a great option. They come in various sizes, and high-quality buckets can handle heavy loads. Try to get one with a comfortable handle.
  • Wrapping Material: Letting your specimens jostle against each other can cause them to get damaged. Newspaper, scrap fabric, or other wrapping materials will create a barrier between them and keep them safe during transport. 
  • Small Tubes, Boxes, and Other Containers: Small or fragile specimens can be packed into individual containers together with your wrapping material. You can carry a variety of sizes and shapes with you to accommodate various specimens.

Tools for Identifying Specimens

It is better to avoid carrying back a bunch of heavy specimens only to find out they are not what you thought they were.

By carrying some simple identification tools in your pack, you can determine what you have located even before you get it back home. (Amazon links)

  • Loupe or magnifying glass: These tools allow you to quickly examine the details of your specimens in the field. 10X power is usually inexpensive and sufficient for rockhounding.
  • Magnet: A magnet is useful for identifying meteorites and iron-bearing rocks like hematite and magnetite. Any refrigerator or other readily available magnet works for this purpose.
  • Field guides: Field guides are used to identify and distinguish between different types of rocks, gems, or minerals.
  • Spray bottle with water: Since samples are often dusty, it is much easier to examine them if you can remove dirt and dust on-site. A spray bottle and some old rags will help to get them clean enough to identify.

Tools for Navigation

It is very important not to lose track of where we are in nature. Fortunately, we now have navigation on our smartphones.

It is not ideal to rely only on your smartphone; having the equipment to determine your location is advisable. These can be (Amazon links):

  • Compass or GPS Device: Since many rockhounding areas do not have cell or internet service, you should not rely on a smartphone to return to your car or campsite. Quality GPS devices can be expensive, so a compass may be a better option to start with.
  • Topographic map, atlas, and/or area guidebook(s): These additional items will help you navigate your way to and from your chosen rockhounding site.

Items to Make Your Trip Comfortable

You will want to prepare for a rockhounding trip the same way you would for any hiking trip. What you need will depend on the type of terrain, weather, and length of the trip, but might include:

  • Sun hat or bandana
  • Flashlight
  • Sunscreen and bug spray
  • Food and water
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Tissues and toilet paper
  • Garbage bag
  • Notebook and pen or pencil
  • Camera
  • Extra clothes and shoes
  • Whistle
  • Bear spray
  • Rain gear

Do not be overwhelmed by our long list of equipment! Most people start with a very simple kit and add more items as they go. Depending on the location, type of materials you want, weather, and other factors, you may need only a few pieces of equipment.

TIP: If you are debating buying a rock tumbler or trying to figure out how, why, when, or where to use one, check out the complete guide in the article below:
GUIDE: What is Rock Tumbler & How Do Rock Tumblers Work?

Tips for Your First Rockhounding Trip

First, please note that your first trip may not be as successful as you hoped. It takes time to develop an eye for where to find the best specimens.

Many rockhounds find that their second or third visit to the same location reveals more collectable material as they gain familiarity with the area.

Finding Specimens

Experiences will vary depending on the site and what is available there, but a good way to start is to broadly search for some rocky areas where specimens have naturally ended up. For example, this could be at the bottom of a cliff or along the edges of streams or rivers.

Roadcuts, where large volumes of stone have been removed to make way for streets, can also be an excellent place to find specimens.

They are easily accessible by car, making this a fun way to make a quick, rockhounding trip without investing a whole day. Just be sure that your stopping is allowed on the road. 

Some minerals, such as quartz crystals, may not be visible to the naked eye. Usually, you can identify a vein in a likely area and tap around with your tools to find a place that sounds hollow. Once you have found some specimens, you will likely discover more nearby.

Other Beginner Rockhounding Tips

While trying to find some cool or even valuable rocks, you shouldn’t also forget these useful tips that help you to stay safe:

  • Time management is also a key for rockhounding, especially for beginners. Some collectors like to set an alarm to reassess the situation periodically. After spending an hour in one spot, you might prefer to move to another location if you haven’t found much. Since we tend to get so focused on our collecting, time can fly by without being noticed.
  • When moving to another location, you might choose to make a trip back to your car to drop off a load of specimens. It is often easier to make several short trips throughout the day instead of trying to carry all of them back at the end of the day.
  • Finally, make sure you do not overdo it when you are on a rockhounding trip. Stay hydrated and take breaks when you need to. Save enough energy to carry all your gear and specimens back with you.

TIP: I actually wrote a whole article with amazing and useful tips for rockhounding. So, if you are interested in more tips like the ones above, feel free to read this article:
PRO Tips for Beginner & Experienced Rockhounds + Safety Tips

Rules for Rockhounding for Beginners

It is essential to be aware of the rules around your new hobby. The important guidelines fall into two main categories: which areas you can or cannot enter and which specimens you can or cannot collect.

  • When determining where you want to go rockhounding, the Bureau of Land Management can assist you in identifying whether the land is public or private. Rockhounding is allowed on most public land, although not at National Monuments and National Parks. Check local regulations related to the specific land you want to visit.
  • It is important not to enter private land without permission, as that can be considered trespassing. Anything you take from private land is the property of that landowner. If you are unsure, avoiding those areas and sticking with approved sites is better.
  • The Bureau of Land Management provides clear guidelines for the amount and type of collection that can occur on public land. If you are unsure, it is best to check with local authorities to be sure you do not break any rules or collect prohibited items. There are limits to the amount and type of materials to be collected. You also need to follow their guidelines about the collection method, avoiding explosives or other destructive activities.

Rockhounding vs. Prospecting

As you look through the rules about what can and cannot be collected, you probably notice there are different standards for prospecting versus collecting.

The two activities are very closely related, but the difference lies in the intended use of the collected material.

Rockhounding is when you collect minerals, rocks, and gems for personal use and enjoyment. Prospecting is if you are collecting them to sell what you have collected.

If the materials are taken from public land, prospecting is prohibited, but rockhounding is (generally) permitted.

TIP: I know you are asking yourself, can I take these rocks from this place? It is a common question for every rockhound in the world. That’s why I wrote a guide on this topic; you can read it here:
Is it illegal to take rocks from nature? You Should Know This

Rockhounding Etiquette

In addition to following the laws and rules around rockhounding activities, most rockhounds consider it part of their duty to be good stewards of the land they explore and to maintain a good reputation with the community. People will think positively about rockhounding if they see good moral behavior from those engaging in it.

This means that rockhounds should be careful not to cause damage to the land in any way. If you make a fire, be sure it is properly extinguished. Pack out any litter from your trip, and try to leave the area in better condition than you found.  

Rockhounding etiquette also means not collecting unreasonable amounts of materials or selling materials from public land. Since anyone will unlikely check your haul, everyone observes this rule on the honor system.

Since most people interested in the natural world are also interested in protecting it, rockhounds generally find that proper etiquette aligns with their normal behavior.

People who are well-prepared for their rockhounding trip and know the area’s rules will probably not engage in these undesirable behaviors.

After Your Rockhounding Trip

Spend some time cleaning and labeling your finds if you need to trim or sand any pieces, research that material to see what methods have worked well for others.

I recommend recording what you find and a notebook to keep track of everything as your collection grows. This can also help you understand what is in your collection without pulling everything out to look at it.

Most rockhounds also want to display some highlights of their collections. After all, it is much more enjoyable to see those impressive specimens than hiding them somewhere. I recommend protecting the collection from dust and providing proper lighting for the best display.


When starting a rockhounding hobby, there is much to learn, but it does not need to be intimidating. You can get started with minimal equipment and a bit of research.

Take advantage of all the available resources, including experienced rockhounds and resource material.

When you take your third or fourth rockhounding trip, you will feel comfortable with the tools for various collection methods and start developing an eye for rocks and minerals.

This rewarding hobby improves with time and can provide you with hours of enjoyment and the opportunity to make new friends.

TIP: Rock collecting can mean anything between picking up the odd rock on a hike and keeping a full mineral display shelf at home. Check out the ultimate guide on rock collecting in the article below:
How to Start Rock Collecting? Complete Guide for Beginners