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Is Taking Rocks from Nature Illegal? You Should Know This

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No matter where you go, there are thousands of beautiful rocks all over the world. You may see a gorgeous limestone rock and think “this would be perfect for my collection! I will go ahead and take it,” without thinking twice about the consequences you could be setting yourself up for.

It is legal to take rocks from public property, but illegal when taking them from private property. While there are certain places that will allow it or view it as illegal, many government-owned properties and public properties deem it illegal.

Taking rocks from a protected area would be similar to going to an archaeological site and taking things like fossils or old weapons. We’ll get more specific about when you can and can’t legally rock hound throughout this article.

Is it illegal to take rocks from nature
Is it illegal to take rocks from nature?

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Taking Rocks from National Parks

Usually, you would not think much of taking a small rock from a national or government-owned park, but it is indeed illegal to do so and can result in a significant fine. The National Park of Arizona charges a minimum fine of $325 for removing or damaging any natural objects such as:

  • Fossils,
  • Plants,
  • Animals, or even
  • Rocks.

The U.S. National Park Service deems it illegal since it violates code § 2.1 for the Preservation of Natural, Cultural, and Archeological Resources and can subject violators to criminal penalties. Despite it being illegal in private parks, you can take rocks from public parks.

If you were walking by a neighborhood playground and saw a pretty rock you wanted, it is totally okay if you want to pick it up. Everything on those grounds is public property which means they don’t belong to one specific person.

While you might not usually give this a passing thought, it is very important to remember that anything could disrupt nature, whether it be floods, storms, and even the removal of natural resources.

Removing rocks from forests is somewhat similar to when architects remove trees to build houses or drill into the ground to collect minerals. It may be something small, but it still has an impact on the environment in ways we may never understand.

There could be snakes, ants, or spiders hiding under a rock for protection, but when you remove it from the premises, they must either move or be subjected to more danger.

It’s like an old familiar saying, “If we all took a flower, there wouldn’t be any flowers left.” Rocks may not seem very important to us when we live in such glorious lands, but to nature, it’s a piece of their home.

TIP: Do you what gemstones you can find in your backyard? it’s easier than you might think! Find out more in this article:
12 Gemstones You Can Find in Your Backyard Right Now

Taking Rocks from Mountains

Much like taking rocks from Parks, it is still illegal to take from mountains, specifically government-funded ones. For example, the Rocky Mountains are federally managed and protected. Those federal protections exist to ensure the protected areas exist for many future generations of enjoyment.

While it is technically illegal to just take them, it would not be a problem if you asked for permission first.

Most park rangers are very kind. Just find one and ask before you take anything! Little rocks and pebbles would be okay to ask for, but common sense will tell you that it would not be okay to take anything too big like a giant boulder.

Taking too much of anything would disrupt the environment, wildlife, and scenery. Imagine if everyone took a pickaxe and cut their own piece of rock from the Rockies or Andes mountains.

We wouldn’t have much of a mountain left, it would be more like a big rock with many different caves inside; like what the Badger moles did in Avatar.

One viable option is to help fund the services that manage and protect the mountains and parks. All you have to do is head to one of the gift shops where you could buy your own rock instead of taking one from the trails.

TIP: Mountains consist of a combination of igneous, metamorphic, or sedimentary rock, depending on how they are formed. Check out the common rocks you can find in the mountains:
14 Most Common Rocks and Minerals You Can Find in Mountains

Taking Rocks from Public Property

As mentioned before, taking rocks from property that belongs to the public is completely okay. When a piece of land belongs to the public, it means that everything on top of that land belongs to them too. This is why it’s also okay to pick flowers, apples, or even oranges from public trees.

Even if it does still receive government funding, it belongs to the people and anyone can do what they please, within the boundaries of national laws of course.

While you cannot take huge things like playground equipment or similar items (because those actually belong to someone), no one will be upset or think about any sort of criminal punishment for a kid, or someone from the public who simply wants to pick up a few rocks for their collection.

Considering that the whole purpose of having public land is for the public’s enjoyment, it would be a waste not to enjoy the beautiful things nature has to offer us!

Although you may want to ask while picking up rocks like boulders since they may be there for landscaping purposes or to hide outside wires, it’s perfectly okay to pick up all sorts of rocks from public parks, pools, or even roads.

While growing up, many of us definitely had incredible rock collections, all from around the neighborhood, schoolyard, and favorite spots to visit.

TIP: As a result of earthquakes, deformed rocks are common in geologically active areas around the world. Check out the common rocks in these areas in the article below:
Eight Most Common Rocks You Can Find In Earthquake Zones

Taking Rocks from the Side of the Road

Although most roads are for public use, there are some rules for collecting things off the side of the road.

Sometimes when construction workers are repairing or building highways, they may place rocks on the side to add some beauty and enhance the scenery. If the rocks you are interested in picking up were not specifically placed there by a company, then you can pick up as much as you would like.

Most rocks fall on the side of the road from cars speeding by, wind, or even falling from mountains during rock or mudslides.

While these rocks are still a part of nature it is definitely okay to grab a few since they fall on public property and are not specifically owned by anyone.

It would be much different if you wanted to take down a tree that’s too close to your house, in which case, depending on your local ordinances, you would have to contact the city for permission.

When it comes to small items like rocks, the city typically doesn’t mind allowing citizens to indulge in their interest in pretty rocks.

Besides, unlike in National parks and historical landscapes, there isn’t usually anything particularly special about rocks that just happen to fall on the side of the road. That’s part of why those would be alright to take without harming the environment or making any government official upset.

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Closing Thoughts

As we age, it’s reasonable to expect that our interest in collecting more intriguing rocks grows. As you up the stakes of your hobby, it’s critical to understand what is, and isn’t, an acceptable way to pursue your rockhounding passion.

If you are still unsure about whether or not it is okay to take something you like from a place, never be afraid to ask someone who is in charge of that property.

The worse they could say is no, and that would be okay. If you are looking for bigger rocks that no one would mind you picking though, there are many landscaping and garden centers where you could purchase the exact rock you are looking for without feeling like you could get into legal trouble.

The bottom line is, the next time you want to grab a rock from the side of the road, think back to this article and ask yourself if it’s really worth it.

TIP: Take a look at our carefully selected rockhounding toolkit and the recommendations we make for each item!
The Complete Guide: All Tools You Need for Rockhounding