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Rockhounding in Florida, and around the world, is an exciting hobby that many enthusiasts spend a great deal of time investing their energy into. Whether new or old to it, one of the most important keys to a successful rockhounding venture is to do your research beforehand. This means spending considerable time reading articles like this one to gain time-saving insights on where you can rockhound, what gems can be found, and approximate locations. Believe me; you’ll thank yourself later.
Some of the best places to rockhound in Florida include oceans, rivers, and other waterways. Many public and private lands are open to rockhounders with the right permits and/ permissions. Here are examples of what you might find at certain locations:
- Agatized Coral, the official state gem, at Ruck’s Pit
- Shark teeth and other fossils at Venice Beach
- Fossils and other minerals in Peace River
This sunshine state is rich in rocks, minerals, and fossils – making it a rockhounder’s dream. Keep reading to find enhanced lists and more specific details on rockhounding locations and what can be found where.
If you are interested in checking out the best rockhounding tools you can find them by clicking here (Amazon link).
Where Can You Dig for Gems in Florida?
Digging for gems in Florida is fairly straightforward if you know where to look and have checked with the right authorities. While the majority of the state hides many treasures that can be found across the peninsula, here’s a glimpse at some of the most popular places to rockhound in Florida – including the following:
- Fort Drum
- Tampa Bay
- New Port Richey
- Tarpon Springs
- Econfina River
- Suwanee River
- Peace River
- Jacksonville Beach
Do You Own Florida Property?
First, start at home. Aside from the many popular haunts, the first place that is commonly overlooked is one’s own property.
In most cases, gems and other treasures found on your own property are yours to keep, free of charge (of course). If you own property in Florida, this is the easiest route to go, as you don’t have to worry about obtaining permission from anyone. Plus, you are free to dig at your leisure.
You’re in luck if your property has a waterfront of any kind! These areas have a much higher probability of finding various rocks.
As the water flows through, it washes different minerals, stones, and the like up onto the shore. This means, throughout the year, there are different opportunities to collect.
And in most cases, flooding is not considered good, but this may be less true in the case of rockhounds. After the floodwaters recede, many mineral deposits, fossils, and shells tend to remain. You might call this a silver lining.
Other Private Property
On the other hand, if you are planning to dig on surrounding private property, specifically those owned by neighbors and others – this includes the property you live on if you rent it – be sure to receive permission from the owners beforehand to avoid potentially severe repercussions for trespassing and (possibly) theft.
The penalties vary from state to state and are based on the offense. In some states, fines imposed have ranged upwards of $1,000.
A permit is not required to rockhound on privately owned land, but permission is required. This exception extends to most fossils, minerals, rocks – and even human artifacts, in many cases. However, human burial sites should remain undisturbed.
Popular Rockhounding Locations
In Florida, rockhounding is a popular pastime. Given the right information, patience, and perseverance, it can also become a very lucrative hobby.
It is evidenced by the many existing and very frequented destinations by rockhounds and their families listed in the table below.
I put together this compilation of common rockhounding sites, adding onto the list from earlier in this section with more specific details:
|Florida City||Site/Location in Florida|
|Venice||Venice Beach, Caspersen, Venice Fishing Pier|
|Dunedin||Honeymoon Island (coral agates can be collected for free in the parking area)|
|Fort Drum||Ruck’s Pit at Fort Drum Crystal Mine|
|Tampa Bay||Ballast Point Area OR Tampa Member of the Arcadia Formation|
|New Port Richey||Green Key Beach, Pasco County|
|Tarpon Springs||Anclote River, Pinellas County|
|Gardner||Boat Ramp; Charlie Creek|
|Suwanee||Runs across northwestern Florida|
Other popular locations for rockhounding in Florida are the rivers. You can find the best Florida river locations in the table below:
|Florida Rivers||Site/Location in Florida|
|Econfina||St. Marks Formation (Coastal, Northern Florida)|
|Suwanee||Runs across northwestern Florida|
|Peace||Hardee County; Shell Creek; Charlie Creek; Peace River Formation|
The majority of the above sites are actually suited to most types of rockhounds, including families and children, if that’s a concern.
Some locations are free, and others charge a fee. Certain sites may have attendants present to answer questions visitors may have.
Be sure to check out the links to some of the sites that I’ve included in the table above to learn more about specific areas, what is permitted, when it is open, etc. before you go.
As always, the most important aspect of a successful rockhounding venture is the research put in!
For the More Adventurous Rockhounders
A few locations in the previous table have diving options, allowing you to expand your options for collecting treasures. Check out Venice Fishing Pier and the Peace River Formation if you are experienced in diving.
However, because of the distance of the Peace River Formation from shore, it is safest to use a charter service to dive around the formation. Otherwise, you can choose to dive closer to the shore of the Peace River and still collect smaller treasures.
Because Florida is a peninsula that was actually once submerged underwater, the distribution of gems is distributed widely across the state.
The most common places rockhounds have successful ventures are beaches, rivers, and other waterways. However, you are by no means limited to those places. Areas inland may also be rich with rocks and minerals.
Below is a table of more general regions in Florida and what is most commonly found there:
|General Location||Commonly Found|
|Anastasia Formation (along Atlantic coast)||Coquina limestone|
|Upper Florida Keys||Fossiliferous limestone|
|Southernmost Florida & lower Florida Keys||Oolitic limestone|
|Northwest Florida||Gravel and coarse sand, some medium-fine sand, and silt|
|Southwest and Southeast Florida||Medium-fine sand and silt|
|Northeast and Central East Florida||Shell sand and clay|
|Central West Florida||Limestone, shelly sand, and clay, peat|
For naming the regions of Florida, I am using this map as a reference. Become familiar with the types of material found throughout the regions of Florida and what is often contained in each. I will go into greater detail on the unique qualities of limestone later.
There are many reasons rockhounds may choose areas away from popular locations, including over-picked grounds that decrease the likelihood of bringing home any bounty.
For others, it’s more about the thrill and adventure. Regardless of your reason, make sure to do your homework. It’s definitely possible to pave your own trail, but work smarter – not harder.
Always check with your local Bureau of Land Management office before embarking on a rockhounding adventure in any of these regions, as some specific areas may be off-limits.
They will be able to tell you whether or not any specific region is not open to digging.
TIP: If you are an advanced rockhound, you should try to use these helpful tools for rockhounding:
Public Land: Finders, Keepers?
Rights to your finds become trickier when it comes to public lands, although they may be a great place to dig. It all boils down to getting permission from the property holders in advance – similar to private properties.
If you take something from an area without permission, there will likely be consequences, ranging from a warning to a heavy fine.
Obtain A Permit
Although there are some legal hoops to jump through in order to collect in certain areas, it is worthwhile to check first and to get a permit (it’s really inexpensive).
You can learn more about the requirements to obtain a permit and how to apply on the Florida Museum of Natural History website. You can apply for the permit using this link. A permit is needed to collect all vertebrate fossils in Florida, excluding the collection of shark teeth.
For other rock collecting, check out this link for some guidelines, and again, connect with your local Bureau of Land Management first.
Your local bureau should be able to tell you what areas you are able to collect rocks if you have a specific place in mind and are unsure.
Areas to Avoid
While there are many places to collect tiny treasures, there are a few places that are almost always off-limits to rockhounding in Florida, and just about anywhere else. These include:
- National Parks
- National Monuments
- National Wildlife Refuges
- Florida State Parks
If you have reason to believe this is not the case at a specific place, be sure to contact the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, as well as the specific organization before embarking on your rockhounding adventure.
There may be an exception to rockhounding at Florida state parks if you are doing it for scientific/research purposes, and can provide proof. It may also depend on who you are as an individual (particularly your age).
What Gemstones Can Be Found in Florida?
As I hinted multiple times throughout this post, Florida is actually an ideal place for rockhounds. It has a variety of treasures to be collected beyond its prized official state gemstone, agatized coral. This includes, but is not limited to, the following:
- Fossils (particularly marine)
- Petrified Wood
Gemstones are simply the name given to minerals that have been processed through sanding, polishing, and other methods.
Therefore, many of the materials found during rockhounding can later be made into precious gemstones. These gemstones are often made into jewelry, which may further enhance its value.
Gems are usually named after the material they originated from (i.e., crystal, quartz, gold, pyrite, pearl, etc.).
Florida’s bedrock is largely made up of limestone, which creates sinkholes. Sinkholes make the process of digging up minerals and other valuable rocks/fossils much easier.
These treasures, found in sinkholes, and beyond, are broken down in the table I’ve put together below.
|Material and Common Colors||Description||Common Locations|
|Agatized Coral: white, pink, red, yellow, blue, amber, grey, brown, black||The official state gemstone, also known as chalcedony. Made up of a variety of coral species, such as agatized or silicified coral fossils. A form of quartz.||Tampa Bay, Econfina River, Suwannee River (and Honeymoon Island)|
|Petrified Wood: blue and green||Considered a fossil; does not require a permit to collect. Colors are often produced by the elements: chromium and cobalt.||Bartow|
|Calcite Crystal: honey-colored, white, brown, black||Found inside fossilized clams; Can also be found in fossils of animals such as mammoths or sloths||Ruck’s Pit|
|Staurolite: black, brown (may be transparent or opaque)||A mineral often associated with other minerals (i.e., garnet, kyanite, etc.) and formed under comparable conditions. Commonly occurs as twinned crystals that intersected at 60 or 90 degrees||—|
|Chert: green, yellow, orange, red, white, black, cream/brown||Also known as a flint rock, it is similar to mineral quartz but has a finer grain. It is extremely hard||—|
|Fossils: depends on the soil in the area||Shark teeth, sand dollars, bones, shells, clams, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, troglobites, birds, fish. Check permit requirements. Fossils may often be found encased in fossiliferous limestone.||Venice Beach; Ruck’s Pit; Beaches, rivers, and other waterways inland or the coast; Mineral mines & quarries|
|Limestone: white, yellow, gray/blue, beige, cream||Massive deposits create sinkholes; can contain microfossils or masses of fossil corals/shells. Forms sinkholes and caves that can contain other treasures||Everywhere; Limestone is the “bed rock” of Florida|
|Conch Pearls: varying shades of pink and gold||Created in the digestive tract of a Queen Conch; has been overharvested in recent years and may no longer be harvested wild.||Keys, FL; Areas of shallow water, especially along the coastline|
|Druzy Quartz: white, pink, blue, purple, green, black||Glittery in appearance and often found in agate geodes. A mass of crystals is formed by several different minerals. It can be highly valuable!||Ruck’s Pit|
|Dolomite: pink tones, white/gray, red, yellowish-brown||Very similar to limestone; formed after deposition of lime mud and limestone by magnesium-rich groundwater.||Sedimentary basins|
|Gold||Highly valuable||Ruck’s Pit|
|Pyrite: brass-yellow||An iron mineral; typically occurs speckled throughout limestone. Often referred to as fool’s gold, for its resemblance to gold.||Ocala|
|Titanium Containing Minerals||Typically excavated for commercial use||Northeast Florida|
|Phosphate Minerals: yellow, reddish-brown||Typically excavated for commercial use; monazite is one type.||Northeast Florida|
|Dolomite: Yellowish||A more crystalline structure than calcite made from carbonate; readily breaks into rhombohedron crystals||—|
Other minerals that may be found include:
- Zircon: Zirconium silicate. Its streak is colorless, and the mineral itself can also be colorless.
- Rutile: Made from titanium oxide. Common colors include: red, red-brown, or black colored with a yellow or pale brown streak.
- Ilmenite: Iron. It is made from titanium oxide and black or brownish-black in color, with a similar streak.
- Fluorapatite: Also known as phosphate rock or phosphorite. Common colors include: brown, bluish-gray, white, or black
- Aragonite: A form of calcium carbonate. Typically, it is a component of bivalve shells.
- Anhydrite: Made from hydrous calcium sulfate. It is marble-like in texture, non-crystalline, and is related to gypsum.
- Gypsum: Hydrous calcium sulfate (just like anhydrite) with a white streak. It is very soft.
This link may also provide some additional information as well as pictures associated with the type of mineral/rock.
The Guide to Rocks and Minerals of Florida, last updated in 1981, can be found in digital format here. I would highly recommend at least skimming through it for a more in-depth guide on rockhounding in Florida.
BTW: Do you want to know more about rocks and minerals identification? The books listed below are the best ones you can find on the internet (Amazon links):
- The Crystal Bible
- Smithsonian Handbooks: Rocks & Minerals
- Gemstone & Crystal Properties (Quick Study Home)
- Ultimate Explorer Field Guide: Rocks and Minerals (National Geographic Kids)
Rockhounders often look for a variety of items, and fossils are some of the most common ones. Vertebrate or invertebrate. Marine or mammal. When it comes to fossils, Florida’s got it covered. Literally.
Renowned for Their Fossils
Florida is most widely recognized and known for its range of fossils that can be found across its peninsula. Believe it or not, the prized agatized coral that is Florida’s state stone is actually simply a fossil that has been agatized over time.
The term “agatizing” or “agatized” in regards to a fossil is specifically referencing the slow process that the bones and shells undergo as they are eventually replaced with quartz.
The beauty of fossils is that they can contain hidden treasures, such as calcite crystals often found encased within fossilized clams or mammals.
They are often a treasure in and of themselves. As time passes, conditions can cause the fossils to become increasingly more valuable and precious.
For example, marine invertebrates (i.e., oysters, clams, etc.) have shells made of calcite or aragonite.
The softer parts of the animal will decay after its death, but the hard shell becomes covered with sediment and undergoes a variety of physical and chemical processes that can form the cast of later precious rocks and minerals. For example, agatized mollusk shells eventually take on a translucent crystalline appearance.
Fossils of Florida’s famous shark teeth can range from the endangered Mako shark that occasionally washes up on shore in areas like Venice or Jacksonville, to prehistoric finds like teeth from the extinct Megalodon dating back to between 23 to 3.6 million years ago. The teeth, and other fossils, range between the Miocene, Pliocene, and Pleistocene geological time periods.
Sharks can shed up to 10,000 teeth in their lifetime, so it’s no surprise how common they are to find along Florida’s coast.
The real quest is finding and differentiating various species of sharks. Here is a list of shark teeth (and their general characteristics) that can be collected in Florida:
The list is ordered from most common to uncommon. If you want to challenge yourself, try to find a tooth from a Hammerhead, a Mako, or a Great White! For more details and pictures, check out this helpful blog.
I would definitely recommend at least looking at the pictures to help you identify any shark teeth you may venture upon rockhounding.
The Tiger Shark and the Sand Tiger Shark teeth have incredibly unique teeth that don’t look like a typical shark tooth.
TIP: Fossils of Florida’s famous shark teeth are great to find especially when you are looking for gemstones with kids. Learn more about how to get kids started with rockhounding in this article:
Beyond Shark Teeth
Beyond shark teeth, the possibilities are endless, including finds from more recent years. Some lucky rockhounds have uncovered whale jawbones, horse teeth, and bullets from World War II.
Of course, there are many more fossils to be found, such as sand dollars, shells, and other fossilized mammals.
However, when talking ancient, the Pleistocene geographical time period is perhaps the most well-known documented in Florida.
Fossils from short-faced bears, saber-toothed cats, mammoths, giant ground sloths, wolves, and mastodons have been uncovered from this era. Many of which are cemented or encased in limestone.
As a rockhound, collecting fossils in Florida can be both fun and rewarding. It often yields faster and better results than other materials.
However, please remember that all vertebrate fossils, with the exception of shark teeth, that are collected on public property require a permit. Refer to the link under the “Obtain a Permit” subheading to apply for a permit. It is only $5.
Don’t Discount limestone
Although limestone itself may not seem that interesting as a rockhound, if fossils are what you’re looking for, limestone might have it.
First, it’s important to note that there are three main kinds of limestone in Florida, and, likewise, they contain different kinds of fossils.
- Fossiliferous: The name kind of gives this one away. This type of limestone is chock-full of a variety of mollusks, echinoids, coral, etc. fossils.
- It is usually cemented with calcite to form rock.
- Coquina: A limestone composed of marine shell fragments, and is commonly combined with quartz sand.
- Oolitic: This limestone is made of calcium or aragonite grains that are small & spherical in nature. Calcite is often the “cementing” agent that binds the limestone and fossils together.
In addition, not only does limestone potentially contain minerals and fossils, but it also has formed many caves that may also have formed different treasures within. In the past, caves were often mined for specific materials.
Occasionally, they are still utilized commercially. However, today caves are off-limits to rockhounds. Most are located on public land, or in national or state parks and are heavily regulated and preserved.
On the other hand, caves can be a fun place to simply visit and take in the amazing wonders that nature can do given time and the right conditions. Some great examples of these caves in Florida are:
- Florida Caverns State Park
- Dames Cave
- Peace Cave
This can be a helpful way to expose yourself to different kinds of minerals and rocks and may aid you in the identification process during rockhounding ventures.
Although there are areas associated with certain rocks/minerals, like Venice, FL is known as the shark-tooth capitol of the world, the gems you find will vary from place to place. Ultimately, there is no guarantee you will find exactly what you are looking for.
There’s a distinct possibility that you may not find anything at all. But that’s the name of the game, right? The mystery and the potential of finding something amazing hidden beneath the soil and silt are what draw us back time and time again.
If you do your research, and arrive well informed you are much more likely to come back successful, and maybe just a little bit richer.
If not, you may have learned something that makes you successful next time. Now that you’ve made it this far, let the adventures begin!
TIP: And now it’s time for rockhounding! Grab your rockhounding equipment and start digging for amazing rocks in Florida. If you are not sure what tools you need, check out this complete guide with all rockhounding tools you need: