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Montana is among the wealthiest states for rockhounding in its variety of precious, semi-precious stones or rare variants of common rocks such as agates. With its eastern parts filled with magnificent world-class fossils of dinosaurs, and its western parts abundant in various rare minerals, it isn’t a place that you want to miss.
Places such as the Gem Mountain Sapphire Mine, Crystal Park, Ruby River, Emma Mines, and Gallatin National Forest contain the best rockhounding sites in Montana. You can find gold, sapphires, amethyst, garnets, rubies, turquoise, rare types of agates, jasper, jade, topaz, quartz crystals, and rhodonite!
Often referred to as the Treasure State, Montana grew famous for its gold deposits and unexpected findings across the state. Let’s see exactly where you can go gem hunting in Montana and what you can find!
If you are interested in checking out the best rockhounding book about rockhounding in Montana you can find it by clicking here (Amazon link).
Best Rock Hunting Sites in Montana
The western parts of Montana are generally the best for rockhounds to find specimens. Some of the best rock hunting sites include the Crystal Park, Calvert Hill Mine, Gallatin National Forest, Gem Mountain Sapphire Mine, Anaconda, Spokane Bar Sapphire Mine, Montana Blue Jewel Mine, Bald Mountain, Missouri River, Ruby River, and Emma Mines, among many others.
Though there are plenty of great places to rockhound in Montana, we can’t spoil all the fun and present all of them; however, let’s talk about some of the best and most popular!
Located in southwest Montana, in the Pioneer Mountains, Crystal Park offers visitors the chance to find various quartz crystals that come in different colors, such as gray, purple, white, and others. Here you can also find amethyst, even the smoky version, and other types of crystals.
You have to pay a small fee to enter, but the sights are totally worth it!
Butte County is located in the far south of the state, and it is the county seat of Silver Bow County. The northern, southwestern, and western parts of this county are filled with rhodochrosite crystal veins.
Some mines, such as the Emma Mines, are popular locations where you can witness other minerals such as chalcopyrite, barite, calcite, bornite, and others. Most crystals and minerals popular in Montana can be found in the mines located here.
Madison County, located in the southwestern part of Montana, is among the best places to rockhound. Here, you can head towards the Ruby River, where you can find almandite garnets that come in red, orange, or even pink colors.
Plenty of sapphire deposits have been discovered in this region of the state, making it a popular choice for gem hunters.
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):
- Smithsonian Handbooks: Rocks & Minerals
- Gemstone & Crystal Properties (Quick Study Home)
- Ultimate Explorer Field Guide: Rocks and Minerals (National Geographic Kids)
Gold Prospecting Clubs in Montana
Montana has a rich history when it comes to gold, nicknamed the Treasure State due to its abundance and how often gold was struck in random locations. Thus, it is only natural that plenty of gold prospecting clubs in Montana were founded, where members search throughout old and new sites for the mineral.
The western parts of the state are often the richest in gold in old mines and creeks.
Some popular gold prospecting clubs that you can join in Montana include the Montana Blackfoot River Gold Prospecting Club, the Northwest Montana Gold Prospectors, and G.P.A.A Headwaters Chapter, Yellowstone Prospectors, or Central Montana Prospectors, among others.
TIP: What kind of hammer do you use for rockhounding? Classic rock hammer or do you prefer a brick hammer? Find out the main differences between these two hammers in the article below:
Rock Hammer vs. Brick Hammer: Explained Usage for Rockhounding
What Gemstones Are Found in Montana?
There are many types of gemstones to be found in Montana, such as amethyst, the smoky version of it, rubies, sapphires, or turquoise, but there are far more out there!
In the table below, you can see where to find some of the most popular gemstones in Montana, and further down, we will get even into more details concerning these specimens:
|Rubies||Rock Creek, Granite County, Red Rock Mine|
|Sapphires||The Gem Mountain Sapphire Mine, Montana Blue Jewel Mine, Madison County|
|Amethyst||Crystal Park, Jefferson County, Delmoe Lake|
|Turquoise||Butte Mining District, Berkeley Pit, Silver Bow|
Rubies are found in the western and southern portions of Montana, and this gemstone is often found alongside Montana sapphires. Some of the best places to find rubies in Montana include Rock Creek, Granite county, Red Rock Mine, and the Missouri River.
Plenty of washed-off gravels in stream deposits contain sapphires, and Montana is known as the best state in the U.S. for sapphire findings, with over 15 sites where this gemstone can be found.
You can find sapphire in Montana in places such as the Gem Mountain Sapphire Mine, Montana Blue Jewel Mine at El Dorado Bar, in Beaverhead County, Deer Lodge County, Granite County, Clark County, Madison County, or the Silver Bow County, among many others.
When it comes to amethyst, Crystal Park in Elkhorn Hot Springs Area, Pioneer Mountains, Montana, is among the best places to find this gemstone, along with its smoky variants. Some other great places to find amethyst include Bald Mountain, Little Gem Mine, Homestake Pass, Delmoe Lake, and Wissikihon Creek.
Turquoise is a bit harder to find in Montana; however, the best places you can hope to find it are related to Butte District. You can find turquoise in the Berkeley Pit, Butte Mining District, in the Butte-Silver Bow region.
TIP: Did you know fake turquoise was already known to ancient Egyptians who used blue glass or ceramic to imitate robin’s-egg blue valuable gemstone? Find out more in the article below:
Real vs. Fake Turquoise: Check Out These 11 Key Differences
What Kind of Rocks Are in Montana?
There are plenty of precious or semi-precious stones to be found in Montana; however, some common specimens include geodes, agates, jasper, or serpentine, among others.
Various beautiful agate specimens are found in this state, such as the dry head agate or the moss agate. In the table below, you can see where to find these popular rocks in Montana.
|Geodes||Butte District, Crystal Park, Pryor Mountains|
|Agates||Big Horn River, Yellowstone River Basin, between the Big Horn and Pryor Mountains|
|Jasper||Yellowstone River, Miles City, Missouri River|
You can find geodes in the Butte District area, Crystal Park, or the Pryor Mountains in Montana, and some areas where rockhounds are allowed to collect specimens offer children the chance to inspect geodes as well. Interestingly, dry head agates are often geodes, and you can find them in the Hardin area or the Yellowstone River.
Speaking of agates, in Montana, there are two relatively rare yet beautiful specimens of agates, namely the dry head agates mentioned earlier and the Montana moss agates.
The dry head agates are found between the Big Horn and the Pryor Mountains, and the Big Horn River. The Montana moss agates are primarily found in the Yellowstone River Basin region, and they come in translucent colors of gray, white, red, or yellow.
When it comes to finding jasper in Montana, the Yellowstone River is yet again a preferable location. Some other places where you can find jasper in Montana include the regions around Miles City and the Missouri River, among others.
TIP: Montana moss agates are one of the most beautiful agates you can find or buy. But there are a lot of fake agates on the internet. Find out the most common differences between real and fake agates in the article below:
Real vs. Fake Agate: You Should Know These 7 Differences
What Minerals Are Found in Montana?
Montana may be rich in gold, but overall, it is fair to say that it is rich in all kinds of rare or common minerals. Apart from gold, you can find in Montana minerals such as jade, diamonds, garnets, chromite, chalcedony, corundum, rhodonite, and staurolite, among many other precious specimens.
In the table below, we have highlighted where you can find the most prevalent minerals in Montana.
|Gold||Missouri River, Clark Fork River, Cooke City area|
|Diamonds||Missouri Breaks, Sweet Grass Hills, Yellow Water Butte area|
|Rhodonite||Butte Mining District, Emma Mine, Badger Mine|
|Garnets||Lewis County, Clarke County, Ruby River|
Montana is filled with gold, especially in its eastern, western, central, and southern regions. Creeks such as those in the Radersburg area east of the Elkhorn Mountains are filled with gold. The Jardine District located north of Yellowstone National Park presents numerous locations where placer gold can be found.
Panning for gold in Montana is awesome as plenty of rivers are available to choose from. You can pan for gold in rivers such as the Missouri River, Big Hole River, Bitterroot River, Clark Fork River, Boulder River, Yaak River, or Blackfoot River.
Many locations around Cooke City are abundant in gold, making it an excellent spot for rockhounds to visit. Other areas where you can find gold in Montana include the Kendall and North Mocassin Districts located in the state’s central regions.
Diamonds seem to be present in various locations in Montana as well, especially around specimens such as kimberlites and other peridotites. Diamonds in Montana have been found in places such as Missouri Breaks, Grassrange, Yellow Water Butte, and Porcupine Dome areas in the eastern regions.
In the western regions of Montana, diamonds have also been discovered. However, in the northern parts, of the Sweet Grass Hills area, some larger specimens were uncovered.
The beautiful rhodonite mineral is also present in numerous locations across Montana, especially in the Butte Mining District area. The Emma Mine, Parnell Mine, and Badger Mine are just some places where rhodonite can be found in the Butte District.
Almandine garnets of high quality in Montana have been found in the Missouri River, close to Helena, in the county of Lewis and Clarke.
In the drainages of the Ruby River, they have also been uncovered. Beautiful garnets of orange, red, and pink colors are present in these regions; however, the Alder Gulch region seems to be to most abundant.
TIP: Did you know that minerals can be radioactive? Radioactive minerals are quite rare but it is always good to know what the most common radioactive minerals are. Check them out in the article below:
What are Radioactive Minerals? 6 Common Radioactive Rocks
Digging for Crystals in Montana
Montana has various specimens of minerals, but it doesn’t shine too far away from the types of crystals that you can find here. Some of the crystals you can find in Montana include topaz, tourmaline, quartz crystals, or rhodochrosite.
In the table below, you can see where you can find some of the most popular crystals in Montana.
|Rhodochrosite||Butte Mining District, Beaverhead County, Walkerville|
|Quartz||Crystal Park, Bald Mountain, Delmoe Lake|
|Topaz||Butte-Silver Bow, Jefferson County, Lewis, and Clark County|
|Tourmaline||Beaverhead County, Jefferson County, Butte-Silver Bow|
Rhodochrosite is a beautiful crystal and relatively rare that you may find in Montana. You can find rhodochrosite, especially in the Butte Mining District, Beaverhead County, or in Walkerville.
The north, west, and southwestern parts of Montana are filled with this crystal. The Emma Mine in Butte is particularly rich in it.
Quartz crystals in Montana are very easy to find. The most popular place to find it is Crystal Park in southwest Montana, in the Pioneer Mountains. A variety of quartz crystals are available here for collectors to find for a small fee.
When it comes to topaz, you can find it in Montana in the Butte-Silver Bow at the Berkeley Pit. In Jefferson County, topaz is present in the Boulder Batholith, the Delmore Lake area, and Strawberry Butte. You can also find topaz in Lewis and Clark counties, East Helena, at the Eldorado Bar, or Spokane Bar.
Tourmaline is also abundant in Montana. You can find this crystal in Beaverhead County, at the Jahnke Mine, Calvert Hill Mining District, Ruby Range, or the Butte-Silver Bow region, at Timber Butte, Granite County at the Golden Eagle Mine, Jefferson County, at Delmoe Lake, or Toll Mountain.
Some other great areas include Elkhorn Mining District, Helena Mining District, Montana City, and Lewis and Clark County.
TIP: Montana is a great place for crystals. But there are many more amazing places for finding crystals in the United States. Find out the best digging places for crystals in the article below:
9 Best Places to Dig and Find Crystals in the USA + Useful Tips
Gold Panning & Prospecting in Montana
Since gold is so abundant in Montana, plenty of gold prospecting clubs have arisen where members can search for the mineral in known popular locations or explore old ones where gold still lingers.
Panning in rivers such as Missouri, Blackfoot, or Yaack, will guarantee anyone a good catch, and the best part is that it is legal, and you usually don’t require permits. However, always ask first.
You can always go on your own and explore this beautiful state with a metal detector. It is legal as well!
Can You Still Find Gold in Montana?
You might think that gold is easily scavenged, especially when a popular state such as Montana is filled with it, and you might think that you have a small chance of finding any gold as well. However, this is far from the truth.
You can still find gold in Montana in various places, especially by panning in rivers. Probably the best way of finding gold in Montana is by joining a gold prospecting club and making some friends on your adventures as well!
Is Panning for Gold Legal in Montana?
Panning is legal in Montana, and it usually doesn’t require permits as long as you don’t use suction dredging. There are some regulations that you need to consider if you want to pan for gold in Montana.
Read the USDA’s official guide for gold prospecting here. You will also find out more information on the legality and illegality of rockhounding in Montana, and not just about gold.
TIP: Using the gold sluice box is a time-saving alternative to the traditional panning for gold. Check out how to use the sluice box properly and find more gold in the article below:
Find More Gold: Tips On How To Use Sluice Box Properly
Where to Find Dinosaur Fossils in Montana?
Eastern Montana is famous for its dinosaur fossils as some of the most remarkable paleontological discoveries on our planet have been made here, and in Dakota, unveiling dinosaur fossils such as that of the famous Tyrannosaurus Rex, Triceraptors, Hadrosaurs, and others.
The badlands in eastern Montana are the best spots to find dinosaur fossils, not just in Montana but the whole world.
Miles and Glendive cities are mainly focused on dinosaur fossils, hosting various museums, and presenting plenty of locations where fossils can be found.
Concerning other fossils or even petrified wood, you can also explore the Gallatin Petrified Forest in the Gallatin Range.
TIP: I’m sure you know this situation. You are on holiday and find or buy beautiful rocks. But can you take them to the airplane? Check out the article below and find out what to do with your rocks in the plane:
Are You Able To Bring Rocks On An Airplane? You Can But…
FAQ About Rockhounding in Montana
Still did not find the answer to your answers about rockhounding in Montana? Find frequently asked questions in the section below:
What is Montana State Rock?
Montana doesn’t have an officially designated state rock as of 2021; however, its official state gemstone is the Montana Moss Agate, alongside the beautiful sapphires.
Montana also lacks an officially designated state mineral. Moss agates are rare, beautiful, and translucent stones. It is unclear if the state will ever establish an official rock.
What is the State Gemstone of Montana?
Montana has two officially designated state gemstones, namely the Montana Moss Agate and the sapphire. They were set as such since 1969.
The Montana Moss agate is found in the Yellowstone River, in the gravel beds, presenting manganese and iron oxides. Sapphires are present throughout the state, especially in the Missouri River, while star sapphires are present in Beaverhead and Madison counties.
What is the State Fossil of Montana?
The official state fossil of Montana is the Maiasaura Peeblesorum, since 1985. It lived between 70 to 80 million years ago in the coastal plains of the Cretaceous Interior Seaway, and it was a herbivore.
Over 10,000 specimens have been uncovered, pointing out that they lived in herds, and nesting places have been discovered for the first time at Egg Mountain.
Though the abundance of gold might take away your attention, it is worth focusing more on the beauty of the other crystals, minerals, fossils, and gemstones that Montana has to offer.
Being one of the richest states where collectors can rejoice in their hobbies and find interesting specimens at almost every step, Montana is undoubtedly among the best locations for rockhounding in the United States.
BTW: Check out this amazing metal sign (Amazon link) which is perfect for everyone who loves rockhounding in Montana!
TIP: And it’s rockhounding time now! But do you know what tools you need for rockhounding? Check out the list of all needed tools and equipment for rockhounding in the article below:
The Complete Guide: All Tools You Need for Rockhounding