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Thursday, February 22, 2024
Feb. 22, 2024

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Gone winter rockhounding in Washington state?

You can find agates, fossils, gemstones

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KENNEWICK — Washington is a hotbed for minerals, gemstones, crystals and fossils, making the Evergreen state a popular site for rockhounding.

Whether in an official group or going solo, rockhounding is the act of searching for and collecting them.

Rockhounding is legal in Washington for certain materials. The material guidelines will depend on where you are: federal land, land managed by the Department of Natural Resources or private land.

In winter, rockhounds tend to visit Washington’s beaches to look along the shore or anywhere a river meets the sea.

DNR-managed land

The Department of Natural Resources manages two kinds of land that allow rockhounding, state-owned aquatic land and state trust land.

Rockhounding is allowed on these lands under noncommercial circumstances, including recreation, research and education. Individuals can hunt for rocks without a permit, groups need a non-exclusive land-use license.

Rock enthusiasts cannot bring mechanized equipment or explosives for the process. DNR must retain access to the area. Special habitats should be avoided.

If interested in gold panning, you need authorization on state-owned aquatic lands. It is not allowed on state trust lands. You cannot rockhound for gold on DNR lands.

Federal land

Some land owned by the federal government allows rockhounding. Sometimes, it is restricted to one area of federal land. Either way, the land will be managed by either the U.S. Forest Service or the Bureau of Land Management.

Guidelines and restrictions will vary from one place to the next, so call a local agency before making a trip.

In general, land managed by the U.S. Forest Service, like the Umatilla National Forest, allows a reasonable collection of rocks and minerals for personal, hobby and noncommercial use. Generally, “reasonable” is defined as up to 10 pounds. Some hobby mining activities also are allowed.

Rockhounding is permissible in many Bureau of Land Management areas with no permit required. Similarly, it allows for a reasonable amount, defined as up to 25 pounds a day and 250 pounds per year, of common fossils, gemstones and certain other materials for personal use.

The Bureau of Land Management manages the Horse Heaven Hills area and the Saddle Mountains.

You are expected to know the regulations for rockhounding in a specific area before arriving. It will be prohibited in some areas and motorized equipment is generally not allowed.

Rockhounding is never allowed at:

  • National parks
  • National monuments
  • National wildlife refuges
  • National scenic areas
  • Tribal lands

Rockhounding on private land

A property owner can obtain mineral rights to the property, giving them the right to collect minerals found on their property and grant the same right to whoever they choose.

Check your property deed or with the county assessor’s office to determine if your property came with mineral rights.

You cannot rockhound on private property without the owner’s permission.

Rockhounding during winter

Some rockhounds just can’t take time off. Though many popular recreational areas have limited access in the winter, that hasn’t stopped enthusiasts from finding rare rocks and minerals in the Evergreen state during cold seasons.

In recent years, the rockhounding community has grown online, with websites and forums dedicated to the hobby, enthusiasts posting on social media and new digital spaces for sharing tips and tricks. In each platform, Washington rockhounds rave about one type of location during the winter months: beaches.

Washington has many beaches, dotting the coastline or within the state borders. When winter comes around, these beaches endure storms and crashing waves moving at high speeds.

These storms tend to move around more dense rocks and minerals, littering the sand and gravel with fine materials. Hitting an Evergreen state beach the morning after a winter storm is a great way to look for any rocks or minerals you haven’t collected yet. Gravel bars along rivers are also recommended for this.

Washington beaches popular among rockhounds:

  • Crescent Beach
  • Dungeness River gravel
  • Long Beach/Ocean Park
  • Moclips area beaches
  • Shi Shi Beach
  • Columbia River sands

What you can, can’t rockhound

Once you’ve established the property-specific rules, be sure to remember the basic rules of what you can and can’t take. If the property rules don’t address a specific material, refer to these guidelines. Collecting material without permission can come with a substantial fine.

You CAN rockhound:

  • Agates
  • Amethysts
  • Garnets
  • Jaspers
  • Opals
  • Gold (Rockhounding, not panning)
  • Invertebrate fossils, like the state gemstone petrified wood

Without a permit, you CANNOT rockhound:

  • Meteorites
  • Vertebrate fossils
  • Archeological or historic artifacts

Permits for these permissions are granted for scientific purposes only, according to DNR. If you find one, contact the local agency office.

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