From the depths of Earth, nature has crafted stunning precious stones in the form of crystals, gems, and rocks. Some sparkle in the light, while others are translucent. Some are fragile and flake, although others are sturdy and seemingly unbreakable.

No matter the stone, each one’s unique and captivating beauty is undeniable, so it is easy to understand when lapidary enthusiasts say things like “this one called to me” while showing off their impressive collection. Some have found their selected crystals in shops and on online sales from streaming platforms like Facebook and TikTok. But nothing can compare to the thrill of finding your own gems and fossils by rockhounding in the wild!

Unfortunately, not every location offers such opportunities for adventure. Luckily, for rockhounds in the Tri-Cities, there are plenty of spots to go “digging for gold,” or, in this case, digging for crystals!

rockhounding in the Tri-Cities
There’s plenty of treasures waiting along the banks of the Columbia River. Photo courtesy: EverStar Reality

Know Before You Go Rockhounding in the Tri-Cities

Rockhounding is legal in Washington for certain materials, but material guidelines will depend on where you are, so it is important to know before you go. Depending on whether you’re rockhounding on federal land, land managed by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), or private land, rules will vary.

The DNR manages two kinds of land that allow the activity: state-owned aquatic land and state trust land, where it is allowed under non-commercial circumstances. Individuals will need a permit to hunt for rocks, whereas groups will need a non-exclusive land-use license. Rockhounding for gold is not allowed in DNR lands.

Some land by the federal government allows rockhounding. This land will be managed by either the U.S. Forest Service or the Bureau of Land Management. Typically, land managed by either does not require a permit and simply requests that collectors gather a reasonable amount of precious stones for non-commercial use.

rockhounding in the Tri-Cities
An example of Columbia Basin Agates. Photo courtesy: Currently Rockhounding

Rockhounding on the Mighty Columbia River

If you want to find agates that would rival that of even the most beautiful Argentine Black River Agates, then head over to the Columbia River, where locally found Columbia River Agates abound. The location is perfect for families, junior rockhounds, and old-timers. Plus, who doesn’t love spending a day alongside the water’s edge? Plenty of agates can be found by walking along the river bank and collecting the water-worn nodules from the sand bar areas. If you’re up for a challenge, feel free to work the embankments as well. Just be sure to bring plenty of buckets for collecting on this trip!

Agates found along the Columbia Basin can range from pebble-sized up to the size of an apple, though large ones are rare. For coloring, they can go from clear, milky white to varying shades of orange and red, sometimes with bands or stripes. Occasionally, you may even find gray or blue agates if you’re lucky.

In addition, Washington has several jade deposits, some of which can be found near the Columbia River, where you may find this beautiful green gemstone.

rockhounding in the Tri-Cities
One of the most famous locations for finding opalized wood in Washington is the Horse Heaven Hills area. Photo courtesy: How to Find Rocks

Horse Heaven Hills Rockhounding

Chalcopyrite and galena can be found at Horse Heaven Hills, but the region is mostly well known for its abundance of opalized and petrified wood. These specimens can be found in varying shades of white, tans, and browns with wood grain and rings.

Since Horse Heaven Hills is managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), no permit is required to rockhound here. They ask that treasure seekers take no more than 25 pounds a day, as defined by their reasonable amount for collecting, and up to 250 pounds per year, of common fossils, gemstones, and certain other materials for personal use.

rockhounding in the Tri-Cities
A beautiful specimen of blue agatized petrified wood from Saddle Mountain. Photo courtesy: Currently Rockhounding

Find Petrified Wood at Saddle Mountain

Even more petrified wood can be found on Saddle Mountain, including blue agatized petrified wood. The spot has long since been a popular destination for recreational collecting of this mineral, dubbed the official “gemstone” of Washington. Fossilized wood collected on these rugged hills contains a record of the area’s geological history. These wooden treasures are fascinating as they don’t originate from around here.

Rather, wood here is known as “bogwood,” and according to theories, millions of trees drowned in surrounding swamps and sunk here over time. These trees then got buried under lava flow and volcanic ash for many years, and over time, the minerals replaced the organic matter, leaving behind stunning pieces of petrified wood stone. It’s estimated that the petrified wood in this region is at least 14 to 15 million years old and ranges from cedar, fir, pine, and birch pieces.

Like Horse Heaven Hills, Saddle Mountain is also managed by the BLM, so no permit to rockhound here is necessary. They just ask that you be reasonable with your collecting.

rockhounding in the Tri-Cities
Outside the Ginkgo Petrified Forest Interpretive Center, a trail wraps around the side of the building, ending at ancient petroglyphs from long ago. Photo courtesy: Pacific North Wanderers

Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park

Rockhounding can also be experienced at the Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park, north of the Tri-Cities. However, rockhounding is limited to only certain areas since it is operated through the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission. The real treat here for lapidaries is the Ginkgo Petrified Forest Interpretive Center.

The interpretive center has an impressive display of rocks inside, mainly composed of identified petrified woods, but they also have other local stones, such as beautiful Ellensburg Blue agates. Inside the center, displays, videos, and park staff tell the history behind the unique petrified forest and the Ice Age floods that helped create such phenomena. Outside the center, visitors can enjoy the day and use the picnic area, witness stunning views of the scenic river, touch large, petrified wood pieces and view the landscape carved by the Ice Age floods.

It doesn’t take an ‘igneous’ to see that rockhounding here in the Tri-Cities can lead to a treasure trove of crystals, gems, petrified wood, and even fossils, so what are you doing being so ‘sedimentary’? It’s time to get out there and have some ‘metamorphic’ rockhounding adventures in the Tri-Cities!

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