Southern California Rock Hunting

While the Gold Rush might have helped put California on the map, there are still gems, stones, and other rocks waiting to be found today! Hunting for rocks, also known as rock hounding, is a great way to get outside, get into nature, and make exciting discoveries.

What is rock hounding?

Rock hounding is the recreational activity of searching for and collecting rocks, minerals, and gemstones in the natural environment. Done as a hobby by amateurs of every age, rock hounding can become a lifelong passion for those interested in learning more about rocks and minerals.  

How can I start rock hounding?

Rock hounding can be an easy and inexpensive hobby for those interested in learning more about rocks and minerals. Often, all that is needed is a mode of transportation to your hunting grounds! The following tools can help when beginning at rock hounding.

  • Sturdy walking shoes or hiking boots
  • Road atlas, trail map, or other hiking guide
  • Backpack, sunscreen, water, and other hiking materials
  • Identification guides, such as “A Field Guide to Rocks and Minerals.”
  • Small hammer, chisel, and brush to remove and clean specimens

Rules for rock hounding

While very little training or equipment is required for rock hounding, there are a number of rules that need to be followed. These state and federal regulations are designed to protect the natural environment while still allowing amateur geologists to take home their exciting discoveries. The following are some of the rules for rock hounding in California; the publication “Discovery, Location, Recordation, and Assessment Work for Mining Claims in California” can be a valuable resource for amateur rock hunters.

  • Only “reasonable quantities” of rocks, minerals, and gemstones can be taken by rock collectors. This is defined as any amount that can be easily carried in a day pack.
  • Petrified wood can only be collected from public lands; no more than 25 pounds can be collected at a time.
  • Rock hounding is not permitted in developed recreational areas and sites.
  • According to the Antiquities Act of 1906, the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976, and the Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979, no archaeological materials - including vertebrate fossils - can be removed.

Where to go rock hounding

Southern California is one of the best areas in the country for rock hounding. With forests, deserts, and beaches all a short trip away, there are numerous nearby opportunities for rock hounding. “Rockbounding California” has a list of more than 46 sites in Southern California alone, with an additional 8 costal California sites. Rock hounding doesn’t just have to be done in forests or while hiking; the beach can be another great resource for finding shells, rocks, or small fossils.