The geology of Washington is perhaps some of the most fascinating in history, much of our valleys and rivers coming from the result of volcanic activity and the Missoula floods. No doubt, if you live in Eastern Washington, you’ve heard tales of the floods that carved out our land and the fantastic volcanic eruptions that rocked our prehistoric world. The Cascade Range, to this day, remains one of the most highly active ranges in the world! Because of these natural events, we reside in a location with one of the nation’s largest varieties of gemstones, rocks, minerals, and fossils.
Naturally, living among these beautiful examples of nature has attracted many who find hobby and passion in the land’s geology. They bring visitors from around the world to explore our lands to find pieces for their own personal collections! So, where can someone in Yakima go for a local rockhounding experience? There are a few spots where one from or visiting Yakima can venture out in hopes of finding something unique!
Within our local radius, these stones are most commonly found:
- petrified and opalized wood
- red jasper
- geodes (also known as thunder eggs)
Some have claimed to come across gold, pyrite, forms of quartz including smokey quartz and amethyst, carnelian, and more.
Know before you go
Make sure you understand the following before heading out:
- Ensure you have permission to access the land in which you’re looking to explore.
- Whether or not a Washington State Discovery Pass is required for the area you will visit. It is generally a good idea to always have one when exploring. Click here to purchase a Discovery Pass.
- Awareness of the toxicity levels of all materials you may wish to collect.
- It is illegal to collect any of the following material in the State of Washington:
- vertebrate fossils
- archeological or historical artifacts
- Native American remains
If you believe you have encountered any of these, contacts to the appropriate departments are at the bottom of this article.
- Leave no trace! We have a responsibility to preserve the land. Put out all fires you may start, collect all trash, and do not stack rocks. To read more about “leave no trace,” visit here.
- Remember the importance of practicing safety wherever you are exploring. Be prepared for the off chance of somebody or yourself getting lost, hurt, or separated from a group.
As always, with every spot on this list, there is a large variety of minerals possible to discover. However, bear in mind that some are much more common than others.
Yakima River Canyon: Petrified Wood Hotspot
Popular in the summertime for day camping, floating down the river, and lounging in the calm parts of the river, the Yakima River Canyon is also host to a tremendous amount of petrified wood and red jasper. Petrified wood is Washington State’s official gem, as it is mainly common around the whole state and comes in a wide variety. Walking around and in the canyon, it’s easy to find gemstone pieces in its variety, ranging from ancient elms to prehistoric ash trees, all with unique colors and grains.
Goose Prairie, Bumping River and Bumping Lake
Goose Prairie and its neighbors, Bumping River and Bumping Lake are an excellent locations for those looking to pan for trace amounts of gold. Recreational gold panning in Washington requires those participating in carrying a copy of “Gold and Fish: Rules for Mineral Prospecting and Placer Mining (2021).” The link to download and print this is down below.
Aside from gold, gemstones and minerals that have been known to be found around this area include:
Most commonly, however, those who visit find geodes usually filled with seam agate or quartz, pieces of agate and jasper.
Rimrock Lake and Clear Lake
Perhaps the most well-known and visited lakes in the Yakima area, Rimrock Lake, and its neighbor, Clear Lake, are reservoirs that come as a result of the Tieton Dam being built in 1925. With the Tieton River as its source, many minerals and gems can be found on the banks of the lakes. Primarily, those who go up into this area find geodes and thundereggs! This zone is also a hotspot for recreation, such as camping, swimming, boating, and more.
Just above Little Naches is Timberwolf Mountain, where local rockhounds and geology enthusiasts visit to search for unique pieces of gemstones. Timberwolf Mountain is sure to please with stunning views and boasts great local spots for recreational activities.
Minerals and gems found in Timberwolf Mountain include:
- milky quartz, clear quartz, and smokey quartz
- druzy quartz
Rock N Tomahawk Ranch
Not news to those who are enthusiasts of Washington’s geology, however, to those just starting out, did you know that Ellensburg hosts a variety of blue chalcedony known as Ellensburg blue — it is one of the rarest gems in the world, only found in the hills of Ellensburg. Ellensburg is Yakima’s neighbor and only about a half hour’s drive.
“The formation of these beautiful Ellensburg blue geodes dates back to millions of years ago. What is unique about this gem is its beautiful blue sky color. Many believe that they got the color flowing through lava beds in the Kittitas Valley.”
Of course, with rarity comes preservation, and most of the time, you’re unable to find anywhere that allows visitors upon private land to explore in hopes of finding a piece. However, Rock N Tomahawk Ranch in Ellensburg does just that by appointment! With a massive stretch of property nestled into a hotspot for the exceptional blue gem, you can spend the afternoon searching for your own piece of the unique mineral.
Those with experience say that your best bet is to look right after the winter snow has melted and be very gentle with digging up the fragile stone. Smaller pieces are found easier using a sifting method.
For $5 admission, you will get a brief introduction and then be set loose to try your luck at finding a piece! To schedule a visit, call 509.962.2403.
Manastash Ridge Trail, Buck Meadows and Quartz Mountain
Fans of hiking are familiar with the Manastash Ridge Trail. From biking and exploring the scenic areas, it’s a familiar area for locals who enjoy getting outdoors. Unlike some spots, Manastash Ridge is accessible year-round.
Those who frequently visit often find in their endeavors a variety of stones:
If you’re willing to go the distance, a bit further down the Manastash Road is Buck Meadows, where many people find quartz, calcite, and agate pieces. Keep heading down the road, about another half hour, and you’ll hit Quartz Mountain. Excellent for hiking and outdoor recreation, Quartz Mountain is also great for finding pieces of jasper, agate, and geodes.
But if you find yourself in a situation where you cannot travel, local geology is fascinating, even in your backyard. The Yakima River is only a short walk or drive away from almost everywhere in town, and river rocks, agate, and jasper can all be found within our local river. The Naches River is also host to several varieties of stones, and red jasper is relatively common.
The best time to explore the Yakima River is in the mid to late summer. The current is fast, and seasonal floods occasionally happen. There are plenty of slow-running spots and pools at the river banks to explore. And with rivers always carrying surprises, you may get lucky and find something unique that was carried down the river long ago from the tops of the mountains!
Encouraging our locals and visitors to learn about their environment, both present and ancient, drives us to sustain our lands for future posterity, learning, beauty, and enjoyment. Yakima hosts a rock and mineral club that does local field trips to rockhounding sites, and memberships are available for all ages. To learn more about the Yakima Rock and Mineral Club’s memberships and meetings, visit here.
To report sightings of Vertebrate Fossils, Meteorites, Native American Remains, or historical objects, visit the Contact Us page of the U.S. Forest Service. Click here to Obtain Archaeological Permit for the State of Washington. For Gold Panning, click here to download Gold and Fish: Rules for Mineral Prospecting and Placer Mining.