What is Rockhounding in Central Oregon?

Rocks collected from rockhounding.

Photo Credit: Oregon Outdoor Family

Millions of years of history are all around us—if we just know where (and how) to look. Our river canyons contain layers that trace the paths and ages of volcanic lava flows. Our obsidian shows just how young—and active—some of our volcanoes are. And the petrified wood dotting our landscapes hints at the forests that once covered wide swaths of Central Oregon.

Each of those rocks, gemstones, and more tell a story about the natural history of our remarkable region—and anyone interested in collecting and studying those items is taking part in an activity known as rockhounding. (Naturally, the people who study rocks and fossils for fun are called rockhounds).

Given Central Oregon’s long history of volcanic activity—which dates back 50 million years—it’s no wonder that various eruptions have led to reactions above and below ground, leading to erosion and creating some of the many rocks that visitors seek out today. (According to the U.S. Forest Service, Crook County is known as the rockhound capital of the world, and rockhounding is inarguably one of the top things to do in Central Oregon.) Some of the most popular finds around Central Oregon include petrified wood, thunder eggs (Oregon’s state rock—and noted for the mesmerizing crystal formations inside when cracked open), and smooth agates. The U.S. Forest Service offers more on which materials you’ll find around the region—and can offer tips on which tools you’ll want to purchase before your trip.

Before setting out, though, you’ll want to keep a few things in mind. Many of Central Oregon’s most popular rockhounding sites reside in the high desert, with few opportunities for shade, so pack plenty of water, sunscreen, and a hat to keep cool. You’ll also want to bring your own bucket, and you should check the status of a certain site before grabbing rocks; some areas around Central Oregon prohibit the collection of items that may have natural or cultural value, so always check to be sure you can collect what you find.

Interested in learning more about rockhounding in Central Oregon? Here’s a breakdown of public lands where rocks can be collected around the region, along with tips on making the most of your experience.

Rockhounding Near Bend, Oregon

You won’t find any collection sites within Bend proper, but plenty of opportunities make it easy to go rockhounding beyond the outskirts of the city.

Glassy obsidian is some of the region’s most sought-after rock, and you’ll have no trouble finding your next favorite piece at Glass Butte—roughly an hour east of Bend. Some rockhounds choose to dig for obsidian, but plenty can be collected from the surface—and comes in a wide range of vibrant hues, from orange and mahogany to gold, silver, and even black. Keep in mind that the access road to Glass Butte is rough, can be muddy after rainfall, and should be undertaken by a vehicle with four-wheel drive.

Also about an hour east of Bend is Hampton Butte, best known for hosting petrified wood with an unusual green hue. You won’t find much on the surface at Hampton Butte, but rockhounds willing to hike a short distance (usually through fields of colorful wildflowers in spring) can dig below the surface for the colorful wood.

Side view of rocks on Glass Butte

Photo Credit: Oregon Outdoor Family

Rockhounding Near Prineville in Crook County

Northeast of Prineville, the White Fir Springs Collection Site offers some of the region’s best opportunities for collecting thunder eggs filled with jasper (a colorful variety of silica that’s usually red, yellow, or tan). Just keep in mind the thunder eggs can be difficult to break around White Fir Springs, so durable hand tools (or even full-size shovels) are advised. Also note that the access road to White Fir Springs is closed in winter due to snowfall; check with the U.S. Forest Service if visiting between November and March, just to be safe.

South of Prineville, meanwhile, is Fischer Canyon. Unlike White Fir Springs, you won’t find any dedicated pits for digging here; rather, a wide variety of finds—including petrified wood, agates, and jasper—sit scattered about the high-desert hillsides and grasslands at the site. The road to Fischer Canyon is not maintained and can be extremely muddy after rainfall.

The rockhounding sites outside Prineville sit amid stands of fir and ponderosa pine, among other species of tree. If you want to learn more about the wide range of natural wonders around the area, check out our page on the forests in Central Oregon.

Rockhounding Near Madras, Oregon

Richardson Rock Ranch

Photo Credit: Oregon Outdoor Family

Among rockhounds and pebble puppies (the curious children of rockhounds), there is no more famous outpost in all of Central Oregon than Richardson’s Rock Ranch. For nearly 50 years, the family-run operation has earned acclaim for its selection of bright, colorful thunder eggs just 15 minutes northeast of Madras. Visitors can’t dig for thunder eggs themselves, but an on-site store sells both rough and finished rocks—with a selection that includes several varieties of agate, quartz, jasper, obsidian, and more dug from the rock ranch, as well as mines from all over the world.

Want to learn about other opportunities for engaging with (and learning about) the natural beauty in our region? Learn more about the many National and State Parks in Central Oregon.

Central Oregon Rockhounding Map of
Public Sites to Visit

If you’re ready to head out in search of thunder eggs, agates, and other colorful rocks, consider purchasing the region’s official rockhounding map, created in partnership with the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service; the map points out rockhounding sites, breaks down the most common items you’ll find, and offers tips for being a responsible rockhound. The map is also the best (and sometimes only) source for directions to the public sites listed in this guide, making it an essential resource for novice and veteran rockhounds alike.

We’re also happy to host a map of public sites below to help get you started.

Curious about what else to do while you’re out exploring the far reaches of our region? Learn more about year round Central Oregon activities for suggestions, tips, and more.

Explore Nature’s Beauty

From the sagebrush-covered plains of the high desert to the towering pines and majestic mountain peaks, discover the diverse landscape Central Oregon has to offer.