Central Oregon is a rockhounder’s paradise. The region’s fascinating geological wonders and rich history offer a treasure trove of captivating opportunities. Whether you’re an aspiring mineral collector, a geology enthusiast, or looking for a family-friendly activity, there’s something enticing for everyone to uncover. Discover unique, dazzling minerals to fossilized treasures and colorful rocks that tell stories of Earth’s ancient past.
In case you’re asking yourself, what is rockhounding, and why should I come to Bend to dig up some stones, rockhounding is basically a treasure hunt for rocks, minerals, and fossils. The thrill of the find is what keeps people with their eyes on the ground and rock hammers in tow. It’s a hobby enjoyed around the world by people of all ages and skill levels–also known as rockhounds.
And Central Oregon is a hotspot on the map.
What makes Bend, Oregon, a rockhounding destination?
A stone’s throw from Bend, you can find some of the best rockhounding in Oregon, and some say the entire world. From the massive diversity of crystals, minerals, rocks, and fossils to accessible locations, an abundance of public lands, and stunning landscapes, Central Oregon is a rockhounders paradise!
Much of the state is public land managed by the federal government, including the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the U.S. Forest Service. This means there are loads of places to explore without worrying about trespassing on private property. But our public lands need our help to stay prestine. As we travel and recreate across these landscapes, it’s important to practice the Bend-specific Leave No Trace principles so we can minimize our environmental impact on these treasured areas.
Many of these remarkable rockhounding sites are reachable by car, without the need for an extensive hike from the parking lot. The roads and parking areas are usually maintained, although having a car with high clearance is advisable, making it convenient for people of all ages and abilities to enjoy the hobby. Most rockhounding sites will be around an hour or more from Bend. The most popular destinations are located east of Bend off Hwy 20 and in the Ochoco National Forest.
What types of rocks and minerals can you find around Bend?
The region’s volcanic history has left behind a rich variety of rocks and minerals. Here are some of the most popular and eagerly sought-after.
Obsidian: This natural volcanic glass is prized for its variety of colors and abundance in the region.
Thundereggs: Oregon’s state rock is filled with vibrant, colorful minerals, such as agate and jasper.
Petrified wood: Unearth ancient fossilized wood such as sycamore, maples, oaks, and alder.
Agate: Discover a wide variety of colors, patterns, and translucence in this crystallized quartz.
Jasper: Uncover this opaque mineral in a variety of patterns and warm, earthy colors.
Sunstones: Oregon’s state gem reveals a unique metallic shimmer from specks of copper found inside.
What should I bring on my rockhounding adventure?
While you don’t need any seriously specialized equipment to go rockhounding, here are some helpful things to take with you:
- A Central Oregon Rockhounding Map. You can purchase this at the Bend Visitor Center or online from the Forest Service website. We also highly recommend bringing a GPS for those remote spots.
- A sturdy pair of gloves and comfortable shoes for each person.
- Plenty of water and snacks, as most areas you will visit are remote parts of the desert without nearby facilities. Plan accordingly.
- Sun protection like sunscreen and a hat. That Central Oregon sunshine quickly heats things up!
- Eye protection such as sunglasses or safety glasses.
- Buckets or backpacks to carry your rocks.
- Rockhounding tools like a rock hammer and portable shovel are handy for digging and breaking open your rocks to expose the striking crystals inside.
- Letting someone know where you’re going is also a great idea, especially if you’re heading somewhere remote.
Are you ready for the hunt?
Here are some of our favorite rockhounding spots near Bend
White Fir Springs
White Fir Springs draws folks in for its distinctive thundereggs. This popular but fruitful area produces unique, vibrant thundereggs full of yellow, beige, brown, reddish, or purple jasper hues. At the rockhounding site, you can either continue digging in pits others have dug or start a new one. The relatively soft and easy-to-dig soil covering is only one to two feet thick, so it shouldn’t take long to get to the good stuff. However, a hammer and chisel are highly recommended to free some of the thundereggs from the host rocks.
- Distance from Bend: 65 miles, roughly 1.5 hours
- Best time to go: May through October
- Road access: A high-clearance vehicle is recommended for the rocky, uphill dirt road leading to the parking area. When conditions are wet or snowy, a 4WD vehicle is a must.
Fischer Canyon is where you can find a wide variety of dazzling specimens. Keep your eyes peeled for red and green jasper, agates with hints of orange, crystalline calcite in white hues, leaf fossils, and petrified wood. Scattered throughout the hills, at the hill bottoms, and dry washes along the road at the parking area is where you’ll find your geological treasures. The 640 acre site is just off Highway 20 near the small town of Brothers.
- Distance from Bend: 40 miles, roughly 1 hour
- Best time to go: May through October
- Road access: A high-clearance vehicle is recommended for the unmaintained gravel road leading to the parking area. When conditions are muddy, a 4WD vehicle is a must.
Hampton Butte is a coveted destination for rockhounds and is known for its unique turquoise to dark green-hued petrified wood. You can also hunt for more traditional colors like white, gray, black, and yellow, as well as agate and jasper. Discover golf ball to baseball-size pieces of wood by digging 1-2 feet below the soft soil with a shovel or pick. The 120 acre site is located East of Bend, off Highway 20.
- Distance from Bend: 70 miles, roughly 1.5 hours
- Best time to go: May through October
- Road access: A high-clearance vehicle is recommended for the rocky road leading to the parking area. When conditions are wet or snowy, a 4WD vehicle is a must.
Glass Butte is a popular site for exquisite obsidian. Within the region, you can unearth a diverse palette of colors, including black (the most popular), rainbow, pumpkin, mahogany, midnight lace, gold sheen, silver sheen, fire, and double flow. Or you can easily find pieces on the surface. Obsidian, or volcanic glass, can be very sharp, so use those sturdy gloves when handling it. This 6,000 acre site is located East of Bend, off Highway 20.
- Distance from Bend: 80 miles, roughly 2 hours
- Best time to go: May through October. However, you can usually access this spot year-round.
- Road access: A high-clearance vehicle is recommended for the unmaintained gravel road leading to the parking area.
Bear Creek is a favorite destination for petrified wood. The pieces predominantly display shades of black, brown, white, yellow, and gray. Agatized petrified wood may show vibrant yellow and red hues. There are two sites within the area. Site 1 is easier to access and has 67 acres to explore, with the best pieces found 2 to 5 feet below the surface. Either dig a new hole through the relatively soft soil or use an old one, digging deeper or around the edge. Site 2 is more difficult to reach with a longer, bumpier road but boasts better, easier-to-find pieces because of fewer visitors. These sites are located East of Bend, off Highway 20.
- Distance from Bend: 46 miles, roughly 1 hour
- Best time to go: May through October.
- Road access: A high-clearance vehicle is recommended for the unmaintained gravel road leading to the parking area. Roads may become inaccessible when wet.
Richardson’s Rock Ranch
Richardson’s Rock Ranch is a family-owned haven for mineral collectors. While digging here is currently off-limits, you can still admire and purchase a piece of local geology. Since 1974, they’ve been collecting and selling freshly dug thundereggs from its ranch beds, including the famous Priday Agate Beds. In the shop, rock enthusiasts can find rough and polished rocks, fossils, petrified wood, jewelry, and other products made from semi-precious stones. Richardson’s Rock Ranch is just off Hwy 97, near Madras, Oregon.
- Distance from Bend: 60 miles, roughly 1 hour
- Best time to go: Year-round
- Road access: Any vehicle, it’s highway driving.