Pennsylvania’s varied geology makes it an ideal place to hunt for unique rocks, crystals, gemstones, fossils, and minerals.
With the state’s vast coal mines and the country’s first oil well, Pennsylvania has been known for its natural resources for centuries. But did you know that our state’s natural resources extend into rocks, gemstones, and other minerals that you can collect?
Pennsylvania’s varied geology, thanks to the Appalachian Mountains, makes it ideal for the hobby of rockhounding—that is, amateur rock collecting. You too can get started collecting rocks, crystals, gemstones, fossils, and minerals in your local area and across the commonwealth.
What You Need to Rockhound
You may want to bring some basic tools when you’re rockhounding. You don’t need anything fancy when you’re just starting rockhounding—you can even start with just your hands. But as you get more into the hobby, you will usually want to have a small shovel, a rock hammer, and a chisel, all of which you can grab at your local hardware store. For safety, you should also pick up some safety glasses and gloves.
Where You Can Rockhound in Pennsylvania
Whether you want to explore streams, quarries, or forests, you’ll find plenty of rockhounding opportunities statewide. While most of the coolest gems are found in Southeastern Pa., the rest of the state has fantastic fossils to find, and some gemstones too.
We’ve put together a handful of suggestions, but you can rockhound in any number of places you think may have interesting rocks and minerals in the earth. Think rocky creeks and streams, old mines and quarries, and areas of exposed rock where roads were cut. You can also join group events with local rockhounding clubs to get a feel for the hobby from longtime rockhounds (many quarries and mines are only accessible to sanctioned groups like mineral clubs. If you need some help finding a group near you, check out this list of Pennsylvania geological and mineralogical organizations.
Before you venture out, be sure that you’re free to collect rocks on whatever land you’re searching. Rockhounding is legal in Pennsylvania, but some state lands may prohibit it.
Wissahickon Valley Park – Philadelphia
When you wander through Wissahickon Valley Park, you’re waltzing through Pennsylvania geological history. Wissahickon Valley, also known as Wissahickon Gorge, is part of the geological Piedmont Province, which stretches between Alabama and southern New York along the eastern side of the Appalachian Mountains. The Appalachians are some of the oldest mountains on the planet, shifting and eroding over millennia. And because of these mountains, the exposed bedrock within Wissahickon Valley Park is a fantastic place to rockhound.
Along Wissahickon Creek, you’ll find plenty of Wissahickon schist, a metamorphic rock that can be split into layers. Many buildings in Philadelphia were built entirely of Wissahickon schist. Within the Wissahickon schist, you can sometimes score with finds such as quartzite, kyanite, and garnets. You may also be able to find gems like garnets within Wissahickon Creek itself.
Brandywine Creek – Delaware and Chester counties
Amethyst can be found in a number of places across Pennsylvania and is in fact so popular that there was a recent effort to make it the official state gemstone. This purple type of quartz is easy to recognize and breathtakingly beautiful. Search for amethyst along Brandywine Creek in Delaware County (Chadds Ford) and Chester County, two areas of the state that are chock full of gemstones. Bring your shovel—you may find some of this lilac-colored gemstone if you dig into the gravel on the sides of the creek.
McAdoo and the Echo – Schuylkill County
Little McAdoo might be small in population, but certainly not in rockhounding opportunities. McAdoo is a great place for beginners to venture forth to search for rocks, specifically quartz crystals, because there are simply so many. This Schuylkill County borough is an old coal town surrounded by old mines, which makes it perfect for rockhounding. Nearby is an area called the Echo that is a favorite of rock collectors. However, the Echo is an abandoned quarry that is likely dangerous to scale, so be careful—if an area looks unsafe, turn around. Also, be sure to check where you are searching to ensure there are no posted signs to keep trespassers away.
Ohiopyle State Park – Ohiopyle
The western side of Pa. has much fewer gem and mineral opportunities than the eastern side. But what Western Pennsylvania does have for rockhounds is Fossils.
To check out fossils within Ohiopyle State Park, you’ll want to take a hike along the park’s Ferncliff Trail. This 1.8-mile loop will take you around the Ferncliff Peninsula of the Youghiogheny River. Millions of years ago, the peninsula was part of a tropical swamp—and the fossils you’ll pass on the trail serve as evidence. You’ll find fossils of prehistoric plants like ferns and trees in the exposed sandstone of Ferncliff. Look around you for the impressions of these plants—now extinct—in the sandstone. You’ll want to check for jagged patterns and leaf-shaped dents.
Though the fossils within Ohiopyle State Park are likely too large for you to take anyway, before you head out into any state park, check with a ranger about the park’s specific rules for fossil or rock collecting.
Penn’s Cave and Wildlife Park – Centre Hall
Penn’s Cave and Wildlife Park would not be recommended by your average rockhound considering that it is a tourist attraction, but it’s an excellent introduction to gemstones and an especially perfect place to get kids excited about rocks. You pay at least $7 for a bag of sediment that contains fossils, gemstones, or arrowheads, and then pan for gems at one of Penn’s Cave’s sluices. It’s a fun way to ensure that you bring some rocks home with you, plus you can always spend the rest of the day on a cavern tour.
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