Recreational Geology

Rock outcrop in northern Minnesota

Rock collecting is not allowed in the state parks and state scientific and natural areas.

Where are some sites of geologic significance?

Minnesota’s state parks and scientific and natural areas have some outstanding geologic features. The information online for each state park includes a description of the geology of the state park. Just click on the link of “About the park.”
State Parks »
Scientific and Natural Areas (SNA) »

Some suggestions:

  • Banning State Park: Ruins of the historic Banning Sandstone Quarry.
  • Blue Mounds State Park: Sioux quartzite rock outcrops.
  • Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area: former iron ore open pit mines and rock stockpiles.
  • Forestville and Mystery Cave State Park: Cave tours available to see stalactites, stalagmites, and underground pools.
  • Gneiss Outcrop Scientific and Natural Area: parallel bands of gneiss in varying colors.
  • Gooseberry Falls State Park: Basalt bedrock of lava flows.
  • Interstate State Park: Glacial potholes, ten different lava flows and two distinct glacial deposits.
  • Iona’s Beach Scientific and Natural Area: cliffs of pink rhyolite and felsitic bedrock and dark gray basalt with rhyolite beach rocks.
  • Lake Vermilion-Soudan Underground Mine State Park: Tours available of Minnesota’s first underground iron ore mine.
  • Moose Lake State Park: Home of the Agate and Geological Center which showcases the Lake Superior Agate and provides interpretative displays on rocks, minerals and geology of Minnesota.
  • Morton Outcrop Scientific and Natural Area: Massive high bedrock knob of Morton Gneiss along the Minnesota River; some of oldest rock type in the world, about 3.6 billion years old.
  • Quarry Park Scientific and Natural Area: Granite outcrops; located within Stearns County Quarry Park and Nature Preserve.
  • Whitewater State Park: Limestone bluffs.

Where can I go to find agates?

The public beaches along Lake Superior are a popular place for hunting for agates. Agates can be found in central and northeast Minnesota and northwest Wisconsin. Many agates are found in gravel pits and along the banks of rivers and streams.

You must obtain the permission of the private landowner to hunt in a gravel pit. Some owners will not grant permission due to concerns for injuries.

Rock collecting is not allowed in the state parks and state scientific and natural areas.

Lake Superior Agate Information »
Lake Superior Agate Snapshot »

What about collecting minerals on private land?

Obtain permission from the landowner before collecting minerals on private land. The person doing the collecting is responsible for checking about and complying with local law. The use of powered tools, such as a power screen or dredge, could by subject to regulation by the city, township or county.

Recreational collecting of minerals on private land is usually not subject to any state regulation. The State does regulate activity which is commercial in nature or which affects state resources such as water. Any appropriation of waters from or discharge of water into wetlands, rivers, streams or other controlled waters would be an impact which would affect those waters and would bring the activity into the state regulated area.

Am I likely to find gold in Minnesota’s streams and rivers?

No, there have been no commercial placer gold discoveries in Minnesota. The topography, climate, glacial geology and landscape have combined to create streams and rivers that are less favorable, in general, for placer gold deposits than in the western parts of the United States.

Minnesota’s bedrock may contain undiscovered lode gold deposits. There have been searches for hardrock gold deposits in Minnesota using modern exploration methods. Recent research has also been looking at glacial till to help identify areas of higher potential for gold deposits to be found in the bedrock.

How about prospecting for gold on dry land?

The possibility of prospecting success may be improved by exploring in Minnesota’s numerous sand and gravel deposits. Minnesota has sand and gravel deposits that were created by fast moving meltwaters from the glaciers. Some of these deposits appear to have had favorable conditions for the formation of placer gold deposits, especially in areas of the state where gold has been found nearby in small amounts in the bedrock. Such sand and gravel deposits offer the same prospecting challenges as modern streambeds, but are likely in general to have much better potential for the occurrence of gold grains.

Many existing gravel pits are privately owned, and those owners should be contacted for permission to conduct activities in these pits.

May I pan for gold in Minnesota’s streams and rivers?

The State of Minnesota defines recreational gold prospecting as an activity involving limited use of hand-held, non-mechanical, non-motorized tools such as a gold pan and hand shovel or other hand tools for digging and classifying material. The gold panning activity must have a minimum impact on the area prospected. Minimum impacts would be the same type of impacts as caused by wading or swimming. Gold panning must not disturb fish and aquatic plant habitat and may not be conducted in areas where mineral collecting activities are prohibited, such as state parks. The State does not require a permit for this type of recreational activity in the state-owned beds of streams, rivers and lakes.

The Department’s conservation officers and local peace officers may prohibit activities at specific sites when they find damage is occurring or may occur. Fish spawning season, the number of individuals along a confined stretch of water, or other sensitivity of the area may result in the panning activities being prohibited. No one should pan in the bed of a designated trout stream without first contacting the Department’s local Area Fisheries Manager. The Area Hydrologist also may be contacted to help identify natural resource concerns.

Under what circumstances may I use a sluice or dredge in Minnesota’s streams and rivers?

Use of a sluice or dredge in the beds of Minnesota’s streams, rivers, and lakes is considered to be a commercial activity. This commercial activity is regulated and permits are required. In addition, permission from the owner of the minerals is required. If the State of Minnesota owns the bed of the water body, a mineral lease from the State would be required. If the federal government or private individual owned the bed of the water body, a lease or other authorization would be required from that owner.

Depending on the extent of the activity, the following permits will be required from the Department of Natural Resources, the Pollution Control Agency, the U.S. Corps of Engineers, and the local unit of government:

  • A Protected Waters Permit, to conduct any work which will change or diminish the current or cross section of the water body
  • A Water Appropriation Permit, to appropriate water
  • A Permit to Mine, to ensure the area is reclaimed
  • A NPDES Permit, to discharge water
  • A Section 404 Permit and a Section 10 Permit from the U.S. Corps of Engineers, to conduct dredging and to conduct work in navigable waters
  • A Shoreland Conditional Use Permit, to conduct activities within a shoreland area managed by the local zoning authorities.

The Minnesota Environmental Policy Act provides for review of the environmental impacts of major development projects. The rules adopted by the Environmental Quality Board require a mandatory Environmental Assessment Worksheet for mineral deposit evaluations of metallic minerals, and a mandatory Environmental Impact Statement for construction of a new mine. If the activity requires the preparation of either of these documents, the documents must be completed before the regulatory permits are issued.

Other Resources:

Check out the other DNR publications on minerals and geology from the Lands and Minerals Division
Lands and Minerals Publications »

The Minnesota Science Museum at 120 W. Kellogg Blvd. in St. Paul has fossil and rock collections.
Minnesota Science Museum »

The Minnesota Geological Survey has a wealth of geologic reports and maps. Look at their Virtual Egg Carton for information on common Minnesota rocks.
Minnesota Geological Survey »

The Geological Society of Minnesota has public lectures at the University of Minnesota and conducts field trips. Educational publications are also available.
Geological Society of Minnesota »

The Minnesota Discovery Center in Chisholm Minnesota features history and geology of the Mesabi Iron Range.
Minnesota Discovery Center »

Don’t forget to look for local rock shops, local gem and mineral clubs, and books on Minnesota’s rocks and geology. The State Park Nature Stores will often offer books on the state’s fossils, gems and geology.

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