Rock hunting on the Oregon Coast

A visit to the Oregon coast isn’t complete without a souvenir, even if it’s just a bucket full of stones from the beach. For true lapidary enthusiasts, however, Newport is a great spot for rock hunting.

Agates, jasper, fossils, petrified wood and more can be found on local beaches, and you’re welcome to take some home, but there are rules to know before getting started.

Oregon beachgoers are limited to a gallon of rocks per person, per day and a max of three gallons per person per year. Everyone in a group needs to bring their own container, and there’s a 2 inch by 2 inch limit on any holes dug. Anything taken is for personal use only, meaning you can’t sell your finds.

You can usually rock hunt on any beach, but the best spots are where the water often pulls away sand and other debris, leaving patches of larger stones and pebbles. The best time to search is during the day at low tide, especially a day or two after a big storm. October through April is considered peak season.

All a rock hunter really needs is their own two feet and a keen eye, but an overlooked addition is a handheld flashlight to shine through rocks to see if they’re translucent, a common trait of more interesting rocks like agates. Those wanting to delve deeper into the hobby can use a tumbler to polish their finds, with beginner tumblers and polishing grit costing around $50 and $20 online, respectively.

  1. T. Myers, author of the Agates of the Oregon Coast Pocket Guide and 50-year rock hunting veteran, says there’s a lot to the hobby people don’t know about, but Myers and other local rockhounds are happy to share their knowledge.

“I used to do mining in six different states as a hobbyist,” Myers said. “I had Facets Gem and Mineral Gallery for almost three decades. We did rough rocks right on up to diamonds and stone jewelry.”

Myers said part of the reason she wrote her pocket guide was that the ones she grew up with didn’t provide accurate pictures of what a stone looked like straight off the beach as an unpolished or less than a perfect specimen.

“Just before retiring, I put (the book) together using our own stones, and now I answer questions on the internet a lot,” Myers said. “The book is true to color, so when someone wants to learn what it is, they have they can just put it next to the picture until they have a match.”

Wesley’s Trading Post in Newport sells copies of Myers’ book, as well as everything a rockhound might need if they want to invest in the hobby, such as specialized scoops, heavy-duty tumblers, and polishing grit. The store also has rocks, polished and unpolished, obtained from places other than the beach, such as estate and yard sales.

Patty and Wesley Bullock run the store and keep a set of stones on hand to walk customers through the basics, such as examples of what sort of stones to look for on the beach and what they’ll end up looking like polished up.

Wesley says polishing generally takes about six weeks with a high-grade tumbler, two for each grade of grit, give or take some time depending on the type of stone.

“You’ll get to know your rocks. Maybe don’t do your best ones first until you get the hang of it,” Patty said.

The pandemic has put a hold on some of the store’s more specialized stock, however, with high-grade tumblers from companies like the Washington-based Lortone laying off many employees. The store can help with repairs though, welcoming anyone who might need help with a second-hand tumbler to visit.

With the pandemic still ongoing, local rock shows such as the Yachats Agate Festival last month and the Oregon Agate Club’s show in May have had to cancel this year, but online groups devoted to the hobby are active, and people all over the county are eager to share new finds. 

Myers says one of the worst things a collector can do is simply leave their collection in a bucket at the rear of their house after taking them from the beach. She instead encourages rock hunters to display and share their finds with others.

Myers keeps part of their collection arranged in an old candy case, as an assortment of exotic chocolates. Before the pandemic, Myers would often give talks and workshops about the hobby.

Rock hunting is a great option for those looking for a COVID-free hobby, but Myers and other local enthusiasts do advise everyone to stay safe, limit travel and avoid inviting friends and family to the county until it’s safe.

As with any activity on local beaches, visitors should be fully aware of the hazards of the Oregon coast. Threats like sneaker waves are ever-present, especially during peak rock hunting season, and one should never turn their back on the ocean.

Myers stressed that rock hunters should also never be out at night. Trends like using UV flashlights to find rocks might seem like fun, but aren’t worth the risk of being swept out to sea during the night. Myers stressed that digging into cliff sides is dangerous and illegal as well.