Crystals, gems, rocks, whatever you call these mesmerizing trinkets forged from the Earth, there’s no doubting their raw beauty. And while gold and silver may have once dominated the currency of the land, these days, fiery black opals, iridescent labradorites,  and dazzling alexandrite are just a few of the precious stones that have taken center stage in the emerging and buzzing hobby of lapidary.

As a result of the growing increase of collectors, more and more crystal shops have been emerging and frequent live-stream sales can be found on sites like Facebook and TikTok. However, most collectors would agree that some of their very best and most memorable finds have been when they have been rockhounding for jewels and fossils. Sadly, not all collectors find themselves in pristine locations for such treasure hunting. Here in Salem and Marion County, however, lapidaries and rock hounds are in luck as there are plenty of places to “dig for gold” or, in this case, dig for crystals!

Rockhounding in Salem
Sometimes it doesn’t take a keen eye but simple and sheer luck to find large agate chunks just sitting and patiently waiting to be found along the Willamette. Photo credit: Willamette Riverkeeper

Seek Treasure in the Willamette River

The first stop on any rockhounding adventure in Salem is the banks and gravel bars along the Willamette River. It has proven to be an optimal location when searching for beautiful rocks or exciting specimens as the mighty river courses through the Salem area, seemingly bringing treasure along with it.

Starting from just south of Eugene, where the Willamette River enters the Willamette Valley and extending to the point where the water slows down approaching Portland, the Willamette and its tributaries are chalked full of crystal goodies. Within the mixed gravels of its banks, one can frequently discover agate, jasper, petrified wood, and fossils while walking the water line, where the water lets the light in through the silty river muck for better viewing. Additionally, rocks from as far as Canada can be unearthed as remnants of the times when glacial Lake Allison repeatedly filled the valley, leaving its gravel deposits behind.

If you can, plan your trip for rock hunting after a good rainstorm, as this will often clean up a lot of the rocks and make them easier to hunt. If you feel good about your chances, bring tall rubber boots and hunt for rocks deeper in the water where the casual picker might not feel confident enough to explore.

Rockhounding in Salem
All types of agates can be found along the riverbanks of the Willamette River. Photo credit: Willamette Riverkeeper

There’s Gold at Quartzille Creek

With a name like Quartzville Creek, one could say this trek of water is a rock hounds paradise. South and east of Salem, Quartzville Creek is part of the “Mining Corridor,” an area where recreational mining is allowed along the Bureau of Land Management portion of the Quartzville Back Country Byway. Since the 1880s, this small river, along with several others in the region, has been known for quartz and gold finds.

Though much of the land on the creek is private, access to the water can be found just as you drive up above the Green Peter Reservoir on Quartzville Road, where you’ll come across several access points where you can still pan for gold. Of course, as with most rivers and creeks in the Willamette Valley, agates, jasper, petrified wood, and plenty of cool-looking rocks can be found along the riverbank.

Find Crystals in the Santiam River

Accessible via the rest area on I-5 south from Salem towards Albany, the Santiam River has easy public access at the end of the rest stop with parking and a picnic area, making it the perfect spot for treasure hunting for gems and crystals. There are several locations along its waterways where you can find a variety of rocks and minerals, including quartz crystal geodes, agates, jasper, and petrified wood.

In addition, Three Pools is a popular swimming hole on the Santiam River that just so happens to also be an excellent spot for rock hounding. The reservoir on the North Santiam River, known as Detroit Lake, may primarily be known as a popular boating and fishing spot, but it is also excellent for crystal hunting. Just remember that you cannot rockhound inside lake boundaries that the Corp of Engineers restricts in the area.

Rockhounding in Salem
A beautiful example of a siderite specimen found along Clackamas River. Photo courtesy: WorthPoint

Clackamas River Rockhounding

A major tributary to the Willamette River, the Clackamas River follows a distinct geological path that spans from the heart of the Cascades to its convergence with the Willamette. Showcasing the finest offerings of Pacific Northwest crystals and gems, one can expect to find agate, jasper petrified wood and crystals of both quartz and zeolite.

Siderite can be found in many sites along the river as well, the majority of these localities being found between Highway 224 mileposts 33 and 41. Two sites close to Estacada, known as Big Cliff and Memaloose Roadcut, are some of the best places to hunt thanks to the area’s ease of collecting and because of the range in color and crystal forms in which the siderite has formed. No matter what you’re looking for along the river, the best collecting times here are during the summer and early fall months when water levels drop and more materials are exposed.

It doesn’t take an ‘igneous’ to see that rockhounding here in and around Salem can lead to a treasure trove of crystals, gems, petrified wood, and even fossils. So, what are you doing being so ‘sedimentary’? It’s time to get out there and have some ‘metamorphic’ rockhounding adventures in Marion County!

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