North Country gold: How and where to find Lake Superior agates

  • Article by: JAVIER SERNA , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 19, 2013 - 3:39 PM

Lake Superior agates are highly prized here in Minnesota. Here’s how to bring home a better bounty from your next rock hunt.

hide

Lake Superior agates were formed during the lake’s volcanic past, but glaciers later scattered them across the countryside. The agates above were found many miles from Superior.

Photo: Photo by Julie Long • Special to the Star Tribune,

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

Timing can be everything when it comes to finding Lake Superior agates.

“It’s like treasure hunting,” says Butch Goldenstein of St. Cloud, an agate enthusiast who manned a table at the annual Agate Days celebration in Moose Lake earlier this summer. “There’s a thrill in finding them. And there’s nothing like walking in somebody’s footsteps and saying, ‘Oh, you missed this one.’ ”

Agate pickers live for those moments when they find these beautiful banded rocks, allowing them to connect with the region’s geology.

What makes Lake Superior agates so special? Formed in and around the lake during volcanic eruptions about a billion years ago, these gemstones were distributed across the landscapes of northeast Minnesota and northwest Wisconsin during a later bout of glacial activity, roughly 10,000 to 15,000 years ago. They come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors, often with beautiful banding, luminescence and other features. Simply put, agates stand out from the plainer rocks that often hide them.

So they are treasured. Agates have been Minnesota’s official state gemstone since 1969.

While they can be purchased at rock and gem shops throughout the Upper Midwest, it’s so much more fun and rewarding to find them on your own. As an added bonus, agate-hunting makes for a great family activity.

Here are some tips on making your next excursion a success, whether it’s your first or your 50th time looking for agates:

 

KNOW THE LOOK

Understand that there is broad variety in agates, so it’s helpful to know the range of characteristics.

“I think you develop an eye for agates,” says Goldenstein, who has picked agates for more than 60 years. “That comes from picking up thousands of stones. Some are and some aren’t.”

One of the best clues is a waxy, almost glossy surface. Many agates are translucent, but some are more opaque.

Agates come in a range of colors, and iron oxide staining is found on most agates, with the most common shades being rust-red and yellow.

The agate’s famous bands aren’t always visible. Sometimes the bands face down in the dirt. Sometimes the rocks bear less orthodox patterns, without the classic cross sections. Other times the bands have broken away, leaving them partly peeled off, almost like banana skin.

Agates are generally round, since they were formed in bubble holes in lava. Look for pitting or dimples on the outer surface.

 

KNOW WHERE TO LOOK

The most obvious place to find agates — Lake Superior — is actually the least favorite of most expert rockhounds.

  • related content

  • A group of rockhounds scoured the shoreline at Superior Shores Resort near Two Harbors.

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

Click here to send us your hunting or fishing photos – and to see what others are showing off from around the region.

ADVERTISEMENT

Chicago WSox 2 Bottom 6th Inning
NY Yankees 4
Tampa Bay 3 Bottom 7th Inning
Toronto 4
Detroit 4 Bottom 5th Inning
Minnesota 9
Seattle 7 Bottom 4th Inning
Boston 3
Baltimore 2 Bottom 2nd Inning
Chicago Cubs 1
San Francisco - T. Lincecum 3:05 PM
Washington - J. Zimmermann
Houston - C. McHugh 6:05 PM
Cleveland - D. Salazar
St. Louis - S. Miller 6:05 PM
Philadelphia - D. Buchanan
Atlanta - E. Santana 6:10 PM
Cincinnati - M. Leake
Pittsburgh - E. Volquez 6:10 PM
Milwaukee - W. Peralta
San Diego - A. Cashner 7:10 PM
Arizona - V. Nuno
Miami - T. Koehler 7:10 PM
Colorado - J. Lyles
Detroit - J. Verlander 7:10 PM
Minnesota - T. May
Kansas City - J. Guthrie 7:25 PM
Texas - N. Tepesch
LA Angels - C. Wilson 8:05 PM
Oakland - J. Lester
NY Mets - J. deGrom 8:10 PM
Los Angeles - Z. Greinke
Tampa Bay 3:30 PM
Buffalo
Tennessee 6:00 PM
Atlanta
Dallas 6:00 PM
Miami
Washington 6:30 PM
Baltimore
New Orleans 7:00 PM
Indianapolis
Minnesota 7:00 PM
Kansas City
St. Louis 7:00 PM
Cleveland
Houston 8:00 PM
Denver
San Diego 8/24/14 3:00 PM
San Francisco
Cincinnati 8/24/14 7:00 PM
Arizona
Atlanta 8/28/14 5:00 PM
Jacksonville
Detroit 8/28/14 6:00 PM
Buffalo
Indianapolis 8/28/14 6:00 PM
Cincinnati
Kansas City 8/28/14 6:00 PM
Green Bay
NY Jets 8/28/14 6:00 PM
Philadelphia
St. Louis 8/28/14 6:00 PM
Miami
Carolina 8/28/14 6:30 PM
Pittsburgh
New England 8/28/14 6:30 PM
NY Giants
Washington 8/28/14 6:30 PM
Tampa Bay
Baltimore 8/28/14 7:00 PM
New Orleans
Chicago 8/28/14 7:00 PM
Cleveland
Denver 8/28/14 7:00 PM
Dallas
Minnesota 8/28/14 7:00 PM
Tennessee
San Francisco 8/28/14 7:00 PM
Houston
Arizona 8/28/14 9:00 PM
San Diego
Seattle 8/28/14 9:00 PM
Oakland
(21) Texas A&M 8/28/14 5:00 PM
(9) So Carolina
Wake Forest 8/28/14 6:00 PM
ULM
Boise State 8/28/14 7:00 PM
(18) Ole Miss
Tulane 8/28/14 7:00 PM
Tulsa
Temple 8/28/14 8:15 PM
Vanderbilt
Rutgers 8/28/14 9:00 PM
Washington St
Weber State 8/28/14 9:30 PM
(19) Arizona State
BYU 8/29/14 6:00 PM
Connecticut
(6) Jacksonville St 8/29/14 6:30 PM
(8) Michigan State
Bowling Green 8/29/14 6:30 PM
Western Ky
TX-San Antonio 8/29/14 8:00 PM
Houston
Colorado State 8/29/14 8:00 PM
Colorado
UNLV 8/29/14 9:30 PM
Arizona
UCF 8/30/14 7:30 AM
Penn State
Troy 8/30/14 11:00 AM
UAB
(7) UCLA 8/30/14 11:00 AM
Virginia
Western Mich 8/30/14 11:00 AM
Purdue
(5) Ohio State 8/30/14 11:00 AM
Navy
Appalachian St 8/30/14 11:00 AM
Michigan
Ga Southern 8/30/14 11:30 AM
NC State
Boston College 8/30/14 2:00 PM
Massachusetts
West Virginia 8/30/14 2:30 PM
(2) Alabama
Rice 8/30/14 2:30 PM
(17) Notre Dame
(10) South Dakota St 8/30/14 2:30 PM
(24) Missouri
Fla Atlantic 8/30/14 2:30 PM
(22) Nebraska
California 8/30/14 2:30 PM
Northwestern
Marshall 8/30/14 2:30 PM
Miami-Ohio
UC Davis 8/30/14 3:00 PM
(11) Stanford
Arkansas 8/30/14 3:00 PM
(6) Auburn
(16) Clemson 8/30/14 4:30 PM
(12) Georgia
Liberty 8/30/14 5:00 PM
(23) North Carolina
Ohio U 8/30/14 5:00 PM
Kent State
Louisiana Tech 8/30/14 6:00 PM
(4) Oklahoma
Idaho 8/30/14 6:00 PM
Florida
Stephen F Austin 8/30/14 6:10 PM
(20) Kansas State
Fresno State 8/30/14 6:30 PM
(15) USC
Southern Miss 8/30/14 6:30 PM
Miss State
Texas-El Paso 8/30/14 7:00 PM
New Mexico
North Texas 8/30/14 7:00 PM
Texas
Oklahoma State 8/30/14 7:00 PM
(1) Florida State
(14) Wisconsin 8/30/14 8:00 PM
(13) LSU
South Dakota 8/30/14 9:30 PM
(3) Oregon
(25) Washington 8/30/14 9:30 PM
Hawaii
Chicago 6:00 PM
Toronto FC
Montreal 6:00 PM
Red Bull New York
Chivas USA 6:30 PM
New England
Houston 6:30 PM
Columbus
D.C. 7:30 PM
Sporting Kansas City
Vancouver FC 9:30 PM
Los Angeles
Montreal 16 FINAL
Winnipeg 24
Toronto 3:00 PM
Edmonton
Calgary 8/24/14 2:00 PM
Ottawa
Saskatchewan 8/24/14 6:00 PM
Brt Columbia
Ottawa 8/29/14 6:30 PM
Montreal
Winnipeg 8/31/14 2:00 PM
Saskatchewan
Toronto 9/1/14 12:00 PM
Hamilton
Edmonton 9/1/14 3:30 PM
Calgary
Indiana 4:00 PM
Washington
Minnesota 6:00 PM
San Antonio
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Should the lake where the albino muskie was caught remain a mystery?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close