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

Toronto - LP: M. Stroman 2 FINAL
Baltimore - WP: W. Chen 5
Washington - WP: S. Strasburg 4 FINAL
Atlanta - LP: E. Santana 2
Miami - WP: S. Dyson 6 FINAL
NY Mets - LP: J. Familia 5
NY Yankees - LP: S. Kelley 0 FINAL
Tampa Bay - WP: J. Peralta 1
Cincinnati - LP: P. Villarreal 0 FINAL
Chicago Cubs - WP: H. Rondon 1
Chicago WSox - LP: J. Petricka 3 FINAL
Kansas City - WP: W. Davis 4
Cleveland - LP: Z. McAllister 1 FINAL
Houston - WP: C. McHugh 3
Detroit - WP: K. Ryan 8 FINAL
Minnesota - LP: C. Fien 6
Los Angeles - WP: J. Wright 11 FINAL
Colorado - LP: C. Bergman 3
San Francisco - LP: R. Vogelsong 2 FINAL
Arizona - WP: W. Miley 6
Seattle - LP: H. Iwakuma 1 FINAL
LA Angels - WP: M. Shoemaker 8
Philadelphia - LP: J. Williams 0 FINAL
San Diego - WP: A. Cashner 1
Philadelphia 30 FINAL
Indianapolis 27
Tampa Bay 9/18/14 7:25 PM
Atlanta
San Diego 9/21/14 12:00 PM
Buffalo
Dallas 9/21/14 12:00 PM
St. Louis
Washington 9/21/14 12:00 PM
Philadelphia
Houston 9/21/14 12:00 PM
NY Giants
Minnesota 9/21/14 12:00 PM
New Orleans
Tennessee 9/21/14 12:00 PM
Cincinnati
Baltimore 9/21/14 12:00 PM
Cleveland
Green Bay 9/21/14 12:00 PM
Detroit
Indianapolis 9/21/14 12:00 PM
Jacksonville
Oakland 9/21/14 12:00 PM
New England
San Francisco 9/21/14 3:05 PM
Arizona
Denver 9/21/14 3:25 PM
Seattle
Kansas City 9/21/14 3:25 PM
Miami
Pittsburgh 9/21/14 7:30 PM
Carolina
(5) Auburn 9/18/14 6:30 PM
(20) Kansas State
Connecticut 9/19/14 7:00 PM
So Florida
Old Dominion 9/20/14 11:00 AM
Rice
Troy 9/20/14 11:00 AM
(13) Georgia
Georgia Tech 9/20/14 11:00 AM
Virginia Tech
Eastern Mich 9/20/14 11:00 AM
(11) Michigan State
Iowa 9/20/14 11:00 AM
Pittsburgh
Bowling Green 9/20/14 11:00 AM
(19) Wisconsin
Maryland 9/20/14 11:30 AM
Syracuse
Tulane 9/20/14 11:30 AM
Duke
Hawaii 9/20/14 1:00 PM
Colorado
Marshall 9/20/14 1:00 PM
Akron
North Carolina 9/20/14 2:30 PM
East Carolina
Army 9/20/14 2:30 PM
Wake Forest
Virginia 9/20/14 2:30 PM
(21) BYU
(6) Texas A&M 9/20/14 2:30 PM
SMU
Rutgers 9/20/14 2:30 PM
Navy
Central Mich 9/20/14 2:30 PM
Kansas
Utah 9/20/14 2:30 PM
Michigan
Florida 9/20/14 2:30 PM
(3) Alabama
Louisville 9/20/14 2:30 PM
FIU
Fla Atlantic 9/20/14 3:00 PM
Wyoming
Indiana 9/20/14 3:00 PM
(18) Missouri
San Jose St 9/20/14 3:00 PM
Minnesota
Texas State 9/20/14 3:00 PM
Illinois
Massachusetts 9/20/14 3:00 PM
Penn State
Georgia State 9/20/14 5:00 PM
Washington
Appalachian St 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Southern Miss
Miss State 9/20/14 6:00 PM
(8) LSU
Northern Ill 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Arkansas
Middle Tennessee 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Memphis
Utah State 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Arkansas State
Miami-Ohio 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Cincinnati
Idaho 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Ohio U
Ball State 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Toledo
(14) So Carolina 9/20/14 6:30 PM
Vanderbilt
(4) Oklahoma 9/20/14 6:30 PM
West Virginia
Ga Southern 9/20/14 6:30 PM
South Alabama
UNLV 9/20/14 7:00 PM
Houston
(22) Clemson 9/20/14 7:00 PM
(1) Florida State
Miami-Florida 9/20/14 7:00 PM
(24) Nebraska
New Mexico 9/20/14 7:00 PM
New Mexico St
California 9/20/14 9:00 PM
Arizona
Louisiana 9/20/14 9:30 PM
Boise State
(2) Oregon 9/20/14 9:30 PM
Washington St
San Diego St 9/20/14 9:30 PM
Oregon State
Toronto 9/19/14 9:00 PM
Brt Columbia
Edmonton 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Hamilton
Calgary 9/21/14 12:00 PM
Montreal
Ottawa 9/21/14 3:00 PM
Saskatchewan
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