Finding agate in Iowa can be difficult without the right help. Unlike Oregon or Montana, known for having many agate deposits, Iowa’s agate resources are limited and spread out.
The geology of Iowa is also a challenge since agates are usually only found in certain geological formations and glacial deposits. This means that you need to have a sharp eye and understand the local landscape to find agates.
But worry not! We’ll help you be successful in finding these specimens in the state. With hard work, patience, and the correct information, aspiring agate hunters in Iowa can discover the hidden beauty of these beautiful stones.
What is Iowa Agate?
Agate is a type of chalcedony, which is a type of quartz with tiny crystals. It is a semiprecious gemstone prized for its beautiful colors and patterns. Agates are made by a long, complicated process that takes millions of years.
Most of the time, they start as holes or bumps in volcanic or sedimentary rocks. As silica-rich groundwater seeps into these holes, the silica slowly settles out and forms layers, giving agates their distinctive banding or concentric patterns.
Agates get their colors and patterns from impurities and minerals that were there when they formed, like iron oxide, manganese, and other trace elements.
Find out how much agates cost by reading our article.
Moss agates are a unique agate type with moss-like inclusions that look like fern-like structures or branching patterns. Most of the time, these inclusions are green, but they can also be shades of brown, red, or black.
Moss agates are highly valued for their beautiful, mesmerizing patterns resembling moss. These patterns give the stone a sense of natural artistry. The formations inside moss agates don’t come from plants. Instead, they comprise minerals like hornblende or chlorite, resembling moss or plants.
As for moss agates in Iowa, a few are in the state.
Fire agates are a beautiful type of agate known for how their colors change in a way that looks like flames. Fire agates have a unique radiance from thin iron oxide and limonite layers that have built up inside the stone.
When light goes through these layers, it goes through interference and diffraction. This makes a dazzling show of fiery colors, from bright reds and oranges to golden yellows and greens.
Unfortunately, fire agates are not typically found in Iowa. Their occurrence is more commonly associated with specific regions with the appropriate geological conditions for their formation.
Blue lace agates
Blue lace agates are a captivating variety of agate distinguished by their delicate bands of light blue and white hues. The distinctive blue coloration is caused by traces of impurities, such as copper or manganese, infiltrating the silica-rich solution during the agate’s formation.
These impurities interact with the light, resulting in the beautiful blue bands that give blue lace agates their name. The delicate, lacy patterns within the stone add to its ethereal and graceful appearance.
Blue lace agates are highly regarded for their soothing energy, making them popular choices for jewelry and spiritual purposes.
Even though blue lace agate may not form in Iowa because of its geology, fans, and collectors can still get their hands on these beautiful stones through reputable gemstone suppliers and specialized jewelry stores that get their rocks from all over the world.
The tools every agate hunter will need
When you're out looking for agates having the right tools for the job is really going to make or break your success. You don't need a lot for most trips but there are a handful that are critical and will make your life a lot easier.
We get asked a lot about the equipment we use. Over the years we've found a handful of tools that we recommend to both new and experienced agate hunters which we outline in great detail in our complete rockhounding tools and kit guide. These are quality options that also happen to be relatively inexpensive.
Below are the basic tools that make your life so much easier and save you a ton of time. Check out the full guide to see everything we recommend bringing. One quick note, as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases but we try very hard to only recommend gear we would use ourselves and often recommend brands you can't find on Amazon.
At a minimum you should have:
1 - Sturdy rock hammer: The Estwing Rock Pick is our standard
2 - Rugged chisels: Try Kendo' 3-piece Chisel Set
3 - Compact shovel: The Koleiya 28-inch shovel works well
4 - Rock screen pan: The Wazakura Soil Sieve Set fits the bill
5 - Eye protection: DeWalt Safety Glasses are cheap and comfortable
6 - Head protection: Malta's Safety Helmet has been our go-to
7 - Jewelers lens with at least 20x magnification: Jarlink's Jewelers Loop is perfect
The agate-finding books that we use most
There are also a few books that have been extremely helpful in the search for gems. These books have great recommendations and tips:
We provide links to find these tools on Amazon but some can also be found at your local hardware stores. For more recommendations check out the link to our full tool guide above.
The Best Spots To Find Agates in Iowa
Here are our recommendations for where you can successfully find agates in the state. There are a lot of unique places to find gems in Iowa, but not all of them are good for finding agates.
Big Creek is a popular destination for agate hunting enthusiasts due to its unique geological features and the potential for finding agates. The creek, surrounded by scenic woodlands and sprawling parkland, offers a picturesque setting for outdoor activities, including agate hunting.
One of the reasons why Big Creek is a promising location for agate seekers is the presence of glacial deposits. During the last Ice Age, glaciers moved across the landscape, carrying rocks and minerals from various regions and depositing them in their path.
These glacial deposits often contain a diverse range of stones, including agates.As the creek cuts through these deposits over time, it exposes agates and other gemstones, making them accessible to those who explore its shores.
Know the most up-to-date rules about collecting in Iowa before you bring your agate crystals back home.
Where we found agates in the Big Creek
Exploring the creek’s banks, particularly in areas where rocks and pebbles are exposed, can increase your chances of finding agates. It’s important to remember that agates are often hidden among other stones and may blend in with their surroundings, so a keen eye for patterns and colors is crucial.
Indian Creek is a great place to go agate hunting. Its geology and the chance of finding agates draw people there. Indian Creek is in a beautiful part of nature, with many places to explore and rocks to collect.
The creek flows through rocks and minerals left behind by glaciers long ago, including agates. These glacial deposits make a rich environment for agates to grow in. As the creek winds through the landscape, it keeps revealing new gravel and rock beds where agates can be found.
Where we found agates in the Indian Creek
The best approach for finding agates at Indian Creek is to explore the creek’s banks and gravel bars. Keep a sharp eye for rocks with distinctive patterns, colors, or banding, as these can indicate the presence of agates.
Little Cedar River is a great place to enjoy nature’s beauty and the thrill of looking for agates. With its glacial deposits and constant erosion, this river is an excellent place for people who like to look for agates to find them.
It’s an excellent place to go agate hunting because it has interesting geological features, and there’s a chance of finding these beautiful stones. The river flows through beautiful landscapes and gives people a lot of opportunities to explore the outdoors and collect rocks.
Where we found agates in the Little Cedar River
You are much more likely to find agates along the banks of Little Cedar River if you are patient, pay attention, and enjoy exploring the outdoors.
Mines of Spain, near Dubuque in eastern Iowa, is a great place to look for agates because it has various geological features and the chance of finding these valuable gems.
This large nature preserve has many different habitats, such as rough bluffs, river valleys, and wooded areas, making it an excellent spot for outdoor enthusiasts and rock collectors.
The region consists of sedimentary rocks, such as limestone and dolomite, which can potentially contain agates. These rocks were formed millions of years ago, and over time, erosion and weathering have exposed pockets and crevices where agates can be found.
Where we found agates at the Mines of Spain
Exploring the park’s trails and creek beds can produce exciting agate discoveries. The banks of Catfish Creek, which runs through the preserve, can be particularly fruitful for agate hunters.
Look for gravel bars, exposed rock formations, and areas where the water has carved its way through the landscape.
Skunk River is famous for the glacial deposits left behind when ice sheets covered the area. These glaciers moved rocks and minerals from different places and dumped them along the riverbed.
Because these glacial sediments are there, they are a good place for agates to grow. As the river wears away the land, it exposes these deposits. This makes it a great place to look for agates.
Exploring Skunk River is appealing to rock collectors and outdoor enthusiasts because of the chance to enjoy the river’s natural beauty while looking for these beautiful gems.
Where we found agates in the Skunk River
To increase the chances of finding agates along the Skunk River, it is recommended to focus on areas with exposed gravel bars and riverbanks. These locations often contain diverse rocks and pebbles where agates may be found.
Other Great Places To Find Agates in Iowa
After recommending the best locations to find agates in Iowa, we’ll tell you about some additional places where you can continue hunting. To help you, we put them in order by county.
Our recommendations by county
|Adair||Orient washes and clay hillsides|
|Benton||Cedar River Bluffs|
|Butler||Shell Rock gravel pits|
|Clayton||Guttenberg washes and cut banks|
|De Moines||Burlington regional creek beds|
|Henry||New London regional stream beds, cuts, and banks|
|Lander||Iowa Canyon Mine|
Additional areas you can find agates
Iowa is big, so we want to ensure your search works. Here are some familiar places to find agates.
There are often many kinds of rocks in quarries, each with unique qualities. This variety makes it more likely that you will find agates with different colors, patterns, and shapes.
Agate hunters can look in different parts of the quarry for telltale signs of agates, like banding or unique inclusions, by carefully examining exposed rocks.
When rocks and minerals are taken out of quarries, these holes are exposed. This gives collectors a better chance of finding agates. Fresh exposures also give a unique chance to see how the agates formed in their geological setting.
Streams and creeks
Streams and creeks are great places for agate collectors to look for these beautiful stones because they are always changing and offer a dynamic environment. These waterways are great places to look for agates because they are important to how they form and get to where they are found.
Agates form inside holes in rocks. They can be moved downstream by the flow of water or by natural forces. As creeks and streams flow through different types of land, they expose gravel bars and banks where agates often end up.
Collectors have a better chance of finding agates that were carried by the water and dropped in these places if they look hard enough.
Washes and ravines
Agate collectors can find these beautiful stones in great places like washes and ravines. These natural formations, which are usually found in dry or desert areas, provide a unique place for agates to form, stay safe, and be found.
When it rains a lot or there are flash floods, fast-moving water cuts through the landscape and moves rocks and minerals. This erosion brings to light places where there are agates that might have stayed hidden.
When exploring washes and ravines, you have to pay close attention to details and watch what you do. Collectors should look at exposed surfaces, pebbles, and gravel bars for agates with patterns, colors, and bands that make them stand out.
Common Agate-Hunting Questions
People who go to Iowa to look for agates often ask the following questions, and it’s essential to know the answers.
Is it illegal to collect agate in Iowa?
Iowa is an excellent state to look for agates if you do it right. It’s best to follow the rules in a public place. Before you go on private land, have permission to do so.
The Best Places To Buy Agates In Iowa
Not all agate hunters like spending all day looking for specimens outdoors. Sometimes all you need is a pretty agate to add to your collection or a nice piece to display. Here’s a list of where you can buy agate crystals in Iowa.
- Ancient Ways – 2420 University Ave, Des Moines, IA 50311
- Dorie’s Crystals and Things – 101 Pearl St, Council Bluffs, IA 51503
- Ema’s Elegance Specialty Stones – 811 Story St, Boone, IA 50036
- Sacred Designs by Spirit – 33391 290th St, Shell Rock, IA 50670
- Windy’s Sublime Healing – 5005 Douglas Ave Ste 105, Des Moines, IA 50310
If you have any recommendations for our list please leave a comment below!