Agates are gemstones renowned for their alluring banding, kaleidoscopic colors, and polished glow. They are breathtaking spectacles of Mother Nature! From the outside, they may not look like much, but once you polish them up, they reveal a hidden world of beauty.
Each specimen is unique, like a fingerprint, and finding one is like finding a piece of natural art that’s millions of years old. Finding agates in Montana can be pretty tough, though, if you don’t know where to look. Our state has lots of wilderness, and agates can be hard to spot if you’re not familiar with them.
But don’t worry, we’ve got some great news for anyone who wants to hunt for Montana agates. We’ve created this complete guide to locating these treasures in the excellent sites here. Whether you’re just starting out or you’re a seasoned rockhound, this can make your next exploration a sure success!
What is Montana Agate?
Agate is a fascinating type of rock that’s known for its cool, striped patterns and vibrant colors. It’s a form of quartz, a common mineral that you can find almost anywhere on Earth.
What makes agate special is how it’s made. Imagine a hole or a crack in a rock. Over a really long time, like millions of years, liquid minerals seep into the hole and slowly harden. As different minerals seep in over time, they create layers, forming the unique bands or stripes that these gems are famous for.
Agates are found worldwide, typically in places that have or once had a lot of volcanic activity. That’s because the heat and movement from a volcano can create the perfect conditions for them to form. They’re also commonly found in areas where rivers or waves have washed away the softer rock, leaving the hard agates behind.
And guess what? Montana is one of those places where you can find agates abundantly! Before starting your exploration, you might be interested to know the worth of an agate. Check out our article on the value of agates based on its different types.
Moss agate is characterized by its stunning inclusions that resemble moss, trees, or landscapes. As a distinct-looking gemstone, it’s highly sought after by collectors and nature enthusiasts due to its unique patterns and the serene, earthy vibe it evokes.
The exciting news is you can find moss agate in Montana! In fact, one of its most popular variants is known as the “Montana moss agate”, which is found in the alluvial gravels of the Yellowstone River and its tributaries. It’s distinguished by its black, brown, and red manganese dendrites that create intricate, moss-like patterns.
Fire agate is a breathtaking gemstone known for its brilliant play of colors. It boasts of iridescent flashes of red, gold, green, and, occasionally, blue-violet. This dazzling display of colors gives the stone its fiery appearance, hence the name fire agate.
Unfortunately, fire agate is not commonly found in Montana. Instead, it’s typically found in areas with significant volcanic activity.
Blue Lace Agates
Blue lace agate is a unique and eye-catching variety that’s celebrated for its beautiful lace-like patterns in light blue hues. Its soft, calming colors and intricate patterns are reminiscent of delicate lace. Whether polished or in its raw form, it’s highly regarded for its delicate beauty.
Since its formation is also linked to volcanic activities, blue lace agate is not typically found in Montana. It was originally discovered in Namibia, Africa, and that remains one of the primary sources for this particular type.
Banded agate, as its name suggests, is known for its layered or striped appearance. They come in different colors and configurations, some straight and parallel, others wavy or in circles. These natural, symmetrical patterns make banded agates some of the most sought-after and appreciated among gem and mineral enthusiasts.
Luckily, you can find banded agates in Montana! Our state has the right conditions for these captivating gemstones to form.
Red agate is distinguished for its rich, warm hues ranging from deep red to orange and sometimes even pink. It can exhibit various patterns, including the characteristic banding of agates, specks, and other inclusions. It’s highly sought after for jewelry making and decorative purposes due to its striking color and inherent charm.
While red agate naturally occurs in Montana, it may not be as common as other types such as the Montana Moss Agate. Keep in mind that finding it will require patience and a good understanding of where to look.
Speaking of knowing where to look, if you want to find other crystals, you can refer to our article on the crystal mine sites in Montana.
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 Montana
As a state with diverse geological landscapes, there are plenty of gem mine sites in Montana that are worth visiting and exploring. But if you’re looking specifically for agates, below are the excellent sites that we highly recommend for you:
Yellowstone River is one of Montana’s natural treasures. Starting in Wyoming, it flows right through our state for about 700 miles, making it the longest undammed river in the U.S. This mighty river winds its way through a variety of landscapes, from towering mountains and deep canyons to broad valleys and vast plains.
The river’s geology is made up of a mix of volcanic rock, sediment from ancient seas, and deposits left by glaciers. This makes it a great spot to find all sorts of interesting rocks and minerals, including the beautiful agate.
If you’re planning to go here, the Yellowstone River is fairly easy to get to, with many towns and highways located along its path. There are also plenty of parks and public lands along the river, making it a great place for all sorts of outdoor activities. But before going here, take time to review Montana’s latest collecting guidelines.
Where we found agates in the Yellowstone River
You can find the famed Montana moss agate in the gravel of the Yellowstone River and its tributaries.
Mount Blackmore is an impressive peak located in the Gallatin Range. It stands tall at about 10,154 feet, offering stunning panoramic views of the surrounding landscape. The terrain around it is rugged and wild, with steep slopes, rocky cliffs, and thick forests.
Geologically, Mount Blackmore is really interesting. It’s made mostly of sedimentary rock, formed from ancient mud and sand that hardened over millions of years. This makes it a great place to find cool rocks and minerals like agates.
Reaching Mount Blackmore is not too difficult since it’s located near Bozeman City, and there’s a trailhead in Hyalite Canyon that leads directly to the peak. However, the hike is about 12 miles round trip, so it’s best suited for people with some hiking experience.
Where we found agates on Mount Blackmore
Agates can be found at the summit of Mount Blackmore, exactly on Elevation 10,196’.
Jefferson River is an important waterway that is about 83 miles long. As one of the major tributaries of the mighty Missouri River, it winds its way through a range of landscapes— from mountain valleys to rolling plains. Aside from offering awesome views, it’s also a great spot for fishing and other outdoor activities.
Geologically, the area around the Jefferson River is made up of a mix of volcanic rock, sedimentary deposits, and other materials that were shaped by ancient glaciers and rivers. One neat thing you can find in this area is agate.
Jefferson River is close to several towns, including Three Forks and Cardwell, so it’s pretty easy to get to. There are various access points along the river for boating and fishing, too.
Where we found agates in the Jefferson River
Explore the gravels of the Jefferson River near Silverstar to find stunning specimens of agates.
The Pryor Mountains are a striking range that extends from our state a bit into Wyoming. They rise impressively from the surrounding plains, reaching up to about 8,800 feet at their highest point. Its terrain is rugged and diverse, with deep canyons, high plateaus, and lots of interesting rock formations.
These mountains are made up of several types of rocks, including limestone, sandstone, and shale, which were shaped over millions of years by natural forces like wind and water. Among the amazing finds you can stumble upon here are captivating agates.
The journey to the Pryor Mountains is a bit of an adventure. It’s fairly remote, and some of the roads can be rough. It’s about a two-hour drive from Billings, the nearest large city.
Where we found agates in the Pryor Mountains
We recommend exploring the area gravels and prospects of Pryor Mountains, especially on the northeast side, to find amazing agate samples.
Big Horn Canyon is a stunning geographical feature located in southern Montana and northern Wyoming. Part of the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area, this deep, winding canyon is carved by the Bighorn River and extends approximately 71 miles.
Its landscape is truly dramatic, with towering cliffs, rugged slopes, and the river’s blue ribbon winding its way through the canyon floor. The canyon’s walls are a showcase of different rock layers, including sandstone, shale, and limestone, all formed over hundreds of millions of years.
Fortunately, getting to Big Horn Canyon isn’t too difficult. The nearest town, Hardin, is about a 90-minute drive away. There are visitor centers, campgrounds, and several hiking trails throughout the area, making it accessible for explorers.
Where we found agates in Big Horn Canyon
You can find agate if you explore the area gravels of Big Horn Canyon, especially along its rim.
Other Great Places To Find Agates in Montana
Aside from our top recommended sites here, there are plenty of other excellent places where you can find agates in Montana. They’re listed by county below for your easier reference:
Our recommendations by county
|Beaverhead||Red Rock River to Red Lock|
|Beaverhead||Sawmill Creek to the Continental Divide|
|Big Horn||Area surfaces, especially along the canyon rim, of Hardin|
|Big Horn||Shore of Little Bighorn River|
|Big Horn||Whitman Coulee|
|Big Horn||Rotten Grass Creek|
|Big Horn||Doghead Creek|
|Carbon||North to the Morrow/Frates diggings|
|Carbon||Rimrocks overlooking Bighorn Canyon|
|Chouteau||Chip Creek to Eagleton area|
|Custer||Pompey’s Pillar gravel banks|
|Custer||Hysham and in the hills near Sarpy Road|
|Custer||Pumpkin Creek to Tongue River|
|Custer||Ash Creek to Powder River|
|Dawson||Regional surfaces, draws, washes of Glendive|
|Dawson||Cracker Box Creek gravels|
|Garfield||Big Dry Creek|
|Garfield||South Fork of Lodgepole Creek|
|Lewis||Elk Creek to mouth of Smith Creek|
|Madison||Surfaces of all area hills in SIlverstar|
|Park||Area draws, creek. beds, hillsides of Carbella|
|Park||Area land surfaces, gravels, stream beds of Gardiner|
|Park||Area hillsides and ranchland in Livingston|
|Park||Area land surfaces of Miner|
|Park||Gallatin National Forest Campground|
|Prairie||Side tributaries of Craker-box, Hatchet, Sand, and Whoop-up creeks|
|Treasure||Hills of Hysham|
Additional areas you can find agates
Make sure to pay extra attention to the following areas where agates usually found, especially if you’re visiting or exploring broad areas with different kinds of land and waterscapes.
Rivers and River Banks
Rivers and river banks are like treasure chests, especially in Montana. That’s because rivers are great at moving rocks from one place to another. As a river flows, it picks up small rocks from the mountains and carries them downstream. These get rounded and polished as they tumble along the river’s course.
When these rocks reach river banks, they often get left behind. That’s why river banks can be full of a variety of finds, including agates! Rivers like the Yellowstone and the Bighorn in Montana have been known to carry amazing agate specimens.
Streams and Creeks
Just like rivers, streams and creeks in Montana can be amazing places to hunt for agates! These smaller waterways also do a great job at picking up and moving rocks, which means the edges of streams and creeks can be full of all sorts of interesting stones, including beautiful and colorful agates.
Lake shores are often fed by streams and rivers that carry rocks and minerals from higher elevations. As water flows into the lake, it drops these rocks, including agates, onto the shore.
Over time, waves from the lake can polish these rocks, making them smooth and shiny. That’s why you can often find beautifully polished agates along lake shores. Montana, with our many lakes here, is a great place for this kind of treasure hunt!
Common Agate-Hunting Questions
Now, you might want to know the answer to the most common question when it comes to agate hunting in Montana. Don’t worry, because we’ve got you covered!
Is it illegal to collect agate in Montana?
In general, it is legal to collect agate in Montana for as long as you do so in compliance with our state’s local collecting guidelines.
You have to be aware of the rules and restrictions in the specific area you’ll explore, especially if it’s a public land, like a state park where collecting is not permitted. Also, secure any necessary permissions or permit before exploring and collecting from any private land.
The Best Places To Buy Agates In Montana
If you have limited time and energy for any serious exploration to find agate in Montana, you can opt to visit our trusted local agate shops in the area. Below are some examples of the best ones that we have:
- Craggy J Natural Arts – 7513 Montana Hwy 35, Bigfork, MT 59911
- Earth’s Treasures – 25 N Willson Ave # B, Bozeman, MT 59715
- Kehoe’s Agate Shop – 1020 Holt Dr, Bigfork, MT 59911
- Trex Agate Shop – 5500 US-89, Bynum, MT 59419
- Windy Way Rock Shop – 5237 US-89 #13, Livingston, MT 59047
If you have any recommendations for our list please leave a comment below!