The 33 Best Spots To Find Agates In South Dakota In 2024

By Dr. Keith Jackson - Geology PhD

| Updated

The 33 Best Spots To Find Agates In South Dakota In 2024

By Dr. Keith Jackson - Geology PhD

Updated

South Dakota is blessed with an incredible variety of rocks and minerals, and one of them is the beautiful agate. They might look plain on the outside, but agates in South Dakota actually reveal a world of stunning patterns and colors on the inside!

Even though our state has a lot of agates, finding them isn’t always a walk in the park. Without knowing where to look, you might miss these hidden beauties entirely. That’s why we’re here to guide you through some of the best spots to find agates in South Dakota.

A couple of these are the Fairburn Agate beds and the Badlands, Tepee and Hell Canyons, Buffalo Gap, and Pleasant Valley Creek— all known for their abundance of agates.

Also, since South Dakota doesn’t have just one type of this gem (there are several!), we’ll also share with you the different kinds of agates you’ll find here. With all these information in hand, you’ll be ready in no time to uncover South Dakota agates!

What is South Dakota Agate?

Gray agate with fine white bands
Agate photo provided by and available for purchase at JMIMPORT

Imagine slicing open a rock and finding a masterpiece of art inside. That’s what agate is like!

It’s a type of quartz that forms when water, rich with silica, flows into pockets in rocks. Over a long time, this silica slowly turns into layers that stack up to create the cool patterns we see inside the stone.

Some agates have wavy lines, while others might have spots or blobs of color. Each one is unique, further pushing up agate’s value and worth.

Despite its beauty, agates can be found in many places around the world, usually in volcanic areas or ancient lava flows. The cool part? You can find them right here in South Dakota.

Now, before we share with you the best spots to find agates in South Dakota, let’s first get to know the different types of this gem and whether you can find them here:

Moss Agates

Even though it’s called “moss” agate, it doesn’t actually have moss inside. Instead, it has awesome green, red, or brown patterns that look a lot like plants or moss. These patterns are caused by minerals like iron or manganese trapped inside the stone.

Moss agates are found in various places around the world. They often form in volcanic areas, just like other types of agates. And guess what? You can find moss agate in South Dakota!

Fire Agates

Unlike regular agates, fire agate has an incredible shimmering effect that looks like glowing flames that come from thin layers of iron oxide. When light hits these layers, it creates a dance of colors that can include red, orange, gold, and even green!

Fire agates are primarily found in the southwestern United States and parts of Mexico. They love volcanic terrains and areas with hot springs. Unfortunately, fire agate isn’t commonly found in South Dakota.

Blue Lace Agates

Blue lace agate is known for its soft blue colors, paired with delicate white or light blue bands. These bands swirl together, making patterns that remind many of lacy ribbons or calm waves.

This type of agate has a very specific origin. It’s mainly found in Namibia, Africa. It’s not commonly found all over the world, even in South Dakota, which makes it even more special.

Fairburn Agates

Fairburn agates often have concentric rings of colors, sometimes looking a bit like a target, and other times, they can have swirling patterns that remind you of fingerprints.

If you’re wondering whether you can find this agate in South Dakota, you’re in for a treat! Fairburn agate is actually named after a location called Fairburn in our state, so yes, you can absolutely find Fairburn agates in South Dakota!

Banded Agates

Imagine layers upon layers of beautiful colors stacked one on top of the other— that’s what banded agate looks like. It has distinct, parallel lines of multiple colors, sort of like the rings inside a tree trunk. These bands can be wavy, straight, or a mix of both.

Luckily, banded agates can be found in South Dakota. Our region’s rich geology, shaped by ancient volcanic activities and erosional processes, provides a great environment for the formation of these beautiful stones.

If you’re curious to know about the other stunning natural treasures our state has, you can check out our article on the great crystal mines in South Dakota.

How We Know About Great Locations For Agate in South Dakota
With agates being so beautiful you can image that the best spots are not always advertised widely. In fact, it isn’t unusual for good places to find agates to be secrets known by just a few locals. Fortunately, you do know someone who has been around the block!

The key factors in our recommendations are:

  • The deep experience and understanding of our team about the area
  • Recommendations from local groups and clubs
  • How easy it is to get the a particular location
  • Safety and potential hazards when collecting
  • Weighing private and public locations
  • The ability for both experienced and novice agate enthusiasts to find great samples

With these factors in mind we’ve been able to put together a fantastic list that just about anyone can use!

Rock pick being used

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:

National Audubon Society Field Guide to Rocks and Minerals: North America 

Northwest Treasure Hunter's Gem & Mineral Guide 

Earth Treasures: The Northwestern Quadrant 

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 South Dakota

A beautifully-sliced agate showing bands of orange and yellows
Agate photo provided by Weinrich Minerals

South Dakota is endowed with many great gem mine sites. However, if you want to focus your search on agates, the best spots to find them are the following:

Always Confirm Access and Collection Rules!

Before heading out to any of the locations on our list you need to confirm access requirements and collection rules for both public and private locations.

These requirements are subject to change without notice and may differ from what we state below.

Always get updated information directly from the source ahead of time to ensure responsible rockhounding.

Fairburn

An open field in the heart of Fairburn

Fairburn might be small in size, but it’s big on geological wonders. It’s surrounded by the vast landscapes of the Great Plains. The terrain here is a mix of rolling hills, grassy prairies, and unique rock formations.

When it comes to geology, Fairburn is a rockhound’s dream! It’s rich in minerals and gemstones, and it’s particularly known for a special type of stone: the Fairburn agate. They are famed for their stunning patterns and colors.

Getting to Fairburn is pretty straightforward. It’s accessible by road, and while it might be a bit off the beaten path, the journey is part of the adventure. Along the way, you’ll be treated to panoramic views of our diverse landscapes.

But before you head out here, it pays to review South Dakota’s updated collecting guidelines to make sure you’ll comply with them from the get-go.

Where we found agates in Fairburn

You can find agates about 10 miles northwest and south of the Game Farm Zoo, in badlands buttes to the end of the road, and south to the Cheyenne River in Fairburn.

Tepee Canyon

Varied rock formations at Tepee Canyon

Nestled in the Black Hills region, Tepee Canyon is surrounded by a diverse range of landscapes that will leave any nature lover in awe. Here, you’ll see a blend of rocky outcrops, deep valleys, and lush forests.

Geologically speaking, this canyon is a wonderland. Among the geological treasures here are mesmerizing agates that are known for their vibrant colors and intricate patterns.

Reaching Tepee Canyon is an adventure in itself. Though it’s not as bustling as some of the major tourist spots, it’s accessible by road. However, the terrain can be rugged, so a good vehicle and some preparation might be necessary.

Where we found agates in the Tepee Canyon

To find agates, you can explore the diggings on the north side of the highway extending up to the Tepee Canyon.

Buffalo Gap

Aerial view of Buffalo Gap showing its wide fields

Buffalo Gap is a destination brimming with natural charm and geological wonders! It’s framed by vast prairies that stretch as far as the eye can see.

These open plains are occasionally interrupted by rugged badlands, presenting a mix of soft grassy terrains and dramatic rock formations.

Buffalo Gap sits in a region rich with geological treasures, including beautiful agates.

To travel here is like being on a journey of scenic beauty. Easily reachable by road, the town serves as a gateway to the Buffalo Gap National Grassland, a vast protected area showcasing the region’s natural splendors.

Where we found agates in Buffalo Gap

If you want to find agates in Buffalo Gap, you can search through the stream gravels, cut banks, breaks, and hillsides on the large area west to the county line.

Hell Canyon

View of the rock formations at Hell Canyon from below

Hell Canyon offers a mix of landscapes that would thrill any nature lover. Steep cliff walls, dense forests, and winding streams give the canyon its unique beauty. It has breathtaking tall rock formations and canyon floors with interesting trails and hidden nooks.

The rocks in this canyon are varied: some formed from powerful volcanic activities, while others from the slow shaping forces of erosion. Among these geological gems, agates have a starring role.

While the area is a bit secluded, Hell Canyon is accessible by road if you’re eyeing to go here. As you approach it, the landscape shifts from open plains to the rugged beauty of the Black Hills.

Where we found agates in Hell Canyon

You can find agates if you go north from the Jewel Cave National Monument to Hell Canyon.

Pleasant Valley Creek

Stunning agate with interesting patters in orange, red, and black
Agate photo provided by Turkish Agate Stones

Pleasant Valley Creek truly lives up to its name! It offers a tranquil escape with its gentle landscapes. The creek winds its way through the valley, nourishing the rich green meadows that surround it.

From a geological standpoint, Pleasant Valley Creek has some delightful surprises. Beneath the grassy surfaces and along the creek beds, rocks of various shapes and sizes hide, including agates.

The good news for you is that this spot is accessible by road. This makes it a great destination for families or solo adventurers who want a slice of South Dakota’s natural beauty without having to trek too far off the beaten path.

Where we found agates in the Pleasant Valley Creek

You can explore the area southwest of Pringle to find stunning agates in Pleasant Valley Creek.

Other Great Places To Find Agates in South Dakota

Stunning Laguna agate showing fine bands of orange, yellow, red, white, and brown
Agate photo provided by Ryan Bowlin

If you’ve already visited our top recommendations or are looking for other spots that you can explore here, below are many other agate-bearing sites in South Dakota:

Our recommendations by county

County Location
Custer South along US-385 to Hot Springs
Custer Beds surrounding town
Custer Hills to the right of State Game Farm in Custer State Park
Custer Wind Cave National Park
Fall River Badland breaks in Ardmore
Fall River Buttes in Oelrichs
Fall River Stock dam and area breaks in Oelrichs
Fall River Area on the north side of US-18
Fall River Huge alluvial gravel area in Oelrichs
Harding Gravel bars of the Little Missouri River and all tributary creeks
Jackson Kadoka area
Jackson Buffalo Gap National Grassland in Philip Junction area
Meade On top of the Fox Ridge area
Meade Buttes on the north side of the road in Scenic
Minnehaha Stream gravels, cut banks, gravel pits, and excavations in Sioux Falls
Minnehaha Big Sioux River
Pennington Hill City area mine dumps
Pennington Hart Table Buttes
Shannon Porcupine Creek to Sharps Corner
Shannon Breaks along the road in Oglala to badlands in Smithwick
Shannon Red Shirt area especially in breaks along the Cheyenne River
Washabaugh Gravel beds, banks, and tributary draws of the White River
Washabaugh General region to the north and east of Interior area

Additional areas you can find agates

In case you’re having a difficult time locating agates, make sure you pay closer attention to the following specific areas where these rock often form and hide:

Streams and Creeks

Over time, as water flows in streams and creeks, it erodes the surrounding land and picks up different stones. The water’s motion often tumbles these rocks, smoothing and polishing them. When agates get caught up here, they’re transported and deposited in gravel beds or along banks, making them easier to spot.

The constant water flow also reveals new treasures, continually uncovering hidden agates and bringing them to the surface. This makes creeks and streams in South Dakota perfect hunting grounds for agates.

Rivers and Riverbanks

Rivers and their banks are nature’s grand showcases for many treasures, including agates. As rivers flow, they gather rocks from their sources, chiseling and carrying them downstream.

With their durable nature, agates resist this wear and tear, getting tumbled and smoothed in the process. This often brings out their vibrant patterns and colors. This makes riverbanks natural collection points for any rockhound.

Sediment Deposits

When water flows, it carries tiny bits of the land with it that settle and accumulate, forming sediment deposits. Agates, being resistant to weathering, often get nestled within these deposits.

That is why sediment deposits in South Dakota are prime search grounds for this gem. Every scoop of sediment that you’ll find can unveil beautiful South Dakota agates.

Common Agate-Hunting Questions

A mysterious-looking waterline agate
Agate photo provided by @finemineralphotography

Before you start your journey here, we’ll answer some of the common questions when it comes to finding agates in South Dakota:

Is it illegal to collect agate in South Dakota?

Collecting agates for personal use is generally allowed on public lands in South Dakota, but there are some important restrictions to be aware of.

National Parks, for instance, prohibit the removal of any rocks or minerals. State Parks may also have their own set of rules. If you’re on private land, you’d need the landowner’s permission to collect anything, including agates.

It’s always a good idea to familiarize yourself with the specific rules of the area you’re in before collecting. You can also check out the official website of the South Dakota Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for more information.

The Best Places To Buy Agates In South Dakota

Different displays and items at the showroom of Things That Rock

Aside from going out in the wild, you can also visit our trusted local rock and mineral shops that sell agates here in South Dakota. Below are some of our recommended ones.

If you have any recommendations for our list please leave a comment below!

About Dr. Keith Jackson - Geology PhD

Keith Jackson is an avid rockhound who is constantly exploring new sites to expand his collection. He has worked as a professional Geologist for over 20 years and holds a PhD in Geology from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, a Masters Degree in Geology from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and a Bachelors Degree in Geology from the University of Connecticut.

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