The 17 Best Spots For Gem Hunting In Iowa In 2024

By Dr. Keith Jackson - Geology PhD

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The 17 Best Spots For Gem Hunting In Iowa In 2024

By Dr. Keith Jackson - Geology PhD


If you’re looking for a chance to discover precious gemstones, Iowa is the perfect place! Our state has some of the best spots to dig for gems, and whether you’re a novice or an experienced gem hunter, you’ll find plenty of gemstones here. We were in awe of what we’ve found, and we can’t wait for you to discover it too.

In this article, we’ve suggested the finest locations you can visit in our state to hunt for gems. From the Des Moines River to the Missouri River, these spots are filled with hidden gems waiting to be found. We are sure you could find something unique and valuable with patience and a keen eye. So what are you waiting for? Put on your boots, grab your gear, and come to Hawkeye State for an unforgettable gem hunting experience!

The best places to locate gems in our state are the state parks, rivers, highway roadcuts, mines, and quarries. Some of our favorite places in the area are the Ledges State Park, Musquoketa State Park, Big Creek State Park, Crystal Cave Lake, and Spook Cave Campground, which we have described in detail below.

How We Picked The Best Places For Gem Mining in Iowa
In order to find the absolute best places in Iowa for gem mining we had a lot of things to consider. It can be really tough to find good information so it took us a long time to put together a solid list like the one below. The main inputs to our recommendations are as follows:

  • The extensive local experience and understanding of our team
  • Input from several gem hunting groups and organizations
  • The accessibility of the mining locations
  • Safety and potential hazards when collecting
  • Private and public locations
  • A desire to include locations for both experienced gem hunters and those who are just starting out

Overall we’ve been able to put together a great list that anyone can use to locate a lot of beautiful gems.

The Gemstones Found In Iowa You Can Mine

A stunning Pyrite found while gem hunting in Iowa

A significant advantage of this state is the availability of stunning gemstones. Each state is diverse regarding the gemstones found here and the locations they offer. We’ve written several guides to assist people in finding gems near them, so we can truly identify a suitable location when we see one! With the appropriate information and a little luck, you can find uncommon and rare gems in this area.

Rare gemstones found in Iowa

  • Chalcedony
  • Moss Agate
  • Pearls

More common gemstones found here

  • Calcite
  • Garnet
  • Jasper
  • Pyrite
  • Sphalerite

Our Favorite Places For Gem Mining in Iowa

We’ve established that these are the top locations in the state for mining gems. It would be best to visit these remarkable areas to learn more about hunting gemstones and see them yourself. We also provided recommendations for areas where kids can learn about and experience the pleasure of gem hunting.

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.

Ledges State Park

A man searching for gems at Ledges State Park

1515 P Ave, Madrid, IA 50156, United States

Ledges State Park is located in Boone County and is a popular spot for discovering gems. This park features 500 acres of rugged terrain with cliffs and deep ravines, where gem hunters can explore and dig for gems and minerals. Ledges State Park is a great place to find rare gemstones in the streams of this beautiful area.

The Types Of Gemstones Found At Ledges State Park

In this area, you may often find the following gemstones:

  • Calcite
  • Dolomite
  • Gypsum
  • Quartz

The Best Time To Visit Ledges State Park

The best time to visit Ledges State Park is from April through October. During this time, the park’s streams and creeks are stocked with various gems and fossils that can be found by panning or sluicing. The park also offers guided tours throughout the summer months, so gem hunters can learn more about where to search for gems and get tips on finding their treasures.

Rock pick being used

The tools every gem hunter will need

When you're out looking for gems it's very important that you bring the right tools with you. 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 gem miners which we outline in great detail in our complete rockhounding equipment 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 gem-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.

Maquoketa Caves State Park

Three people digging for gems at Maquoketa Caves State Park

9688 Caves Rd, Maquoketa, IA 52060, United States

Maquoketa Caves State Park is home to some of the unique gem mining experiences in the Midwest and one of the best places for amazing crystal hunting in Iowa. The park’s caves are filled with various rocks and gems. The park also offers gem identification services to help gem miners identify what they have found. With its unique geology and stunning views of the surrounding landscape, Maquoketa Caves State Park is an excellent place to explore and discover some truly remarkable gems!

The Types Of Gemstones Found At Maquoketa Caves State Park

Some of the hidden gems found here include the following:

  • Agate
  • Dolomite
  • Quartz

It’s very easy to confuse some of the more common gems out here, so we created helpful guides to telling them apart:

The Best Time To Visit Maquoketa Caves State Park

The best time to visit Maquoketa Caves State Park is during the late spring and summer months. The weather is typically mild, and the ground is dry enough to search for gems.

Big Creek State Park

A gorgeous Agate located at Big Creek State Park

8794 NW 125th Ave, Polk City, IA 50226, United States

Big Creek State Park is one of the most popular state parks in the state and offers a variety of activities for visitors to enjoy. The park has over 1,500 acres of land and includes a lake, wetlands, woodlands, and prairies, where gem hunters can look for gemstones.

When we visited this state park, they suggested we go to their on-site nature center with educational programs on the area’s geological features. After experiencing what the state park offers, we highly recommend hunting for gems here.

The Types Of Gemstones Found At Big Creek State Park

The area is home to a large number of rare gems. Here are some of the gemstones found here:

  • Agate
  • Jasper

The Best Time To Visit Big Creek State Park

The best time to visit Big Creek State Park to hunt for gems is May to August. The warmer temperatures and longer days make it easier to search for gems. The park also offers gem hunters to do mining activities during the spring and fall, but the weather can be unpredictable.

Crystal Cave Lake – Great for kids

Children looking for gemstones at Crystal Cave Lake

6684 Crystal Lake Cave Rd, Dubuque, IA 52003, United States

Crystal Cave Lake Gem Mining offers gem miners the opportunity to experience the thrill of discovering real gems. You can purchase buckets of gem mix and use specialized mining equipment to search for precious gems. Once you find some, you can take them home as a souvenir.

Additionally, they offered us educational classes and field trips to learn more about the geology and history of gems when we went to this area. We also received detailed instructions on properly using the mining equipment and safety tips for avoiding accidents or injuries while searching for gems.

The Types Of Gemstones Found At Crystal Cave Lake

There are various gems in this location. Some of the gemstones we’ve discovered here are:

  • Agate
  • Amethyst
  • Calcite
  • Celestite
  • Chalcedony
  • Quartz
  • Rhodochrosite
  • Smoky Quartz

The Best Time To Visit Crystal Cave Lake

Spook Cave And Campground – Great for kids

Two girls finding gems at Spook Cave and Campground

13299 Spook Cave Rd, McGregor, IA 52157, United States

Spook Cave and Campground is an outdoor adventure park located in the scenic town of McGregor. It is an excellent place for families and friends to enjoy gem hunting, camping, hiking, and more. Spook Cave offers a wide variety of activities to keep everyone entertained.

Gem mining is one of the campground attractions, and gem hunters can rent sluice boxes and pans to search for precious gems.

The Types Of Gemstones Found At Spook Cave And Campground

Some of the gemstones that can be found here are:

  • Calcite
  • Celestite
  • Fluorite
  • Gypsum
  • Pyrite
  • Quartz

The Best Time To Visit Spook Cave And Campground

The best time to visit Spooky Cave and Campground is in the summer. This is when the weather is warm and dry, making it the perfect time to explore the caves for gems and camp in the area. They are open year-round, but we got the best experience from our visit in the summer.

Other Great Options For Real Gem Mining in Iowa

Many pretty Jaspers found while real gem mining in Iowa

Our state offers even more amazing spots for real gem mining other than the list we’ve already recommended above. The following areas are perfect for experienced gem hunters:

The Top Public Gem Mining Locations in Iowa

Kids doing public gem mining in Iowa

In our state, there are more places for public gem mining that are kid-friendly and teach kids about gems. Notable locations include the ones listed below:

  • Bondurant City Park – Bondurant, IA 50035, United States
  • The Noble Stone – 4510 220th Trail, Amana, IA 52203, United States

Iowa Gem Mining Laws And Regulations

In Iowa, all individuals engaging in gem hunting must obtain a permit from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR). The DNR issues permits for private landowners or public land owners who consent to collect on their property. The state’s regulations cover various topics, including the types of equipment and tools used, where hunting is allowed, and the size of any material collected. It is essential to be aware that some areas may be closed to collecting by law or ordinance.

For further details about Iowa’s gem mining laws and regulations, visit the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) website link above.

Additional Places To Mine For Gems In Nearby States

If you’ve already tried all of our recommendations above or are planning a trip out of the state you should check out our guides for neighboring states:

If you have any recommendations we haven’t covered please leave them in the comments 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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