The Common And Valuable Rocks, Minerals, and Gems of Idaho You Should Know

By Dr. Keith Jackson - Geology PhD

| Updated

The Common And Valuable Rocks, Minerals, and Gems of Idaho You Should Know

By Dr. Keith Jackson - Geology PhD

Updated

Idaho is rich in natural resources, including a variety of minerals and gemstones. The types of rocks found in Idaho range from precious gems to valuable ores, including star garnet, gold, and galena.

However, finding these treasures can be challenging without knowing what to look for or where to start your search. It helps to have some knowledge about these natural wonders to make your hunt successful. 

Being familiar with what each of these looks like and understanding where they might be found can turn an outdoor adventure in Idaho into a rewarding treasure hunt.

A List of The Common Rocks, Stones, and Minerals Found in Idaho

Idaho is a treasure chest filled with a variety of rocks and minerals that capture the imagination of collectors and enthusiasts. Learn more about the rocks and minerals you can find in the state:

The Idaho State Rock, Mineral, and Gem

Before we get into the specifics, it helps to know what the official state options are:

Idaho State Gem Star Garnet

Rockhounding in Idaho can be a fun adventure, but it’s important to know the rules before you start.

The Idaho Department of Lands provides helpful tips and guidelines for rock collectors to ensure they enjoy their hobby responsibly.

Anglesite

yellow anglesite crystal
Anglesite provided by Danzrockshop

Anglesite is a mineral made of lead sulfate. It’s often found in areas where lead ore has been exposed to oxygen and sulfur. This mineral stands out because of its high density and ability to form crystals that can be quite large.

Anglesite can be transparent to translucent and has a color range from colorless to white, gray, or even yellowish.

In the past, anglesite was used to extract lead for various uses, including batteries and pipes. Today, it’s mainly a collector’s mineral, valued for its crystal forms and sometimes cut into gemstones for jewelry.

Where you can find anglesite in Idaho

Azurite

deep blue azurite crystal
Azurite provided by UAmineral

Azurite is a deep blue mineral that gets its color from copper. It often appears in places where copper ores are exposed to air and water.

This mineral is known for its vivid blue color and beautiful crystal formations. Azurite can also change into another mineral called malachite, which is green, creating a stunning contrast.

Artists in the past used azurite as a pigment to make blue paint. Today, it is mostly collected by mineral enthusiasts and sometimes used in jewelry for its striking color.

Where you can find azurite in Idaho

  • Custer County
  • Kaufman
  • Peacock Mine
  • Paris Canyon

Bismuth

iridescent bismuth crystal
Bismuth provided by StandingonaSoapbox

Bismuth is a metal that is often found in its native form, which means it’s not combined with other elements. It has a distinctive pinkish color with a slight iridescent sheen, making it quite eye-catching.

One of the most interesting things about bismuth is that when it cools from a liquid to a solid, it expands instead of shrinking like most materials. This property creates fascinating geometric shapes in naturally occurring bismuth crystals.

Bismuth is used in a variety of products, including stomach medicine because it’s nontoxic. It’s also used in cosmetics, pigments, and some types of low-melting alloys that melt easily to form a safety valve in fire sprinkler systems.

Where you can find bismuth in Idaho

  • Rock Creek area
  • Placerville
  • Lemhi County

Calcite

white calcite crystal cluster
Calcite provided by LolosCurios

Calcite is a common mineral that can be found all over the world, including as part of the rocks and minerals found in Idaho. It’s made of calcium carbonate and comes in many colors, from clear to black.

Calcite is known for its ability to split into rhomboid shapes and for fizzing when it comes into contact with a weak acid. This reaction happens because of the calcium carbonate in the calcite reacting with the acid.

People use calcite in the construction of buildings and roads. It’s also ground up to make cement and is an important part of toothpaste, giving it the abrasive quality needed for cleaning teeth.

Where you can find calcite in Idaho

Chalcedony

white chalcedony geode
Chalcedony provided by Spirifer Minerals

Chalcedony is a type of quartz that’s made up of very fine intergrowths of the minerals quartz and moganite. It has a waxy luster and can be found in a variety of colors, including white, blue, gray, and orange.

This mineral is formed when silica-rich water flows through rock cracks and cavities and then solidifies. Over time, the silica layers build up to form chalcedony.

Chalcedony is known for its smooth texture and durability, making it popular for use in jewelry and decorative items. It’s often carved into beads or cabochons and used in necklaces, rings, and bracelets.

Where you can find chalcedony in Idaho

  • Graveyard Point
  • Beacon Hill
  • Rabbit Springs

Pyrite

golden cubic pyrite crystal cluster
Pyrite provided by CrystabelleMinerals

Pyrite, often called fool’s gold, is a shiny, brass-yellow mineral that looks similar to real gold. It forms in high-temperature environments, often associated with other minerals like quartz and calcite.

This mineral is famous for its metallic luster and cubic crystal structure, making it a favorite among collectors.

Pyrite can create sparks when struck against metal or another hard material, which is why it was used in early firearms to help ignite gunpowder.

It’s also used in the manufacture of sulfuric acid and as a source of sulfur in the chemical industry.

Where you can find pyrite in Idaho

  • Hells Canyon Area
  • Bear River Range
  • Alturas Lake Creek Area
  • Idaho County

Smoky Quartz

translucent brown smoky quartz crystal
Smoky quartz provided by HealingCrystalShopCA

Smoky quartz is a type of quartz that gets its brown to black color from natural radiation from the earth. It’s found in many parts of the world and is formed when silicon dioxide is exposed to radioactive elements over long periods.

This gemstone is known for its transparency and can range from a light smoky gray to almost black. Smoky quartz is also quite durable, making it perfect for all kinds of jewelry.

People use smoky quartz in rings, necklaces, and bracelets because of its beauty and versatility. It’s also believed to have calming properties, which is why some people keep it in their homes or wear it for stress relief.

Where you can find smoky quartz in Idaho

  • Benedict Creek area
  • Fairfield
  • Glens Peak area
  • Coeur d’Alene

The Gemstones Found in Idaho

Exploring Idaho gives adventurers the chance to find beautiful gems that add color and excitement to their collections. You can find more information in the guides below:

Aquamarine

translucent pale blue aquamarine crystal
Aquamarine provided by Fossilera

Aquamarine is a beautiful gemstone known for its stunning blue to greenish-blue colors. It’s part of the beryl family, which also includes emeralds.

This gemstone is formed in pegmatite rocks and often found in countries like Brazil, Nigeria, and Pakistan. The color of aquamarine comes from iron impurities within the beryl crystal.

The value of aquamarine depends on its depth of color and clarity, with deeper blue stones being the most sought after.

Jewelers use aquamarine in a variety of settings, including rings, necklaces, and earrings, because of its durability and the calming color that reminds people of the sea.

Where you can find aquamarine in Idaho

  • Ardeth Lake
  • Weippe
  • Glens Peak area
  • Ola Ridge

Diamonds

rough brown diamond crystal
Diamond provided by DroomDiamond

Diamonds are one of the hardest natural substances found on Earth. They are formed deep within the Earth’s mantle under extreme pressure and heat, then brought to the surface by volcanic eruptions. 

Diamonds are well-known for their incredible brilliance and unmatched hardness, making them highly valuable. These characteristics allow diamonds to be cut in various shapes to maximize their sparkle. 

People use diamonds for jewelry like rings, necklaces, and earrings because of their beauty and durability.

Beyond adornment, diamonds are also used in industrial settings for cutting, grinding, and drilling because they can cut through almost any material.

Where you can find diamonds in Idaho

  • Little Goose Creek Canyon

Precious Opal

rough white opal with play-of-color
Precious opal provided by meemgemsjewels

Precious opal is known for its stunning play of colors, which can include flashes of rainbow hues that change with the angle of light. It is formed from silica-rich water that seeps into the earth, filling cracks and voids, and then hardens over time.

This gemstone has a fascinating feature called “opalescence,” which is the shimmering of colors that seems to move across the stone. The colors you see in precious opal depend on the size of the silica particles within it.

People love using precious opal in jewelry because its colors can complement any outfit or occasion. It is often set in rings, necklaces, and earrings, where it catches the light and shows off its beautiful colors.

Where you can find precious opal in Idaho

  • Spencer
  • Enterprise
  • Moscow
  • Blue Grouse Opal Mine

Sapphire

rough blue sapphire crystal
Sapphire provided by GalleryMinerals

Sapphire is a precious gemstone that is most commonly known for its deep blue color. It is made of a mineral called corundum and gets its colors from trace amounts of other elements, like iron and titanium. 

This gemstone is incredibly hard, making it resistant to scratches and other forms of damage. The only natural item that can scratch a sapphire is a diamond.

Sapphires are used in various types of jewelry, including rings, necklaces, and earrings, because of their beauty and durability.

They are also sometimes used in watches and scientific instruments because they can withstand high pressures and are resistant to heat.

Where you can find sapphire in Idaho

  • Rhodes Creek
  • Orofino Creek
  • Golden Rule Placer

Star Garnet

raw deep red star garnet crystal
Star garnet provided by TerraSolace

Star garnet is a rare type of garnet that shows a star pattern on its surface when polished and viewed in direct light. It’s one of the gemstones found in Idaho, making it a special find for rock collectors and gem enthusiasts.

This gemstone gets its star effect, known as asterism, from tiny rutile needles within the stone that reflect light in a four-point or six-point star pattern.

Star garnet is so rare that Idaho and India are the only two places in the world where it can be found in significant quantities.

People use star garnet in jewelry, such as rings and pendants, to showcase its unique beauty and rarity.

Because of its distinctive look, star garnet is highly sought after by collectors and can be a prized possession for anyone interested in gemstones.

Where you can find star garnet in Idaho

Topaz

translucent topaz crystal on black tourmaline
Topaz provided by Weinrich Minerals

Topaz is a gemstone that comes in many colors, including blue, clear, pink, and yellow. It is formed in rocks that are rich in fluorine and often found in areas with volcanic activity or in pegmatites.

This gemstone is known for its hardness, which makes it durable and resistant to scratches. Topaz can also show a beautiful sparkle and clarity, making it a favorite for jewelers.

People use topaz in jewelry like necklaces, rings, and earrings because of its range of colors and its ability to catch the light. Additionally, topaz is believed to have calming properties, leading some to use it for meditation and relaxation.

Where you can find topaz in Idaho

  • Little Spangle Lake
  • Upper Cramer Lake
  • Glens Peak
  • Redfish Lake Creek area

Tourmaline

deep red tourmaline crystal
Tourmaline provided by TheCitrinGallery

Tourmaline is a colorful gemstone that can be found in almost every color, from clear to black, and even multicolored. It’s formed in a variety of environments, but most commonly in pegmatite, a type of igneous rock.

This gemstone is known for its ability to become electrically charged when heated or squeezed, a property known as piezoelectricity. Its wide range of colors is due to the different elements it contains, like iron, manganese, and lithium.

Tourmaline is used in jewelry because of its beauty and durability, making it perfect for everyday wear. It’s also used in some electrical devices because of its unique electrical properties.

Where you can find tourmaline in Idaho

  • Little Goose Creek Canyon
  • Hall Mountain
  • Ola Ridge
  • Hoodoo Mountains

The Crystals Found in Idaho

Idaho’s diverse landscape is a treasure trove of sparkling crystals that can dazzle and intrigue collectors of all ages. Learn more about the crystals you can find in the state:

Cerussite

translucent white cerussite crystals
Cerussite provided by MineralogyRocks

Cerussite is a mineral made of lead carbonate, and it’s often found in the oxidation zones of lead ore deposits. This mineral forms sparkling, transparent to translucent crystals that can be quite striking. 

Cerussite is known for its high density and its ability to display strong dispersion, which means it can break light into all the colors of the rainbow, much like a diamond. The crystals can be colorless, white, gray, or even slightly tinted with blue or green.

While cerussite is mainly a source of lead, it’s also prized by mineral collectors for its beauty and rarity. In addition to being collected, it has been used historically to make white pigments for paints.

Where you can find cerussite in Idaho

  • Bear River Range
  • Hailey
  • Lemhi Range

Chrysocolla

teal botryoidal chrysocolla crystals on a rock
Chrysocolla provided by Spirifer Minerals

Chrysocolla is a mineral with a vibrant blue to green color, often found mixed with quartz and copper minerals. It forms when copper deposits, exposed to oxygen and water, undergo a chemical reaction.

This mineral is known for its soothing, blue-green hues and is often mistaken for turquoise because of its appearance. Chrysocolla doesn’t just look pretty; it also has a silky or glassy luster that adds to its appeal.

Jewelers use chrysocolla to make beautiful pieces of jewelry, such as necklaces and earrings, because of its striking color and unique patterns.

Beyond its use in jewelry, chrysocolla is also appreciated by collectors and those interested in the metaphysical properties attributed to it, believed to promote calm and tranquility.

Where you can find chrysocolla in Idaho

  • Blizzard Mountain
  • Kaufman
  • Freeman Creek
  • Snake River

Covellite

rough blue covellite crystal
Covellite provided by MineralogyRocks

Covellite is a rare mineral with a striking indigo blue color, often found in copper deposits. It forms through the alteration of other copper sulfides, such as chalcopyrite, in the presence of sulfur.

This mineral is easily recognized by its deep blue color and metallic luster, which make it stand out among other minerals. Covellite can also show a beautiful iridescence, displaying shades of blue, purple, and sometimes red on its surface.

Covellite is valued not only for its appearance but also for its copper content, which is extracted for various uses. Additionally, covellite is sometimes used in jewelry, where its unique color and iridescence can be showcased.

Where you can find covellite in Idaho

Fluorite

green cubic fluorite crystal cluster
Fluorite provided by JoshZminerals

Fluorite is a colorful mineral that comes in shades of purple, green, yellow, and even clear. It forms when mineral-rich water cools and chemicals combine to create solid crystals.

Fluorite is famous for its ability to glow under ultraviolet light and for having a perfect octahedral cleavage, meaning it can split into pieces with flat, eight-sided surfaces.

Its wide range of colors and fluorescence make it a favorite among mineral collectors. It is used in making jewelry and decorative items because of its beauty and vibrant colors.

Beyond its aesthetic value, fluorite is also used in the manufacturing of steel and aluminum, as well as in the production of certain types of glass and hydrofluoric acid.

Where you can find fluorite in Idaho

  • Keystone Mountain
  • Little Fall Creek
  • Big Creek
  • Salmon River Breaks

Hemimorphite

sky blue hemimorphite crystal
Hemimorphite provided by StructureMinerals

Hemimorphite is a mineral that forms from the alteration of zinc and lead deposits. It is often found lining the walls of rock cavities where it crystallizes from hydrothermal fluids.

This mineral is unique because it has different crystal forms at each end of a crystal, a characteristic referred to as hemimorphism. Hemimorphite can range in color from white to blue or green and often has a sparkling or glassy appearance.

Among the crystals found in Idaho, hemimorphite stands out for its beauty and is sought after by mineral collectors. It is also used in jewelry, where its attractive colors and luster can be displayed.

Where you can find hemimorphite in Idaho

  • Blizzard Mountain
  • Gilmore
  • Custer County

Smithsonite

pale blue botryoidal smithsonite crystal
Smithsonite provided by Weinrich Minerals

Smithsonite is a mineral that comes in a variety of colors, including blue, green, pink, and sometimes even yellow. It forms as a secondary mineral in the oxidation zone of zinc ore deposits, where zinc minerals react with carbon dioxide and water.

Smithsonite is known for its smooth, curved surfaces that resemble bubbles and for its shiny, glass-like appearance. It can also show a range of translucency, from opaque to nearly transparent.

It’s used primarily as a source of zinc, which is important in making metal alloys and galvanizing steel to prevent rust.

Besides its industrial uses, smithsonite is also valued by collectors for its aesthetic qualities and is occasionally cut into gemstones for jewelry.

Where you can find smithsonite in Idaho

  • Lemhi Range
  • Gilmore
  • Owyhee County

Wulfenite

yellow wulfenite crystals on a rock
Wulfenite provided by Danzrockshop

Wulfenite is a lead molybdate mineral that forms bright orange, yellow, or red crystals. It usually appears in the oxidation zones of lead ore deposits where lead and molybdenum elements combine with oxygen. 

This mineral is known for its thin, tabular crystals that can be almost transparent or brightly colored. Wulfenite’s unique square or rectangular plates make it easily recognizable and highly sought after by collectors.

While primarily collected for its beauty, wulfenite has also been used in the past as a minor ore of molybdenum, a metal used to strengthen steel.

Today, it’s valued more for its aesthetic and specimen importance than for its industrial use.

Where you can find wulfenite in Idaho

  • St. Charles Area
  • Bullion Creek
  • Lemhi County

The Most Valuable Rocks and Minerals in Idaho

Idaho is home to a variety of rocks and minerals that hold great value, not just for collectors but also for their roles in several industries.

These natural resources are key to many industrial processes, making them an important part of the state’s economy and heritage.

Galena

metallic gray galena crystal cluster
Galena provided by VSMINERALS

Galena is a shiny, gray mineral made mostly of lead sulfide, and it’s the main source of lead. It forms in a variety of geological settings, usually in sedimentary rocks associated with other minerals like sphalerite and fluorite.

Galena is easy to recognize because of its bright metallic luster and cubic crystals. Galena also has a high density, which makes it feel surprisingly heavy for its size.

People have used galena for thousands of years, originally extracting the lead to make items like pipes and paint. Today, it’s still mined for lead, which is used in batteries, radiation shields, and in the construction of buildings.

Where you can find galena in Idaho

  • Turner Area
  • Bear River Range
  • Boyle Mountain
  • Conner Creek Valley

Gold

native gold on a rock
Gold provided by StellarRite

Gold is a shiny, yellow metal that has been valued by people for thousands of years. It forms deep within the Earth and is brought to the surface through volcanic activity and the movement of the Earth’s plates. 

This metal is so soft and malleable, a single ounce can be stretched into a wire five miles long. Gold does not tarnish or rust, making it perfect for jewelry and coins.

Gold is used not only for making jewelry and decorative items but also in electronics because it conducts electricity well. It’s also stored by governments and individuals as a way to preserve wealth.

Where you can find gold in Idaho

  • New Meadows
  • Springfield Area
  • Snake River Area
  • Hoodoo Mountains

Siderite

brown siderite crystal cluster
Siderite provided by abijouxparis

Siderite is a mineral that’s made up of iron carbonate. It forms in sedimentary layers, often alongside minerals like quartz and calcite.

This mineral can be brown, yellowish-brown, or reddish-brown, and it has a crystal structure that can be either rhombohedral or spherical.

Siderite is one of the valuable rocks in Idaho, prized by both collectors and researchers for its beauty and geological significance. It’s used as an iron ore, extracting the iron for use in the steel-making process.

Additionally, siderite is studied by scientists to understand the conditions under which it forms, helping to piece together Earth’s history.

Where you can find siderite in Idaho

  • Moscow
  • Bellevue
  • Shoshone County

Silver

native silver on calcite
Silver provided by Fossilera

Silver is a shiny, white metal that’s been used for thousands of years. It’s found in the Earth’s crust and is often mined from ores that contain other elements like copper and lead.

This metal is the best natural conductor of electricity and heat, which makes it very useful. Silver is also known for being very malleable and ductile, meaning it can be shaped and stretched into thin wires.

People use silver to make jewelry, coins, and silverware because of its beauty and resistance to corrosion. It’s also used in electronics and solar panels for its excellent conductive properties.

Where you can find silver in Idaho

How to Identify The Rocks and Minerals Found in Idaho

Learning how to identify these natural wonders opens up a world of discovery and adventure right beneath our feet. Here are some easy things you can do to identify different rocks and minerals.

Hardness Test

several blue sapphire crystals
Sapphire provided by AfricanGemsIndia

One way to identify rocks, minerals, and gems is by testing their hardness.

This can be done using common objects like fingernails, which have a hardness of 2.5, coins with a hardness of about 3, and a steel blade at around 5.5 on the Mohs scale of mineral hardness.

Cerussite, for example, has a hardness of about 3 to 3.5, meaning a coin can scratch it but a steel blade might not. On the other hand, sapphire is much harder, with a rating of 9 on the Mohs scale.

This means that sapphire can scratch almost anything else, except for diamond, the hardest natural substance.

Luster Examination

metallic iridescent bismuth crystal
Bismuth provided by CrystaldragonGoods

Checking the luster of a mineral is a key step. Luster is how a mineral’s surface reflects light, and it varies from one kind to another.

For instance, opal has a glassy luster, which means it has a shiny surface that looks like glass. This quality can make opals stand out with their play-of-color when light hits them.

Bismuth, on the other hand, has a metallic luster, giving it a shiny appearance similar to metal. This feature, combined with its rainbow-like tarnish, makes bismuth easily recognizable.

Cleavage/Fracture

raw orange topaz crystal
Topaz provided by MineralsParadiseShop

Noticing how a mineral breaks can give you important clues about its identity.

Cleavage is when a rock splits along smooth, flat surfaces, while fracture is when the break is more uneven or jagged.

Topaz is a good example of a mineral with perfect cleavage; it breaks cleanly in one direction. This means that if you find a piece of topaz, you might see it splitting into neat, flat pieces.

Chalcedony, however, doesn’t have cleavage and instead shows a type of fracture known as conchoidal, where the breaks are curved and smooth, much like a broken piece of glass.

Density Check

metallic gray galena crystal cluster
Galena provided by HomeAgainVintageCo

When trying to figure out what kind of rock or mineral you have, feeling how heavy it is can be a big help. If a rock is surprisingly heavy for its size, it might contain dense minerals like galena.

This method of comparing the weight of rocks is especially useful in Idaho rock identification, where a variety of minerals can be found. By holding a rock in your hand and judging its heft, you can start to guess what it’s made of.

Remember, dense rocks like those containing metal ores will feel heavier than something like quartz. This simple test can give you clues about the rock’s composition before you even look at any other characteristics.

Fluorescence

translucent orange calcite crystals
Calcite provided by Arizonacrystalco

To find out if a rock, mineral, or gem has a special glow, you can use a UV light in a dark room. This glow is called fluorescence, and it happens when certain minerals absorb light and then release it, making them look like they’re glowing.

Some minerals that can show this cool effect are fluorite and calcite. Fluorite can glow in a range of colors from blue to green, while calcite often glows red or blue under UV light.

Not all minerals will fluoresce, so if yours doesn’t light up, it just means you have to look for other identification signs.

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.

Leave a Comment