What is the most popular activity on Michigan Great Lake beaches these days? Swimming? Sunbathing? Castle-building? Nope. With no hardcore data available, we’ll have to rely on observation. After a summer full of visits to close to a dozen different beaches, this reporter will go with Michigan rockhounding.
What We Will Cover
On Labor Day weekend, the beaches at Pier Cove and West County Park (south of Saugatuck) were filled with all kinds of people doing all kinds of things. But the number of people down at the shoreline, bent over the rocks being deposited with each wave of Lake Michigan, far outweighed those building sandcastles or reading a book.
Those who weren’t looking for rocks were likely wondering what in the world those strange people were doing with their scoops and buckets and water shoes. Beaches along that stretch of Lake Michigan offer all kinds of goodies for rock hunters, and they were out in force.
The sun sets on an evening of rockhounding along Lake Huron.
If you’ve been to Lake Michigan or Lake Huron or Lake Superior lately, you’ve seen them. The rockhounds. They range in age from toddler to serious seniors and cross all kinds of demographic lines. A quick Facebook search will reveal an abundance of rock-hunting, rock-identifying and rock-cutting (lapidary) groups.
Solitary No More
Craig McClarren, a geologist by trade and massive rockhound by desire, helps run a vibrant Facebook group called Michigan Rockhounds. He said social media has brought rockhounds together in a way never seen before.
“Rockhounding in Michigan has always been a popular pastime, but it has been an isolated and sometimes isolating one, conducted alone or with a father or mother, a daughter or son. But with the growth of social media, the hobby has become social itself.”
— Craig McClarren, geologist and rockhound
McClarren explained sites like Facebook have allowed individual rockhounds to discover they are not the only ones who collect. This has made them very happy.
McClarren got his undergraduate degree in geology from Michigan Tech and his master’s from the University at Buffalo. He is a major go-to when someone wants a rock identified. His YouTube channel has over 1,000 subscribers and includes some excellent videos aimed at helping hobbyists understand the geology behind the rocks.
“Social media has allowed hobbyists to learn about what they collect from scientists and professionals. This new social aspect has allowed the hobby to grow wildly in recent years, as more people become aware of it.”
Rockhounds have always yearned to find out exactly what they have in their collections. But now, thanks to social media and the internet, they can get relatively quick answers (if they know how to ask the right questions).
Michigan Social Media Rockhounds on Facebook
McClarren has been part of the Michigan Rockhounds (MR) Facebook group for several years. He said membership in the group has quadrupled in the past three years. Two years ago, there were around 30,000 members. Last year, they had around 95,000. Currently, they sit at around 128,000.
There is also a Michigan Rockhounds website, with articles and a well-used map of rockhounding spots around the state.
Headed to the UP and wondering where to go for good rock picking? Check out Michigan Rockhounds’ online map. The beach shown here is one of many listed in the Keweenaw Peninsula.
Upcoming “Picking Party”
The Michigan Rockhound Facebook group will hold a “rock picking” on Saturday, Sept. 23 from 11 am to 3 pm at Wilderness State Park in northern lower Michigan. Designed as a fun and relaxed afternoon, attendees will be guided by Craig McClarren (see above). Any rock fan of any experience level is encouraged to attend. More information, including a link to purchase tickets, is available on the MR website.
Michigan Rockhounds is not the only Facebook group for rockhounds, by a long shot. A search for rock and mineral groups turns up an abundance. For Michiganders, another highly active and helpful group is Great Lakes Rocks & Minerals. With more states involved, it has more members than Michigan Rockhounds (MR) — over 260,000. Like MR, discussions that go on in the group, along with posted photos, can be very educational for the beginning hobbyist.
Michigan’s ‘Best’ Rocks
The “best” rock to be found in Michigan is highly debatable. The Isle Royal Greenstone is extremely rare and sells for lots of money. Petoskey stones are wildly popular but also quite common — for those who know where to look and what to look for. But ask any rockhound and they will tell you, the “best” rock is the one that delights you, no matter what it looks like.
What is it?
Regardless of what kinds of rocks appeal, most, if not all, true rockhounds need and want to know what they have. It’s like a treasure hunt. Everyone wants to know if what they found is “valuable.”
With experience levels in the various rockhounding groups running from first-time rock puppies to full-blown geologists, the game of identifying one’s rocks is seriously popular. Daily discussions range from “Is this an agate” to “I’m going to the UP, where can I find good rocks?” to “Look what I found in my backyard!”
Learn Your Rocks
Most people grab whatever looks cool when they are out hunting. But once they get then home, they often head to social media for help in identifying their finds. Michigan Rockhounds is one of many Facebook groups aimed at helping people figure out what they have.
An even better way to learn about rocks and minerals is to attend one of MR’s in-person events. There is one coming up Sept. 23. See above (and the MR website) for more information.
If you post a photo of a rock in a Facebook group with the words “what is this?” you will get a lot of “it’s a rock” answers. You are expected to have done at least a little homework before you go seeking help. As importantly, you should not take the first answer you get. Experience levels in these social media groups vary widely. Some groups, including MR, have “expert” members tagged so it is easier to tell who knows what.
Is This an Agate?
That question, along with a photo, is a common occurrence in Facebook groups that focus on the Great Lakes region. In fate, there is a whole group titled “Is This An Agate?”
Agate? or Agates?
This post was recently sighted in one of the many Facebook groups devoted to rock hounding. The rock on the left bottom is a classic Lake Superior Agate. But the other two sparked some debate. Good photos, along with information about where exactly they were found, are extremely helpful. Would it surprise you to learn the for-sure agate shown here was found in a pile of landscape rocks?
Michigan’s state stone is known as the Petoskey Stone, its common name. Its real/scientific name is Hexagonaria percarinatum. The “hex” part of the name means “six-sided” (hexagon) and refers to the pattern on its surface. Those little star-like features are corallites. Petoskey stones are fossilized coral, from a shallow sea that covered the state over 360 million years ago. They were little polyp creatures living inside, much like the current critters found on reefs all over the world. The creatures are long, long gone but their homes remain.
Petoskey stones and Charlevoix stones (both shown here) are fossils. They both display a hexagonal pattern. But there are some key differences. The University of Michigan’s Museum of Paleontology’s Online Repository of Fossils is an excellent resource for information on the many different kinds of fossils you can find in Michigan. You can also visit various online forums for help in identify your finds.
In addition to the abundance of social media sites for the rock-loving community to hang out, there are also more and more places to buy rocks these days. Rock shops — along with rocks and minerals and/or “crystals” for sale inside gift shops — have been cropping up in tourist towns around Michigan more and more frequently. Rockhounding has become “hip,” geology is “cool” and geologists are the new superheroes.
Damon DuBois, owner of the MI Rock Stop in downtown Clare, saw the increased interest and opened his store three years ago.
This shop — offering all kinds of rocks and minerals plus gifts and special items from area artists, etc. — is located in downtown Clare. It is owned and operated by Damon DuBois.
“I have definitely noticed the increase in interest. Even my mom has gotten into it. It used to be, when I would show her a cool fossil, she’d just look and say ‘oh yes, that’s nice.’ But now she is out there looking for them!”
— Damon DuBois, owner of MI Rock Stop
DuBois attributes the increase in rockhounding statewide to two factors — COVID and the metaphysical movement that includes “crystals.”
He said COVID drove many people outside and back to nature, including strolling Michigan’s over 3,000 miles of Great Lakes coastline. Naturally, the rocks were there waiting for them. The interest in “crystals” — really just another name for rocks and minerals — was also a huge factor.
DuBois’ MI Rock Stop grew out of his many years of interest in rockhounding. He had always wanted to open a rock shop, a really nice one. MI Rock Stop is just that. With great curb appeal and a spacious, inviting interior, the shop has been a popular addition to Clare’s business district. The fact it is virtually right next door to the Cops and Doughnuts bakery doesn’t hurt.
Inside the shop, one can find a wide variety of rocks and minerals from both Michigan and beyond. The shop also includes artwork, gifts and many specialty items that complement the rock vibe. MI Rock Stop is located at 525 N. McEwan St. in downtown Clare. More information is available through their Facebook page.
Best Michigan Beaches for Rockhounding
If you’re keen on joining the Michigan Rockhounding community, knowing where to start your search is crucial. Michigan offers a plethora of beaches along its Great Lakes coastline, but not all are created equal when it comes to rockhounding. Here are some of the top beaches where you can find your next treasure.
Located south of Saugatuck, Pier Cove is a haven for rockhounds. The beach is known for its diverse range of rocks, from agates to fossilized corals. The constant churning of Lake Michigan ensures that new finds are deposited regularly.
West County Park
Another gem south of Saugatuck, West County Park is a family-friendly location that offers more than just a day at the beach. The shoreline is rich in quartz and other minerals, making it a popular spot for both novice and experienced rockhounds.
If you’re up for a trip to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, the Keweenaw Peninsula is a must-visit. Known for its copper deposits, the area also offers a variety of other minerals. The beaches here are less crowded, giving you plenty of space to explore.
Wilderness State Park
This park in northern lower Michigan is not only a beautiful natural reserve but also a rockhounding hotspot. The area is known for its Petoskey stones, Michigan’s state stone, which are fossilized corals dating back over 360 million years.
Situated along the shores of Lake Superior, Grand Marais is renowned for its agate beaches. The area is also rich in jasper and other semi-precious stones. It’s a perfect spot for those looking to add some color to their collection.
Each of these beaches offers something unique for rockhounds. Whether you’re a seasoned veteran or just starting, these locations provide a great backdrop for your next rock-hounding adventure. So grab your bucket and water shoes, and head to one of these Michigan beaches to discover what the rockhounding buzz is all about.
Final Thoughts About Michigan Rockhounding
Michigan Rockhounding is more than just a hobby; it’s a community brought together by the love of discovery. Whether you’re a seasoned geologist or a curious newbie, there’s a rock in Michigan waiting for you to find it.
About the author
Carla has been looking for agates (and other beauties) on Michigan beaches for almost 50 years. Her husband and son have also embraced the hobby. She is always looking for more rock stuff, so if you have a rock tumbler sitting around, gathering dust, let her know.