Lake Superior Agate Hunting

How to find and identify Lake Superior agates.

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There is a picture-perfect scene of sunbeams moving across the horizon but our eyes our focused straight down at the rocky beach where the Temperance River pours into Lake Superior.

I’m walking at a snail’s pace with Tia and Jacob, a couple agate-enthusiasts from Caribou Highlands Lodge.

“Found one! Boom! Boom!” Tia exclaims. She opens her palm, revealing a cratered rock with shiny bands of earthy colors.

What’s an Agate?

“Lake Superior Agates, in particular, are jewels of the past.” Tia explains. “They came from lava rock from where the continents split apart, it’s iron-rich and it formed these gas bubbles. Liquids and other minerals smashed together, and did layers and layers of that until they form really massive agates.”

Quotation mark
“Lake Superior Agates, in particular, are jewels of the past.”
— Tia, Activities Director at Caribou Highlands
Quotation mark

Well, sometimes massive. Among Tia’s prized collection are agates not much bigger than a grain of coarse sand, but if you look closely, you can see all the same bands of colors as the larger finds.

“It took me a really long time to figure out what was an agate, and what wasn’t. And once I did, I started seeing them everywhere.” Tia says.

A Park Ranger soon approached. “Are you looking for agates?” he asks. Uh oh. This beach is part of Temperance River State park. Like all Minnesota State Parks, you can look for agates here, pick them up and admire them – but you can’t keep them. “I have to ask you to throw those back in the lake.” He said.

A selection of the day's bounty.

Tia nods and throws a rainbow of gems into the waves for the next sharp-eyed beach combers to find. If you want to take agates home, you’ll have to find a beach outside of State Park land. Think of it as catch-and-release.

Searching for agates can turn up some other interesting finds too. Keep your eyes peeled for sea glass - remnants of broken glass bottles that have been rounded and polished by waves into pearls of bright green, brown or blue.

As much fun as us grown-ups are having, beach combing on Lake Superior is an awesome kids’ activity too.  It’s free, you don’t have to hike far, and the thrill of finding a unique piece of geologic history is undeniable.

The wide view of the beach is certainly beautiful. Hunting for agates gives you a chance to experience it in so much more detail. And, provided you’re not in a State Park, you can even take home a billion-year-old souvenir.

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Video Transcript

Tia 0:04
Lakes Superior agates in particular are jewels of the past

Jacob 0:09
You never know what you might find.

Tia 0:15
They came from lava rock from where the continent split apart. The lava rock came out iron rich, and it formed these gas bubbles, and another one. Boom boom!

Jacob 0:26
Bingo!

Tia 0:27
And in those gas bubbles, liquids and other minerals smashed together. They did layers and layers of that until they form really massive agates

Jacob 0:38
Oh, here we go Tia.

Tia 0:39
Oh man!

Jacob 0:41
That's a nice quartz crystal. What do you find there?

Tia 0:46
A big booger. Just kidding. It's my agate.

Jacob 0:50
That one's pretty cool.

Tia 0:51
Look at those stratifications on it.

Jacob 0:53
Nobody says that in real life.

Tia 0:55
I do. What do you have?

Jacob 0:57
I found this one on the beach.

Tia 0:59
Oh, my gosh.

Jacob 1:00
Look it I've never found one with like black quartz in it.

Tia 1:03
I found somewhat similar to yours. Not quite as great, but…

Jacob 1:07
That one looks like a foreign planet.

Tia 1:09
It does that. Sulfery yellow.

Jacob 1:12
It's got all those veins.

Tia 1:13
Look at all those little craters in there.

Jacob 1:16
If that was a planet, what would you name it?

Tia 1:18
Bands.

Jacob 1:18
You know you gave me a hard time. Really? I don't even know if I want to show you this other one. I found.

Tia 1:22
Oh no. How good is it?

Jacob 1:24
It's pretty nice. It was found like this first. And I flipped it over and it had this this gorgeous, gorgeous lines. Look at that like dark bluish hue in the middle.

Tia 1:38
You're making me look bad!

You can find all these on all the little beaches, specifically ones where they're smaller, more broken up rocks and pebbles. Anybody and everybody can do young old. Honestly, I didn't get into this until two years after I got here. It took me a really long time to figure out what was an agate and what wasn't. And once I did, I started seeing them everywhere.

Basalt. Rhyolite. Sea glass. Jasper. Thompsonite. Quartz. Lake Superior agate.

They are so different so unique and knowing their geologic past is really just exciting. It's like finding a diamond in the rough. And that's exactly what it is just one from the Great Lake Superior.

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