How to Start Agate Hunting on the North Shore

Nestled along the rugged coastline of Lake Superior, the northern edges of Minnesota are a rockhounding paradise
Baptism River in Tettegouche State Park
Baptism River in Tettegouche State Park

Alesha Taylor

What began as a single parent’s family bonding activity with his two daughters turned into a lifelong pursuit of Minnesota’s biggest, heaviest agates—a successful pursuit, to boot. 

“When my daughters got old enough to go for walks, we’d go to a nearby gravel pit and rock hunt,” says Lyndon Johnson, a self-proclaimed geology expert from Sauk Rapids. “I showed them what agates were, and it just became a big family passion—a huge family bonding time. From then on, I just started finding unbelievable stuff I didn’t know existed.” 

Known affectionately as “The Agate Man,” Johnson knows what it takes to put boots on the ground and put in the miles in search of one of Minnesota’s best-kept secrets: agates. 

Agates are semiprecious gemstones known for their colorful and banded appearance. They are typically found in areas that were once covered by ancient seas. Lake Superior agates are often prized for their vibrant hues, which range from red and orange to yellow, brown, and even blue. According to Johnson, that’s all to do with Minnesota being such a mineral-rich region. 

Before summer’s end paints the landscape with its own fiery hues of red and gold, agate enthusiasts should visit the picturesque North Shore for prime hunting grounds.

Bluefin Bay
Bluefin Bay

Layne Kennedy

What Are Agates?

Lake Superior agates are some of the oldest in the world—over a billion years old. Because they were moved by glaciers, they’re often found in gravel pits, beaches, or along creeks and riverbeds—basically anywhere water erosion has exposed glacial deposits. Agates form when silica-rich fluids fill cavities or voids in rocks, resulting in layers of alternating colors and patterns.

Keep an eye out for rounded, smooth, walnut-size stones with distinctive banding and vibrant colors. Johnson says reds are the most common because of northern Minnesota’s iron-concentrated ground. “When in doubt, dig it out—anything colorful with banding and a waxy appearance,” he says. “Sometimes they don’t expose themselves so easy and you might need a small magnifying glass. And agates are translucent, so holding up a small, strong flashlight to it might help you determine if it’s an agate or not.”

Lyndon Johnson
Lyndon Johnson

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Where to Look

For an agate-hunting expedition along the North Shore, several key locations beckon. Note, some locales allow only looking, not taking, so check local rules before bringing anything home. Take time to carefully scan the shoreline, paying close attention to areas where rocks and driftwood accumulate. Agates often blend in with their surroundings, so a patient and methodical approach is key to spotting these hidden gems.

Start at a public beach or any other location that has exposed rock gravel. One such hot spot is Grand Marais, where the rocky shoreline yields a variety of agates washed ashore by Lake Superior’s relentless currents. Just south of Grand Marais, Cut Face Creek Wayside offers another accessible agate beach and is a haven for veteran rock collectors.

For those willing to venture off the beaten path, the outcrops and secluded coves of Beaver River Beach provide ample opportunities for agate hunting. Along the rugged terrain where Beaver River and Lake Superior converge, be sure to scan the shoreline and tide pools for signs of agates gleaming amid the natural debris.

The rocky shores of Brighton Beach and Stoney Point—between Duluth and Two Harbors along Highway 61—are other promising locales. Wander along the pebbled beaches and explore the nooks and crannies of the shoreline, where agates often hide among the rocks and driftwood.

Betty's Pies
Betty’s Pies

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More to Explore

Stretching from Duluth to Grand Portage, the Highway 61 drive is an iconic rite of passage for adventurous Minnesotans along the Lake Superior shoreline. Visitors will find ample accommodations, dining and libations, and extracurricular activities against a stunning backdrop.

Beaver Bay’s Cove Point Lodge offers rustic cabins and lodge rooms with lake views. Alternatively, Bluefin Bay on Lake Superior provides a quintessential North Shore experience with scenic lakeside suites, as well as complimentary guided hikes, guided bike excursions, kayak lessons, kids’ activities, live music, and more. In Grand Marais, the Harbor Inn offers comfortable rooms with harbor views, while the East Bay Suites are
spacious with modern amenities and easy access to downtown shops and restaurants.

When it comes to dining, the North Shore celebrates the region’s rich flavors and local ingredients. At the Angry Trout Cafe in Grand Marais, diners can savor fresh-caught fish and locally sourced produce while enjoying panoramic views of Lake Superior. For a taste of northwoods comfort food, head to the Gunflint Tavern for hearty soups, sandwiches, and pizzas served alongside an impressive selection of craft beers and cocktails. 

In Two Harbors, visitors can dine at the Ledge Rock Grille, where stunning seascape views complement seasonal dishes made with locally sourced ingredients. Grab a brew at Castle Danger Brewery, and, for a casual dining experience in Two Harbors, stop at Betty’s Pies, a beloved North Shore institution known for homemade pies and classic diner fare.


Know Before You Go

Become familiar with the characteristics of agates, including their distinctive banding, translucent appearance, and vibrant colors. Keep in mind that agates come in a variety of shapes and sizes, ranging from small pebbles to larger, more elaborate specimens.

Also, carry the essential tools for agate hunting, including a sturdy pair of hiking boots, a backpack for toting supplies, a small flashlight, and a magnifying glass, such as a jeweler’s loupe. A small shovel or trowel can also be useful for digging in sandy or gravelly areas.

Remember to tread lightly and leave no trace as you explore Minnesota’s North Shore. Respect the natural environment and wildlife and adhere to park regulations regarding rock collecting and beachcombing.


Advice from ‘The Agate Man’

A self-taught geologist, Lyndon Johnson has been collecting agates, fossils, and gemstones for more than 30 years. He has even collected two of the state’s largest agates on record. Naturally, we had some questions for him.

Tell us about yourself. 

For me, rock hunting is a Minnesota pride thing. I like showing others [during presentations at schools and libraries] what to look for, and I put thousands of miles on throughout the year. If I can find it, anybody else can, too—you just need to learn where, how, and what to look for. Over the years, I’ve accumulated 1,800 pounds of agates, and my biggest is just over 30 pounds.

Can you share a favorite story from your time spent agate hunting? 

This winter I found a 20-pound agate. I woke up and had a premonition, and I thought to myself, “We don’t have snow. I’m gonna go rock hunting, and I’m gonna find the biggest, most beautiful agate.” I headed to a field that I hadn’t been to in nine years. I just had a good feeling. Very few agates over 20 pounds have ever been found, and now I have two.

What advice would you offer those eager to try agate hunting? 

Just get out and enjoy the day in nature. If you find something, that’s a bonus. It’s kinda like gold fever—you get hooked and want to find more.

As editor-in-chief of Minnesota Monthly and Greenspring Media’s Editorial Director, Alesha Taylor guides a team of storytellers and writers. She has over a decade of experience in publishing, communications, and marketing, and brings a diverse perspective to editorial planning and execution. Born and raised in Minnesota, she’s a self-described bookworm, Bravo junkie, DIYer, and thrifting enthusiast.