Fossils are abundant in Oregon. From the Coastal Range (which was once under the Pacific Ocean) to the high desert of Central and Eastern Oregon (much of which was a lush jungle and dotted with ancient lakes), there are countless areas to explore.
This article highlights a few of the more popular and productive places you can hunt for fossils. A wide variety of different species can be found depending on your location. Most commonly you will find petrified wood and various invertebrate species. On rare occasion, larger animal bones and vertebrate fossils are recovered.
Just keep in mind that there are special rules regarding fossil collecting, particularly on public lands. These relate to the quantity and types of fossils you can keep. Also remember that some places, such as the John Day Fossil Beds, are completely off-limits to collecting.
Here are 15 noteworthy places to search for fossils. For more information on these sites and more specific information about their locations, I highly recommend that you pick up one of the many good books about minerals in Oregon, such as Gem Trails of Oregon, Rockhounding Oregon, Roadside Geology of Oregon, and Oregon Fossils.
1. Arbuckle Mountain
Large fossilized leaf imprints can be found around Arbuckle Mountain near Heppner. The imprints can be found by splitting apart rocks and exposing the imprints. There are several places in the surrounding area to look, with some smaller visible fossils to be located right on the surface. Better pieces will require hammering and chiseling to expose.
2. Beulah Reservoir
This site is located near Juntura in Southeastern Oregon. It is a fairly remote area that doesn’t get visited by many. You will see white chalk hillsides exposed all around the reservoir, particularly during the summer when water levels are low. Good quality leaf fossils can be found by searching these chalk areas.
3. Beverly Beach
Located between Depoe Bay and Newport, this beach is a good area to search for a variety of fossils. You can find clams, snails, and other invertebrate fossils at Beverly Beach, and a hardcore beachcomber might even spot a vertebrate fossil like whale bones and such. These are less common but do turn up from time to time.
4. Calapooia River
This river is a good rockhounding location near Sweet Home. A favorite of the areas is quality petrified wood that can be found in the gravel bars of the river. The best times are during low water years and in late summer. Walk along the river banks and see what you can turn up.
5. Delintment Lake
This is a site to find ammonite fossils north of Burns, Oregon near the town of Paulina and Weburg. This is one of those places that you have to make a point to visit or you would never go there. There are lots of good fossil digging sites in this general area.
6. Eagle Creek
Eagle Creek flows out of the southern end of the Wallowa Mountains. This was a rich gold mining area, but the road that follows Eagle Creek will also produce some nice fossil specimens. Search the roadside where it cuts across limestone host material. A variety of different fossils can be found.
It should be no surprise that the town of Fossil is a hotbed of fossil sites! There are tons of places to dig in this area. Ask locals and they might tip you off to some of the lesser-known areas. However, the easiest place to go is right behind the high school. You can put money in the self-serve kiosk at the school and dig around the hillside for various type of leaf fossils.
8. Hampton Butte
This remote part of central Oregon is a well-known area for rockhounds. Hampton Butte is particular interesting because of a rare variety of green petrified wood here. The better pieces can be found as complete log section and are highly prized and valuable. The butte is located north of Brother, Oregon, a little town along Highway 20 east of Bend.
A favorite location to search for ancient petrified wood specimens is in far southeastern Oregon, just north of the Nevada border near the town of McDermitt. The collecting area here is widespread with ample public lands open to explore. You will find many pits to dig in. Petrified wood is the prize here, but there are also jaspers and agates to keep your eye out for.
10. Nehalem River
A short distance from the towns of Jewell you can find fossils in many locations. The quarries in the area are known producers. There are all sorts of different marine fossils here from a time when this area was covered by the ocean. They have naturally collected in the Nehalem River and this is a great place to search for them. Tributaries will contain fossils as well. Explore exposed gravel bars during late summer.
11. Lost Creek
Lost Creek is south of Newport and is a good site for marine fossils. Search beaches during low tide when there is good debris accumulation.
12. North Beede Reservoir
This reservoir located between Burns and Juntura. Chalky hills in the area are ancient lake sediments that contain leaf fossils. Use your rock hammer and break apart materials to search for good specimens.
13. Short Beach
Short Beach near Tillamook is another good location for fossils and also petrified wood. Cobbles along the beach will contain various marine fossil concretions. Some upland sites above the beach will also contains some good fossils.
14. Succor Creek
Succor Creek is one of the most popular rockhounding locations in Eastern Oregon. Primarily known for picture jasper and thunder eggs, there are also some good petrified wood specimens that can be found here. Search throughout the sage for good specimens. This is a large area and there are still some good pieces left to find.
This remote corner of Southeastern Oregon you can find some nice leaf fossils. Explore chalky hillsides around the towns of Fields, Oregon to Denio, Nevada. Split apart layers of clay material for leaf imprints for your collection.