Lake Superior Agates
Growing up my younger sister was quite a little collector. She would regularly come home with pockets full of rocks and proudly show the family her treasures. Unique colors, neat shapes and interesting designs was how she would deem a rock worthy of her collection. Some of these rocks really were quite impressive actually, so impressive in fact that they piqued my dads interest enough that he went out and got a tumbler and rock cutter. This support in a little girls hobby quickly turned into one that took over the whole family – we became rock hunters!
Agates were of course the most sought after. The six of us would pile into the boat and take off from Nipigon onto Lake Superior to the treasure trove – Agate Island. After combing the beach we would wet our stones in the Lake to envision how they would look once polished. Some were large and often unassuming but once my dad cut them open they revealed a dazzling quartz cavern inside.
You begin to develop an eye and touch for seeking out these unique banded stones. I could pin point an agate anywhere I went and would often come home with pockets full myself. As we grew older, the family’s rock hunting waned though my dad never lost his love for geology and the practice of taking seemingly ordinary rocks and transforming them into precious shiny stones. My siblings and I still have our own cherished collections to this day.
What are Agates?
Agates were formed in gas pockets within ancient lava flows over 1 billion years ago. Throughout time with shifting grounds and weather exposure they were freed from the lava. Some distinguishing features of a Lake Superior agate are rich bands of red, orange, tan and yellow coloring caused by iron leached from rocks. The bands are each caused by different minerals that make up the stone. They are often smoothed by waves and sand and have a sort of waxy feel and translucency.
Popular Lake Superior Agate Locations:
- Agate is the Minnesota State gemstone and at the mouth of the Beaver River in Beaver Bay, MN you will quickly find out why. You can even bring your stones to the nearby Beaver Bay Agate Shop and get them turned into jewelry as the ideal keepsake from your trip around Lake Superior.
- In Gooseberry Falls State Park, MN you will not only find the well-known falls within the park but also Agate Beach. As the name suggests this beach is a wealth of agate and its ever transforming beach and sandbar offer new findings anytime you may visit.
- When visiting the historic Crisp Point Lighthouse in Paradise, MI be sure to also visit the surrounding shore as the area is known for agates.
- Grand Marais, MI is not only home to the must see Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore but to the Gitche Gumee Agate and History Museum. It is the geology and rock enthusiast dream location.
- Little Girl’s Point near Ironwood, MI is quite popular among rock hunters. The beach is absolutely covered with rounded rocks that Lake Superior has rolled in so it can provide hours of agate seeking. Luckily you can set up camp at Little Girl’s Point Park Campground and stay awhile.
- Chequamegon Bay in Ashland, WI can prove to be successful for agates. While there, also tour Ashland’s Historical Murals through the eight-block business district.
- The aforementioned Agate Island Beach in Northwestern Ontario has been deemed one of the 7 Natural Wonder Beaches in the world. Though only accessible by boat, this beach may be difficult to get to for Circle Tour travelers and at this point it is asked to not remove any stones from this beach. However it is an amazing place to visit and if you happen to have access to a boat, Slate Islands Provincial Park is also worth a visit to spot caribou and the lighthouse.
Agate Hunting Tips
The shores of Lake Superior is an agate hunters dream. Meandering along beaches and sorting through stones and pebbles washed up on the shore is a favored activity of many doing the Circle Tour. There is a chance to find agates on any pebbly beach though sometimes the most popular spots may have been picked over. One of the best times to find them is after a storm or heavy winds as Lake Superior waves roll in a fresh crop of stones to find. At least there’s one reason to welcome a storm on your trip!
The quartz in agates give the stone a translucency. If you think you may have an agate, hold it up to the sun or even shine a flashlight through it. Sometimes there is a rocky exterior covering the agate within. Agates are very dense and solid so this exterior might be broken away revealing the agate inside. Given that they are so dense, the weight of a true agate will feel heavier than a regular rock of the same size.
When an agate is wet or polished it appears shiny and the colors of the banding are more pronounced. When the beach is wet either from rain or incoming waves it makes it easier to spot an agate glimmering on the shore. On a particularly drier day you may find it helpful to bring a spray bottle with you to wet a suspected agate.
Sometimes it might take a bit of digging! The truly determined agate hunter might want to bring a trowel or small hand rake to make moving rocks easier. You might find that special stone that has been buried away for years waiting to be discovered.
Agates are so dense and smooth that when you rub it with your thumb you will notice that it almost feels like it has been waxed. Once you find a true raw agate you will know what to feel for.
Once you develop your agate eye you will find that you’ll notice them all over the place like a beacon. Even beyond the shores of Lake Superior. Freshly graded roads, rock quarries or anywhere there is rocks really, there is potential for finding them.