Fossil Hunting

Fossil Hunting

When I was a kid I loved to find unusual things wherever I explored.  I think I found my first fossil near Wyalusing State Park  at the confluence of the Wisconsin and Mississippi Rivers in the southwest corner of Wisconsin.  It was a rock with many snails and other small water creatures peeking out.  Most interestingly, I found it far above the rivers a long way from where similar critters now live.  Later I discovered other types of fossils that had been collected around Castle Rock Lake in central Wisconsin and deposited at  the nature tent at Boy Scout Camp.

The idea of finding remnants of ancient animals, learning how they got where I found them and understanding how they provide evidence of changes over geologic time intrigued me then and still does now.  If fossil hunting intrigues you,  you can set out with fossils in mind as you explore the countryside.

Finding Fossils

Fossils occur in few places, so it helps to know where to look.  The first trick to fossil hunting is to be looking for them whenever you are tramping around the outdoors.  My most recent fossils were discovered during lunchtime walks around the Oregon Institute of Technology Campus above Klamath Lake in South-central Oregon.  A path we often took was littered with small

My Fossil Fish

My Fossil Fish
©2015 Global Creations LLC
All rights reserved

round rocks that, upon closer examination, were snail fossils mostly less than a half inch in diameter (photo below).  Further exploration revealed that these fossil snails were in a narrow band at a constant elevation across the area – probably an ancient shoreline.  Another part of our walk passed a road fill made of rock.  One day, explorer that I am,  I decided to walk among the rocks to see what I could see.  There I found a seven-pound rock with the backbone and fins of a large fish embedded in it.  These fossils were formed from animals that swam in Klamath Lake when it had beaches almost 200 feet above where the water level is now.

Fossil Snails

Fossil Snails
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All rights Reserved

Generally the places to look for fossils are exposed rock beds, like road cuts (or rocks in road fills), and disturbed ground without any vegetation, like in the middle of the trail you are walking on.  Quarries, in some places, also expose fossils.  You may be able to find fossils on or adjacent to ocean beaches as fossil-bearing strata are sometimes exposed.

Special Places for Fossil Hunters

Some recreation planners recognize fossil hunting as a great way to explore and have provided a number of public parks that cater to fossil hunters.  Among them are:

  • Big Brook Park in Marlboro,  News Jersey – late Cretaceous period shark’s teeth, Mosasaur teeth, Enchodus teeth
  • Caesar Creek State Park near Harveysburg, Ohio – Ordovician fossils
  • Capitola Beach in Capitola, California – Mollusk shells
  • Calvert Cliffs State Park near Lusby, Maryland – Miocene fossils
  • Canadian Fossil Discovery Centre in  Morden, Manitoba – Cretaceous vertebrates
  • Cowan Lake State Park near Wilmington, Ohio – Ordovician fossils
Cambrian Trilobite

Cambrian Trilobite

  • Dinosaur Park in Laurel, Maryland – Early Cretaceous including dinosaurs
  • East Fork State Park near Williamsburg, Ohio  – Ordovician Brachiopods and Bryozoans
  • Falls of the Ohio State Park in Clarksville, Indiana – Devonian fossils
  • Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument in Florissant, Colorado – redwood stumps, insects, leaves, seeds, fish, and a few mammals and birds (you can look, but not remove!)
  • Florissant Fossil Quarry in Florissant, Colorado – Eocene animals, fish, insects, and plants
  • Fossil Butte National Monument in Kemmerer, Wyoming – Eocene fossils
  • Fossil Park in Sylvania, Ohio – Devonian Trilobites, Brachiopods, Horn coral, Aulopora coral, Bryozoans and Crinoids
  • Fossil & Prairie Park Preserve in Rockford, Iowa – Devonian Brachiopods, Gastropods, Horn Corals, Colony Corals, Crinoids, Bryozoans, Cephalopods
  • Hueston Woods State Park near Oxford, Ohio  – Ordovicia Bryozoans, Brachiopods, Pelecypods, Horn Corals, Cephalopods, Gastropods, Crinoids, Trilobites
  • John Day Fossil Beds National Monument in Kimberly, Oregon – Cenozoic mammals
  • Ladonia Fossil Park in Ladonia, Texas – Cretaceous  mosasaur bones, ammonites, bivalves and shark teeth; Pleistocene mammoth bones and teeth
  • Lafarge Fossil Park in Alpena, Michigan – Devonian fossils
  • Lilydale Regional Park in Saint Paul, Minnesota – Cambian and Ordovician sponges, corals, Bryozoans, Brachiopods, Pelecypods, Gastropods, Cephelopds, Trilobites
  • Mineral Wells Fossil Park in Mineral Wells, Texas – Crinoids, Echinoids, Brachiopods, Pelecypods, Bryozoans, Corals, trilobites, plants, primitive sharks
  • Montour Preserve Fossil Pit in Danville, Pennsylvania
  • Oakes Quarry Park in Fairborn, Ohio – Silurian brachiopods, crinoids
  • Penn Dixie Paleontological and Outdoor Education Center in Blasdell, NY – Devonian marine animals
  • Megalodon and Great White Shark Teeth

    Megalodon and Great White Shark Teeth
    By Brocken Inaglory (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

    Poricy Park near Middletown, NewJersey – Cretaceous period of the Mesozoic era shellfish
  • Quarry Hill Park in Rochester, Minnesota – Brachiopods, Trilobites, Cephalopods and Gastropods
  • Shark River County Park in Wall, New Jersey – Late Eocene and Middle Miocene shark teeth, fish, reptiles, mammals
  • Stonelick State Park near Pleasant Plain, Ohio – Ordovician fossils
  • Trammel Fossil Park in Sharonville, Ohio  – Ordovician fossils
  • Westmoreland State Park in Montross, Virginia, on the Potomac River’s Northern Neck – shark teeth
  • Wheeler High School Fossil Beds in Fossil, Oregon – Oligocene tree leaves
  • Whitewater Gorge Park in Rchmond, Indiana – Corals, Brachiopods, Trilobites, Bivalves, Bryozoa, Snails
  • York River State Park at Fossil Beach near West Point, Virginia –  Miocene and Pliocene scallops

That’s not an all-inclusive list – there are many more public and private areas where fossil hunting is allowed.  Most of these locations have some limits on what you can do, from taking only pictures at the National Park and Monument sites to taking fossils no larger than your hand in most places.  Be sure you know the rules at the place you choose to explore before disturbing anything.

The Bottom Line

Fossil hunting can be a great way to explore and learn a lot while you are doing it.  If you also do some library or internet research you will discover much about how your part of the world got to where it is now and the many plants and animals that lived there before you.  Then you can go exploring and find the evidence that supports your research.


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