hunting for quartz crystals in seattle

I’m not a typical crystal collector. Neither geologist or a believer in healing crystals, I just like things that are pretty and sparkle- and crystals definitely fit the bill.  I also love a good treasure hunt, as evidenced by the many posts on this blog about garage sales, gardening, and chicken-keeping (because what is a garden and chicken coop but a constant promise of  surprise).

So when I learned that people could dig for their own quarts and amethyst crystals on a public access trail that was just minutes from downtown Seattle, my interest was piqued.

My friends and I are something of oddball adventurers, so when we found out about Hansen Creek trail, we were pumped to go. Still, it took more than a year after hearing about Hansen Creek and how easy it was to find crystals there to actually get a plan for visiting together.

Seattle day trip - quartz crystal digging in the Cascade mountains
Making our way up the mountain to the trailhead

Hansen Creek is located in the Cascade mountain range – one of two mountain ranges that sandwich the city of Seattle Washington. The Olympic Mountains to the west are a few hours drive from Seattle, but the foothills of the Cascade Mountains can be reached within a half hour drive from downtown on a good day. Including a stop to photograph a dramatic train trestle on the way to the trailhead, our drive to the trailhead from Seattle still took less than an hour.

After navigating to the site – made possible by an unofficial Hansen Creek website that included geographic locators, directions, and maps – we found our way to the trailhead. A pack of cars – even on a Tuesday morning in May – and a few discarded rock hunting related items let us know this unmarked trailhead was the one we were looking for. No special parking permit or trail access pass is required as of summer 2018.

I’ll admit that when a friend first told me about this adventure I was skeptical – if there were big crystals that easy to, wouldn’t they all been picked up by now? But curiosity got the best of me and off we went up the trail.

The name is a bit deceptive as Hansen Creek passes long before you actually arrive at the trailhead. Hansen Creek trail doesn’t have much in terms of “majestic views” (like many Seattle hikes do) but what it makes up for scenic vistas it makes up for in geology!

The view from Hansen Creek trail
The view from Hansen Creek trail
Seattle day trip - quartz crystal digging in the Cascade mountains
crystal hunting trail vistas

None of us had ever been crystal hunting before- or were even particularly interested in building a collection of crystals- but the lure of a good hunt followed by a good story to tell was enough to convince us to spend the day off at Hansen Creek digging for quartz and amethyst.

As we set off on the trail, Immediately I began to notice how interesting the geological formations were. I’m not a geologist – or even an amateur geologist – but I do think it’s interesting to notice when one area contains a huge variety of different minerals and rock formations – and Hansen Creek was definitely an area like this. The crystals are the result of the same process that brought diverse geology to the area – glacial movements. Because the minerals were dispersed by glacial movement it means that the rocks are well-dispersed- in other words, although there are obvious areas that are very popular digging spots for crystals, you may find crystals at any point on this trail.

oddball adventure- gem hunting near seattle

I think the most remarkable thing about crystal hunting at Hansen Creek was the abundance of crystals that seem to be literally everywhere – everyone we met on the trail had tools to dig, but my largest crystal finds were crystals that I found essentially lying along the trail (Likely washed down the mountain in a recent rainstorm and stopped by the relative levelness of the trail.)

I read on the Internet that crystals are best located in red clay soil, so I settled myself under/near a dead stump not too far from the main trail. By following the red clay trail and looking for dirt with a consistency of not having been dug before, I was successful in locating crystals of varying sizes.

Seattle day trip - quartz crystal digging in the Cascade mountains

oddball adventure- gem hunting near seattle

Below you can see some of my crystals during the cleaning process. Because clay discolors everything, and the quartz crystals can be easy to miss, it’s a good idea to bag and bring back every rock you suspect “might” be a crystal– so when I got home I actually had lots of rocks – but in the mix with ordinary rocks, the washing process revealed many crystals.

Seattle day trip - quartz crystal digging in the Cascade mountains Seattle day trip - quartz crystal digging in the Cascade mountains

oddball adventure- gem hunting near seattle

Hansen Creek Gem Hunting as a Family Adventure

Hansen Creek trail is suitable for all ages. Although the trail is uphill consistently for a mile up the mountain, and the ground can be very steep and unstable in areas that have been heavily dug, the trail is wide, with great footing until the dig site.

If you visit Hansen Creek trail with kids, you may want to make sure that they don’t leave the trail, and locate a spot a bit before the obvious digging spots (where footing become steeper and less stable) to plant yourself. Crystals are so abundant, and seemingly more exposed with every hard rainfall, that it is likely nearly anyone could have luck finding a crystal on this trail/hike even if they never left the trail at all!

Seattle day trip - quartz crystal digging in the Cascade mountains
A wide, flat trail with moderate incline makes this a family-friendly hiking trail.

Crystal Digging and Mindfulness

Crystal digging, it turns out, is an incredibly mindful experience. I am not someone who buys into a lot of the “magic” around crystals, but research in social sciences has demonstrated that mindfulness is incredibly powerful. In the process of digging, and intently looking for glimmers of light, I found myself to be growing more and more aware of my surroundings and myself. As I’d scoop a handful of dirt onto a flat stone, and then spread that dirt with my hand looking for crystals, I felt myself growing increasingly aware of the sounds in the mountains around me, the feel of the dirt and minerals on my hands, and my own breathing. Although some would credit the crystals, I am certain that a day spent mindfully aware of my surroundings in an environment so near dirt and trees and fresh air dramatically changed my mindset and awareness of myself.

Seattle day trip - quartz crystal digging in the Cascade mountains
Crystal hunting requires intense attention- many of the crystals sit on top of the ground waiting for a keen eye to notice.

Crystal Hunting as A Free Seattle Tourist Adventure

If you are a Seattle tourist,  Gem hunting at the Hansen Creek trail would be a fantastic way to experience hiking in the Pacific Northwest without wasting too much of your vacation time on a multi-day-commitment to backpacking – Hansen Creek can be done in half day including the drive there and back.

I’m adding Hansen Creek trail gem hunting to my list of fun free things to do in Seattle. While almost everything in Seattle has a higher price tag due to the current economy and popularity, Hansen Creek is one of the few free things left to do. For the price of transportation there and back, you can have the experience of hiking in the Pacific Northwest, crystal hunting, and the spoils of your effort- which, for me, was a handful of beautiful quartz crystals and a great story of a day well spent in the mountains.

Most crystals are pretty unremarkable at first- even easy to mistake as rocks!
Most crystals are pretty unremarkable at first- even easy to mistake as rocks!

Seattle day trip - quartz crystal digging in the Cascade mountains

oddball adventure- gem hunting near seattle oddball adventure- gem hunting near seattle


Crystal Hunting in… The Vatican

The first quartz crystal creature I “found” was long before this amateur rockhounding trip- it was when I was wandering the back streets of Vatican City on a solo trip to Rome. On a nondescript corner, a spillage into the narrow street of vintage chandeliers and wooden items 
signaled an antique store, and as I turned the corner and entered I was a bit embarrassed to discover it was more of a meeting space for retired locals than a bustling shop. Before making a hasty retreat, I noticed this giant crystal on a shelf- natural beauty starkly in contrast to the lovely ornate Italian fixtures hanging from the ceiling and adorning every shelf. After a well-aided translation of conversation with the shopkeeper (and the assortment of amused locals), I bought this crystal for $5. While I’ll never have the pleasure of pulling it from the earth, bringing it home wrapped in layers of clothes tucked in my backpack leaves me especially affectionate towards this crystal.







hunting for quartz crystals in seattle


Add this to your bucket list:

Bucket List: mine my own gemstone

Bucket List: go crystal hunting

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