Collecting Rocks in Michigan

Laws applicable to rock collection in Michigan

Craig McClarren
3 min readAug 1, 2021

I manage a group of rock enthusiasts in Michigan. In order to clear up questions, confusion and controversy, I have thoroughly studied the laws applicable to rock collecting in Michigan and summarized them here.

Infographic made by the Michigan Rockhounds team

There is a 25lb annual limit on the collection of rocks, minerals and fossils from state-owned land and lands held in the public trust in the state of Michigan. Collecting artifacts and antiquities of any kind (including shipwreck material and native artifacts) from state and public trust lands is illegal. State-owned lands refer primarily to state parks. Lands held in the public trust by the state of Michigan include all Great Lakes shorelines up to the Ordinary High Water Mark (OHWM) and all bottomlands. Bottomlands include all sand/soil/rocks beneath the water of the Great Lakes and all navigable rivers and lakes. Excluded from this list are all regions under federal management.

The OHWM virtually never extends to the top of a beach, which may be private property. According to the Army Corp of Engineers, the OHWM is as follows

Lake Superior: 603.1ft

Lake Huron/Michigan: 581.5ft

Lake Erie: 573.4ft

These numbers can be found at . Current Great Lakes water elevations can be found at . At the time of writing, lake elevations were as follows:

Lake Superior: 602.2ft

Lake Michigan/Huron: 580.74ft

Lake Erie: 573.75

As you can see, public shorelines available to collect from only extend a matter of inches, if at all, from the current lake water level! Land higher up may be private property or managed by another agency. Ok, that does it for state-owned and public trust lands, what you can collect and what they are. Moving on!

All USDA-managed National Forest Lands and Recreation Areas in Michigan allow the collection of rocks and minerals with a Free Use permit. Check with a local ranger station about that permit, rules and enforcement appear to vary wildly. They might strictly require it or they might ask what the hell you’re talking about. Play it safe and check. A permit is not required for collecting invertebrate fossils (corals, shells, petoskeys, etc). Since Michigan has very few vertebrate fossils, this covers you pretty well.

Within National Forests and Recreation Areas, collecting stones and minerals is limited to a “small reasonable amount for personal use.” Some signs indicate that this means about 10lbs. Collecting artifacts and antiquities of any kind from federal lands, including Native American artifacts, is strictly prohibited! Strangely, collecting meteorites is also illegal as they are considered antiquities for whatever reason.

Collecting of any kind is entirely illegal on lands administered by the National Park Service. In Michigan, this includes Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and Isle Royale National Park.

There are no limits on collecting rocks from private property as long as you have permission from the landowners. Obviously, trespassing and theft from private property are illegal!

There are no laws, beyond those listed above, regarding removing rocks from the state of Michigan to any other state or country.

Always observe signage. Local laws and ordinances may supersede these statewide laws. Always obey all posted rules and regulations!

Finally, this posting is for informative purposes only and in no way should be construed as formal legal advice. You and only you are responsible for understanding and following the laws and rules wherever you are.



Craig McClarren

Geologist, a lover of all science, father of a young child, published writer on Forbes and Mental Floss