Fossil Hunting in Minnesota

by Lauren Griffin
Fossils of ancient marine life are still being found in Minnesota.

Fossils of ancient marine life are still being found in Minnesota.

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While Minnesota today is more than a thousand miles away from the Atlantic Ocean, 450 million years ago it was submerged under nearly 150 feet of water filled with prehistoric marine life. Reminders of many of these ancient ocean organisms can now be found in Minnesota in the form of fossils. Today, career and amateur paleontologists hunt for fossils in Minnesota.

The Fossils

Minnesota boasts an impressive fossil record that goes back more than hundreds of millions of years. In Precambrian rocks, paleontologists have unearthed relics of the most primitive forms of life, such as bacteria. More frequently, though, people find fossils the date back 450 million years to the Cambrian and Ordovician Periods. In these fossils, researchers can observe the shape of ancient organisms, such as snails, clams, brachiopods, bryozoans and corals.

Where to Hunt

While fossils may be anywhere, it is much easier to find them in certain locations. Often, excavation and construction digs into the earth below, revealing a number of fossils. For instance, in Lilydale Regional Park in St. Paul, excavation associated with brick manufacturing exposed a wealth of fossils. The area is now dedicated to fossil hunting. Another location that is more likely to turn up fossils is by rivers. The powerful flow of water can erode through the layers of rock and reveal fossils.


Before embarking on a fossil hunting expedition, amateur paleontologists must bring the right equipment. For your hunt, pack a geologist's hammer, a magnifying glass and some protective goggles. Resealable plastic bags, containers lined with cotton, labels and pencils will be useful when fossils are found. Wear hiking boots to prevent your feet and ankles from being injured on rocky, steep terrain. A hat, sunscreen and bug spray protect your skin. A detailed map, GPS or smartphone can lessen the likelihood of getting lost. And don't forget to bring a first aid kit, just in case.

Permits and Other Tips

While fossil hunting can be a lot of fun, it can also be illegal if you do it without a permit. Luckily the permits for locations such as Lilydale Regional Park are relatively inexpensive, costing $10 for groups of nine or fewer people and $25 for groups of 10 or more people, with discounts for even larger groups. Permits can be obtained at the park permit office. Before digging on private property, ask permission of the owner. Also, use caution when fossil hunting. Look out for wild animals, ticks, and poison ivy as well as loose rocks and unsafe ground.

About the Author

Lauren Griffin began writing professionally in 2010. Her articles appear on various websites, specializing in academics, food and other lifestyle topics. Griffin attended Columbia University and holds a Bachelor of Arts in psychology.

Photo Credits

  • Hemera Technologies/ Images