On the shores of Lake Huron just north of Alpena, Michigan is a very unique place to visit. Rockport State Recreation Area was a limestone quarry at one time, which now provides easy fossil hunting. The 300 acre former quarry area contains rows and mounds of fossil-rich rock, which was not needed for the business, and is now free for visitors to sort through. The entire state park covers over 4000 acres and is lined with hiking trails.
Surprisingly, Rockport State Park is not too far off the beaten path. Only 4 miles off US23 to the parking area, then a short hike to the quarry. The park itself is a bit more challenging, but still easy enough to make it family friendly. There is a giant mound of rock next to the parking lot; skip this and walk to the quarry. The paths are wide and appeared maintained, but there were no paper maps available and few signs. It was only about a ¼ mile to the edge of the quarry and piles of fossil bearing rocks lie all around. I was amazed at how much could be found. The area itself is also beautiful with small hemlocks lining the paths and rocky pools.
Fossil Hunting at Rockport
We didn’t have hiking boots or a good map, so we spent a few hours exploring the front edge of the area. There were fossils everywhere I looked. Of course, the trick is finding some good examples to take home. Each visitor is allowed to keep 25 pounds of fossils/rock material per year. The three of us probably came out with 20-30 pounds total. Local fossil or rock collecting groups or online forums may offer some tips on good spots to search for better fossils.
The fossil bed at Rockport was once the Devonian Era seafloor when the water was much higher in the Great lakes region. Here you’ll find a wide array of aquatic life, mostly in the form of corals, plants, and shelled creatures. While fish parts can be found, it takes an expert to know what to look for. Trilobites can be found, but it is difficult to locate an intact specimen. We came out with mostly coral pieces including hexagonaria, commonly known as Petoskey Stone after it has been broken and tumbled by the lake.
There was much more to explore, but we will have to plan another adventure. The area isn’t too far from civilization, but there are only basic facilities; outhouse bathrooms and a parking area. No staff was on hand. To get the most out of a visit to Rockport, I suggest bringing the following:
- Hiking boots
- Sturdy jeans and kneepads; especially if wearing shorts
- Sturdy gardening or construction gloves
- Bug spray in Spring/Summer months; there’s plenty of standing water around
- Basic tools, such as a rock hammer and chisel to break apart layers
- A sturdy satchel or bag to carry home your fossil finds
- Snacks and water
- A good map of the area. I studied Google Maps and found this one online.
Download this guide for a general map and some info on the Rockport State Recreation Area. It also has a handy two-page sheet with pictures of common fossils found in the quarry.
For another fun and unique vacation destination in the Alpena area, visit Dinosaur Gardens. Read more about this classic roadside attraction here.
Rockport State Park Directions
12 miles north on US23, then about 3.5 miles east on Rockport Road (dirt) leads to parking area and boat launch. Park in the lot to the north; you’ll see a giant mound of rocks. The hiking path is accessed here and it is only a short walk to the edge of the quarry.
Rockport State Park Hours and Fees
The Recreation Area is open year round. No hours were posted on site, or online, so assume dawn to dusk. A State Parks pass is required. If you do not have one on your vehicle, there is a self-service drop box at the parking lot.