I appreciate a good stone.

I'm not a rock skipper, or even a rock hound, but I have been known to slip a rock in my pocket if I find a "good one."

While I know in Montana it's best to "leave no trace" meaning, to pick up after yourself but to also leave nature undistribued, I wondered if it is illegal to collect rocks in Montana.

It might seem like an absurd question, but there are places that don't allow you to take the rocks--like some places in Hawaii and Oregon.

So what can or can't you do with rocks in Montana?

Making Rock Cairns: Please Don't 

It can actually be problematic for several reasons, like erosion or the confusion it causes. That doesn't mean you won't see them around, and if you do, don't touch them or knock them down. As we said in a story from 2023, "...that could also cause even more harm to our wilderness and confusion for hikers."

READ MORE: Why Montana Hikers SHould Reconsider This Simple Practice

National Forest Land: It Depends

The USDA distinguishes between prospecting, rockhounding, and fossil hunting in a set of recreational guidelines they put together for Montana National Forests of the Northern Region. Your best bet for just collecting rocks is if the act of collecting rocks won't cause a "surface disturbance." You probably won't need a permit in that case, but you'll still want to double-check depending on where you go (and you might need a conservation license). If your rock collecting is any more involved, you must fill out the appropriate paperwork.

National Parks (Like Yellowstone or Glacier): Nope

The phrase the National Park System uses is "generally prohibited." This is related to the National Park Service Organic Act.

The Organic Act directs the NPS to promote and regulate the use of the parks by whatever means and measures conform to the fundamental purpose of the parks. It tells us that this fundamental purpose is to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wildlife therein... - U.S. Department of the Interior

The best way to "conserve" is to "leave no trace." If you really want to collect a rock at a National Park, you can probably find one in the gift shop.

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