Petoskey Stones: Search in Spring

Petoskey StoneWritten by Jim DuFresne, with permission from Michigan Trail Maps 

The quintessential Pure Michigan scene is somebody beach-combing on a late summer day, searching for that local gem: a small, roundish Petoskey stone with a perfect honeycomb pattern.

Good luck finding one then.

Diehard rock hounds and lapidaries will tell you that the best time to search for a Petoskey is in the spring, the earlier the better. When the winter ice goes out on Lake Michigan its like a bulldozer turning everything over, leaving behind a new set of rocks and stones. Equip yourself with rubber boots, fingerless gloves and a small rake and get out there for the prime pickings of Petoskeys.

Officially adopted as Michigan's state stone in 1965, Petoskeys are actually petrified coral, leftover fragments of the reefs that existed 350 million years ago during the Devonian Period when salty warm-water seas covered the northern half of the state. Eventually layers of sediment covered the Hexagonaria coral and its distinctive six-sided pattern was preserved when the sediment was compacted into stratified rock.

There are Petoskey stones lying on beaches from Frankfort to Alpena. But when glaciers carved out Little Traverse Bay they hit the motherlode, a strata outcropping that results in thousands of Petoskeys washing ashore every year.

Fishermans Island State Park. This 2,678-acre park just south Charlevoix features five miles of Lake Michigan shoreline, most of it cobbled beach. Hunting for a Petoskey is so popular here that the park offers a handout. The best spot in the park is its namesake island which, due to lower lake levels in recent years, is no longer an island and now can be easily reached on foot. Fishermans Island is posted along US-31 five miles south of Charlevoix.

Barnes County Park. This 120-acre unit of Antrim County is also along US-31 and includes more than a quarter mile of beautiful beach sprinkled with patches of pebbles and stones. Hunting for a Petoskey is such a popular activity here that the park stages a Petoskey Stone Festival on Memorial Day weekend. Barnes County Park is posted at the junction of US-31 and M-88 in Eastport.

Petoskey State Park. When a state park and the adjacent city are both named after our state stone, enough said. The 303-acre state park has almost two miles of shoreline in the heart of Little Traverse Bay, ground zero for Petoskey stone hunters. If you find a trophy head over to Baileys Place Petoskey Stones & Stuff on US-31 to have it rated. Petoskey State Park is 1.5 miles north of US-31 on M-119.

Peterson Park. This small township park offers best stretch of beach in the Leelanau Peninsula. The park is little more than a small deck on the edge of the bluff, overlooking the Manitou and Fox Islands, and a stairway that descends to Lake Michigan. Its shoreline is a narrow cobblestone beach. To reach Peterson Park from Northport, head west on Melkild Road and within two miles turn north on Foxview Drive. Peterson Park Road.

Lighthouse Park. This Peninsula Township park preserves the tip of Old Mission Peninsula, an area of cobbled beaches crowned by the lighthouse built in 1870. Lighthouse Park is at the north end of M-37, 22 miles from Traverse City.