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  • Writer's pictureShahin Dashtgard

Haida Gwaii Agates - Fun for the Whole Family!

Updated: Jul 11

We visited Haida Gwaii this summer and what a place! If you love remote but not too remote, Haida Gwaii is the place for you. There are no easy ways to get to the island unless you fly and rent a car, but if you drive, be prepared for a multi-day trip. Coming from Port Moody, we had to stay overnight in both Prince George and Prince Rupert before catching the 7.5 hour ferry to the island. By the end of the second day of 8+ hours of driving, flying was looking very attractive. I'm glad we drove though because having a truck on Haida Gwaii opens up a lot of opportunities for adventure.

Haida Gwaii Map
Left: Map of Haida Gwaii showing the ferry route from Prince Rupert to Daajing Giids. Right: The bigger population centers on Graham Island, which is the largest island in Haida Gwaii. Agates are found on many of the gravel and mixed sand-and-gravel beaches between Masset and Tlell. (Image source: Google Earth)
Haida Gwaii ferry
The ferry ride from Prince Rupert to Haida Gwaii. Top left: If you have a 5th wheel or camper, be prepared to back down the ramp and onto the ferry. Top right: "Small vehicles" (like a Ford 150) have to do a U-turn on the ferry to face the way they drove in. Everyone else backs in. Bottom: When the fog banks dissipate, the view can be mystical.

The Magic of Haida Gwaii

Everything you read online about Haida Gwaii mentions how magical the island is. They are not wrong, but be prepared for rain! The First Nations sites, beaches, and views are simply incredible! For the rockhounder, Haida Gwaii offers a lot of cool opportunities, especially if you like agates. They are more plentiful on Haida Gwaii than anywhere else I have been. If truth be told, I was like a kid in the candy store scouring the beaches for agates.

Haida Gwaii Beaches
Top left: Pesuta Shipwreck on the edge of Naikoon Provincial Park. Definitely worth the hike! Top right: Antidunes in the sand at Gray Bay. Bottom left: Incoming storm clouds seen from the beach at Tlell. Bottom right: Gravel beach along the banks of Masset Inlet at Masset.

What are agates and why are they on Haida Gwaii?

Agate is a banded form of microcrystalline Quartz meaning that you do not see crystals within the rock. It can be translucent through to opaque. If you find a piece of quartz (cannot scratch it with a pocket knife) that looks glassy and shows layers or bands there is a good chance it is an agate.

The agates on Haida Gwaii are sourced mainly from the Eocene-aged (56 to 34 million years old) Masset Formation, which comprises volcanic rocks (e.g., basalt, andesite, and dacite; 2). The Masset Formation occurs throughout much of northern Graham Island, which explains the prevalence of agates in the region. Agates are eroded out of the rocks by waves and moved eastward where they accumulate as gravel on the beaches.

Haida Gwaii Geological Map
Simplified geological map of Haida Gwaii. The Masset Formation is the source of agates. (Source: 3).

Agates on Haida Gwaii - Fun for the Whole Family!

I was only on Haida Gwaii for a week, and had no trouble finding agates. In fact, I showed my family and family friends what to look for and in no time, everyone was finding them on nearly every beach we visited east of Masset and north of Tlell. That's a lot of beach given than North Beach between Masset and Rose spit (northeast tip) is 42 km long and the beach along the eastern side of Naikoon Provincial Park in 70 km long. A word of advice though, if you visit Agate Beach by Tow Hill, don't expect to find many agates as the beach has been picked over. With 110+ km of beach, there are other spots that are easily accessible and provide better opportunities.

Haidea Gwaii agates
The range of colours and textures in some of the Haida Gwaii agates we collected.

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Info Sources:

2) Mauthner, M., and Whittles, J., 2021, Collector’s Note: Amethyst from Haida Gwaii, British Columbia, Canada: Rocks & Minerals, v. 96, no. 5, p. 460-463.

3) Shellnutt, J.G., and Dostal, J., 2019, Haida Gwaii (British Columbia, Canada): a Phanerozoic analogue of a subduction-unrelated Archean greenstone belt: Scientific Reports, v. 9, No. 3251.

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Feb 24

I LOVED Haida Gwaii. Collected a few agates but wish old read this first. Cool to know the age and formation of them


Sep 18, 2023

It's always been a tender point to see folks promoting the agate craze. Like you say, Agate Beach is now one of the last places to find an agate as they have been removed by the bucket fulls. Consider taking one and leave the rest for other people to enjoy.

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