One Great Day in NJ: Free Fossil Digging at Big Brook

One Great Day in NJ: Free Fossil Digging at Big Brook


Did you know that New Jersey is home to one of the largest and best areas in the country for late Cretaceous period fossils? And you don’t
even have to be a fancy archaeologist with special permits to search for fossils! So if your kids are like mine and get excited about walking in knee high water in search of 40-million-year-old treasure, just keep on reading…


One weekend in early July we decided to explore Big Brook, a tiny stream in Colts Neck which apparently is chock-full of easily accessible "real" fossils. We hopped in the car and followed the directions until we found the wooden sign on the side of the road that said “Big Brook Preserve.” After parking on the side of the road near the sign, we put on our ratty socks and old sneakers and gathered our supplies.


We brought some wooden screens, some tarp, shovels, and buckets. Then we herded the kids down the grassy trail to the stream. The adults staked out a spot near the brook to lay out a tarp. We then handed the kids the screens and shovels and told them to walk into the middle of the river and start digging. Pretty soon the kids were knee-deep in muddy water, laughing and having a blast, and shoveling heaps of mixed rocks onto the screens. We helped them carry it out of the water and dumped them onto the tarp. I don’t know what was more exciting for the kids, the swishing of water in their shoes as they waded in the brook, or pawing through the rocks and dirt in search of fossils.

So what did we find? First, a lot of oyster shells, which I thought was pretty boring. Until I realized that we were miles from the ocean and digging in a fresh water stream. Second, tons of squid fossils. The kids loved these because there were quite a lot of them and they were so easy to identify with their amber-color and their long and even shape. Third, fossilized sharks teeth! The kids believed me when I said that there were no sharks in the water so that was the really special find. We probably discarded a lot of other cool stuff not realizing what it was. If you do find something interesting, you can always try to identify it later on the fossilguy website.

After digging around for hours, we headed back up to the trail in our muddy socks and shoes with our treasure (by law you are only allowed to take 5 fossils per person from the site). After we got to the car and changed into some dry clothes and footwear, we had a nice picnic and snacked on some wild raspberries we found growing along the trail to the brook.

Hooked on fossil hunting after you Big Brook adventure? If you are in
the Chesapeake region of Maryland, check out Breezy Point Beach.
There is a small fee to enter the beach, but it is worth it. Sit on the edge of the water and look closely where water meets sand. You’ll find TONS of fossilized sharks teeth! And believe me, there are no sharks in the Chesapeake either….

Big Brook
Hillsdale Road
07746 Marlboro , NJ 40° 19' 25.41" N, 74° 12' 55.0764" W
New Jersey