Top Spots for Gem Hunting in the US


Summary
When you think of mining for the “big four” gemstones — diamond, ruby, sapphire, and emerald — it’s easy to imagine places like India, South Africa, and Colombia. However, you can find these stones and many others at plenty of gem hunting spots in the United States. Most of these sites aren’t on the same scale economically as mines in other countries, but they make exciting gemology-themed vacation destinations for the lone prospector and the whole family alike.
Reading time: 7 min 44 sec
Crater of Diamonds State Park, AR - gem hunting in the US
Crater of Diamonds State Park. Photo by Matt Howry. Licensed under CC By 2.0.

Grab your gear and head to one of these prominent US destinations. You could find gemstones worth thousands of dollars where you never imagined treasure lies. A gem hunting trip is a great way for beginners to learn about gemology, especially kids.

Before traveling to any of these sites, please confirm their dates and times of operation as well as their rules and guidelines by visiting their websites or calling ahead.

group mining at Cherokee Ruby Mine - gem hunting in the US
Group mining. © Cherokee Ruby & Sapphire Mine. Used with permission.

Emerald Hollow Mine, Hiddenite, North Carolina

Find glittering, gorgeous emeralds in Hiddenite, only about an hour’s drive from Winston-Salem, NC. The Emerald Hollow Mine is home to the only emerald mine in the United States open for public treasure hunting. You can check out findings from the mine at sluiceways or do your own prospecting, digging, and hunting for a small fee.

gem sluice, Hiddenite, NC - gem hunting in the US
Gem sluice, Hiddenite, NC. Photo by Robert Nunnally. Licensed under CC By 2.0.

Although known mostly for its emeralds, the 70-acre site can also yield sapphire, tourmaline, garnettopaz, and aquamarine. (The town of Hiddenite was named in 1913 after the gemstone hiddenite, a rare variety of spodumene discovered in the area). Open year-round, the mine boasts gorgeous scenery, too.

mining for gemstones, Hiddenite, BC - gem hunting in the US
Mining for gemstones in Hiddenite, NC. Photo by BuzzFarmers. Licensed under CC By 2.0.

Crater of Diamonds State Park, Murfreesboro, Arkansas

Want to mine for diamonds? Murfreesboro is the place to go. The Crater of Diamonds State Park, 120 miles from Little Rock, AR, is the only existing mine where visitors can prospect for diamonds and keep their findings. Stay at the park campsite and enjoy wildlife and natural scenery as well as some sparkling stones.

You’ll see diamonds everywhere, even laying in the dirt, but you can rent equipment at the park for deeper digging. Once you have a pan of stones, head over to the office so an appraiser can check your stash to see how much your sparklers are worth. So far, visitors to the park have found well over 30,000 diamonds, including a 16-carat beauty in 1975, so your chances of landing a stone are high. As with other diamond deposits, most of the stones are small and included, but some fine gems have been found here.

Crater of Diamonds State Park, AR 2 - gem hunting in the US
Crater of Diamonds State Park. Photo by ZhaoScorpio. Licensed under CC By-SA 2.0.

In June, 2015, an 8.52-carat diamond was discovered at Crater of Diamonds. With an estimated value of $1 million, it’s the most valuable diamond ever mined in the US. Read more about this unique diamond named “Esperanza.”

Gem Mountain, Spruce Pine, North Carolina

Looking for aquamarines? Head to Spruce Pine’s own Gem Mountain. The Blue Ridge Mountains are the perfect place to prospect for the beautiful blue stones as well as rubies and moonstones. Onsite gemologists can inspect your findings to see if they’re the real deal, and lapidaries can spruce up and turn your gems into pieces of jewelry before you head home.

Gem Mountain, NC - gem hunting in the US
Sifting under a covered flume. © Gem Mountain Gemstone Mine, Spruce Pine, NC. Used with permission.

Cherokee Ruby & Sapphire Mine, Franklin, North Carolina

Search for rubies inside the Cherokee Ruby & Sapphire Mine. You can sluice through rocks and dirt with a screen and look for precious treasures, including sapphires, garnets, and rutile.

Rutile - Cherokee Ruby and Sapphire Mine - gem hunting in the US
Rutile find. © Cherokee Ruby & Sapphire Mine. Used with permission.

The price of admission is low, and the fun level is high, so make it a family outing. The mine is open for gem hunting to the public from April through October. The backdrop of the Blue Ridge Mountains will make it a beautiful summer vacation.

Cherokee Ruby Mine - ruby find, gem hunting in the US
Ruby find. © Cherokee Ruby & Sapphire Mine. Used with permission.

Gem Mountain Sapphire Mine, Philipsburg, Montana

One of the most beautiful states in the country, Montana also makes a great destination for gem hunting. Check out Gem Mountain Sapphire Mine for some stellar prospecting. What will you find when you sift through the dirt and gravel at Gem Mountain? Sapphires — and lots of them.

Gem Mountain, sapphire mining, MT - gem hunting in the US
Gem Mountain, Philipsburg, MT. Photo by Richard Sprague. Licensed under CC By 2.0.

The staff will help you clean your gems and assess them, so you’ll know which stones are worth saving and possibly turning into wearable pieces. You can also purchase sapphire gravel to take home or ready-made jewelry designs featuring the gorgeous Montana sapphires.

sapphire picking, Philipsburg, MT - gem hunting in the US
“Quincy Picking Sapphires,” Philipsburg, MT. Photo by Glenn Harper. Licensed under CC By-SA 2.0.

Morefield Mine, Amelia, Virginia

The Morefield Mine, just under an hour from Richmond, VA, is known for its vast amount of amazonite. Prospecting here may also reward you with garnet, amethyst, beryl, topaz, and many other minerals.

topaz, Morefield Mine, VA - gem hunting in the US
Topaz in situ. Harvest and photo by Mark Joseph Wylie. In the collection of Sam Dunaway. Morefield Pegmatite Mine, Amelia Co., Virginia, USA. Public Domain.

There are mining opportunities here for all skill levels. Prospectors can use the sluicing technique or collect from the mine dumps. The Morefield Mine has its own exhibit of stones onsite as well as one at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC.

Morefield Mine - gem hunting in the US
“Treasures from the Morefield Mine.” Photo by Ryan Somma. Licensed under CC By-SA 2.0.

Rainbow Ridge Opal Mine, Virgin Valley, Nevada

Colorful and unusual, opal is an eye-catching gem. Mine your own at the Rainbow Ridge Opal Mine. This mine has produced very valuable stones, some worth upwards of $50,000. Bring tools and buckets. You’ll be doing some serious digging to get to the treasure here, but your hard work could pay off. The mine is open from May to September.

Opals, Virgin Valley, Nevada - gem hunting in the US
Three pieces of opal from Virgin Valley, Nevada. © Rob Lavinsky, www.iRocks.com. Used with permission.

Bonanza Opal Mine, Denio, Nevada

If you’re gem hunting for fire opals, visit the Bonanza Opal Mine in Denio, Nevada. The mine is open from May to September.

fee digger opal find, Bonanza Opal Mines - gem hunting in the US
A great find. © Bonanza Opal Mines, Inc. Used with permission.

Crystal Grove Diamond Mine, St. Johnsville, New York

New York is home to Broadway shows, plenty of shopping, Times Square, and the Statue of Liberty, but did you know New York state is a great place to mine for gemstones? Crystal Grove Diamond Mine is the place to go to find Herkimer diamonds, beautiful quartz crystals that are fun to mine. These crystals were first discovered in New York, and the perfect clarity of some of these stones makes them very popular with gem hunters.

Herkimer diamond, NY - gem hunting in the US
The gem known as “Herkimer diamond” is actually a type of quartz, like this crystal from Herkimer County, New York, USA (2 x 1.3cm). Photo by Didier Descouens. Licensed under CC By-SA 3.0.

You can rent or bring your own prospecting tools. For big embedded crystals, you may need a chisel or hammer to break them out of the rocks. It’s worth the effort.

More Gem Hunting Sites Open to the Public

Staurolite gems can form in natural cross shapes that have inspired numerous legends. You can pick these so-called “fairy stones” or “fairy crosses” right off the ground in Fairy Stone State Park in Stuart, Virginia.

fairy cross stone, Virginia - gem hunting in the US
Natural cruciform staurolite or “fairy stone,” found at the Fairy Stone State Park, Virginia. Photo by Virginia State Parks. Licensed under CC By 2.0.

Due to reopen to the public in the Spring of 2019, Jackson’s Crossroads Amethyst Mine in Wilkes County, Georgia produces amethysts with beautiful purple colors and red and blue flashes.

amethyst, Jackson's Crossroads - gem hunting in the US
Violetish purple amethyst, 8.55 cts, 16 x 12 mm, oval brilliant, Jackson’s Crossroads, Wilkes Co., Georgia. © The Gem Trader. Used with permission.

Gem Hunting Alternatives

Want to take a gem-themed vacation but not really into the outdoors? There are numerous gem shows throughout the US where you can do your gem hunting indoors (or at least in the shade).

Every February, the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show in Arizona attracts visitors from around the world.

Quartzsite, Arizona also hosts a well-known annual gem show from January to February.

Denver, Colorado hosts an annual Gem and Mineral Showcase with many diverse offerings.

Denver Gem and Mineral Showcase - gem hunting in the US
Fire agates for sale at the Denver Gem and Mineral Showcase. © Addison Rice. Used with permission.

About the author
Donald Clark, CSM IMG
Donald Clark, CSM founded the International Gem Society in 1998. Donald started in the gem and jewelry industry in 1976. He received his formal gemology training from the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) and the American Society of Gemcutters (ASG). The letters "CSM" after his name stood for Certified Supreme Master Gemcutter, a designation of Wykoff's ASG which has often been referred to as the doctorate of gem cutting. The American Society of Gemcutters only had 54 people reach this level. Along with dozens of articles for leading trade magazines, Donald authored the book "Modern Faceting, the Easy Way."
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