There is a long tradition of mining for precious gems in Western North Carolina. In fact, the first discovery of gold in the United States was made in North Carolina. The state remained the leader in gold mining until the California Gold Rush. Today, visitors and locals are still finding treasure. From gold to quartz and feldspar, the gems and minerals found in North Carolina mines are abundant and unique. In fact, Franklin is known as the “Gem Capital of the World”. Take a tour or roll up your pants and shirt to search for precious gems to take home, or if you’re lucky, strike it rich!
7 Top Gem Mines in Western North Carolina
Below are a few of the most popular places to go gem mining near Asheville and the surrounding area.
- Elijah Mountain Gem Mine. Grab a hard hat and a sluice box to find hidden treasures at this family-centered mine. Search for treasure, view fossils, or feed their goat, Lewis!
- Pisgah Forest Gem Mine. This mine features both indoor and outdoor mining rooms, as well as a black light gem mining room to help you identify glowing gems common in the area.
- Emerald Village. One of the largest operations is Emerald Village. They hold mine tours and feature several mines for your use. They also house the North Carolina Mining Museum, so stop by before you mine for motivation!
- Thermal City Gold Mine. This mine features camping options for the more committed miners and experienced miners will help you identify your finds.
- Asheville’s Best Gem Mine. Located in South Asheville, this mine combines education and fun! Knowledgeable staff help miners identify their gems and provide a brief overview of the Gem type. Visitors are also given a free rock ID card for verification!
- Cherokee Ruby and Sapphire Mine. Located in the Cowee Valley, this mine boasts being one of the only mines that are not salted or enriched, meaning no one placed the stones found there. They also celebrate stones native to North Carolina such as Rubies and Sapphires along with moonstones and quartz crystals.
- Asheville Outdoor Center. Nestled on the French Broad River near Biltmore in Asheville, this center offers camping and kayaking events, along with Gem mining. Prospectors can find fossils and gems native to the area in the historical river. They also display a functioning waterwheel that helps to convey the historical importance of the river to the city of Asheville.
Types of Gems Found in WNC
Look for your favorite gems, or find you and your loved one’s birthstone in the treasure-filled hills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Below are just a few of the stones you can find in the mines of Western North Carolina.
- Quartz. Whether it is the mysterious Smoky or the calming Rose, quartz can be found in abundance in Western North Carolina. In fact, the quartz found in the Spruce Pine District of North Carolina is so pure, it is used in every computer processor in the world.
- Feldspar. Used to manufacture various products including windshield glass and computer screens, feldspar can be found in abundance in North Carolina.
- Birthstones. Aquamarines, emeralds, moonstones, rubies, peridot, and sapphire can all be found in the mines of North Carolina. Some mines will even craft the treasures you find into jewelry for you or that special someone.
Types of Gem Mining
Mining for gems can be thrilling. You feel the fever that many people felt during the gold rush. The beauty of shiny gems and rocks that promised fortune. There are several processes to mine for gems.
- Sluicing. This process involves filtering away dirt and ore in a wire frame with a trough of running water called a flume. This is common in most mines and might be best for smaller children or the elderly. Make sure to bring a seat cushion!
- Creeking/Panning. A process as old as the California Gold Rush, panning involves panning through gravel towards the edge of the creek or shoveling in a knee-high creek and washing away dirt with a pan.
- Digging. This is what traditionally comes to mind when you think about mining. You will need a shovel, a bucket, and possibly a rock pickaxe. Some mines have these available for rent for a fee.
Many recreational mines offer bench seating next to a trough with running water called a flume. Visitors are given sluices or buckets to sieve through for gems. Some mines feature flumes with shelter for continued excavation through rainy weather.
Things you need for Gem Mining in Western NC
Most operations have everything you need for the mining process. However, some things you will need to bring yourself. If you are sluicing for a while, a seated cushion can be helpful. If you are creeking, a change of shoes or clothes or even waders can be helpful. For sieving, large Ziploc bags may be necessary to transport your treasure home. However, creeking may require larger bags for geodes or larger gems.
Rare gems in WNC
Certain gems are so rare or unique, they can only be seen on display in museums around Western North Carolina. Take a day trip to these museums and marvel at the treasures found in the same mountain region you will be mining in.
- Learning Center at PARI. Visit the Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute, rededicated as a learning center for science enthusiasts of all ages, contains out-of-this-world gems and specimens from various space explorations.
- Franklin Gem and Mineral Museum. Visit this quaint museum filled with rare gems, a few even glow in the dark! Housed in an old jail, these displays will amaze you and your friends.
- Asheville Museum of Science. Visit this modern science center with hands-on activities and exhibits for all families. They boast a collection of 4,500 rocks and gems from around the world.
- Museum of North Carolina Minerals. This museum features specimens found in the same mines you can search! Explore the many types of gems that call North Carolina home.
Whether it is panning or sluicing, gem mining is a great way to enjoy the outdoors and learn more about nature. The Avalon community is the perfect starting location for a trip to many of the mines. Take your friend or go as a family and become a prospector for the day! Find your treasure here in Western North Carolina.