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Gem mining has been a favorite activity for visitors to the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina for years, with a history of mining that goes back centuries. Most of the authentic mines for panning are in two areas: Spruce Pine and Franklin. Also find some impressive collections of gems in several museums.
TOP PICK! Emerald Village: This fascinating group of gem, mining and historical attractions (photo above) is located a few miles from the Blue Ridge Parkway in Little Switzerland - near Spruce Pine. Before or after panning for gems and gold, take a tour of the NC Mining Museum to an underground mine. Open April through December. See our Emerald Village Guide.
Thermal City Gold Mine: Visit this authentic gold mine, early site of the local 1800s gold rush. Pan for gold and gems, talk to a real prospector and explore the "Old West" buildings with plenty of interesting things to see. Open mid March-October. South of Marion, about 43 miles east of Asheville. Read more.
Asheville Outdoor Center: Grab a bucket and sluicing box and find some real gemstones, Rubies, Sapphires and fossils near downtown Asheville and Biltmore. Keep whatever you find. Located on the French Broad River in a park with an authentic 8' waterwheel, water tower, mining sluice, old time wagon and Teepee. Read more!
Gem Mountain: Find lots of local materials such as Crabtree Emerald, Wiseman and Brushy Creek Aquamarine, as well as Moonstones, Garnets, Citrine, Amethyst, Rubies, Sapphires and others brought fresh to the mine daily. Gem Mountain is located on Highway 226 between Spruce Pine and the Blue Ridge Parkway, about an hour north of Asheville. 13780 Highway 226 South, Spruce Pine.
Pisgah Forest Gem Mine: Located near the entrance of the Pisgah National Forest near Brevard, the mine feature Rubies, Sapphires, Emeralds, Aquamarine, Topaz and other precious or semi-precious gems and fossils. Covered indoor and outdoor mining for year-round fun. Rock and gift shop, plus picnic area by the river. 3338 Asheville Hwy, Pisgah Forest. They also have a location in downtown Hendersonville at 507 North Main Street.
Elijah Mountain Gem Mine: Located in Hendersonville, mine for gems that include Rubies, Sapphires, Emeralds, Quartz crystals, Citrine, Amethyst, Garnets, Aventurine, Sodalite, Opal, Fluorite, Aquamarine and many more. The flumes are covered for rain or shine mining. 2120 Brevard Rd, Hendersonville.
Franklin, "the gem capital of the world", is located about 65 miles west of Asheville. There are many gem mines to choose from - especially the Cowee Valley.
Cherokee Ruby & Sapphire Mine: Their mine is not "salted" or "enriched" and contains only native North Carolina gemstones, including Rubies, Sapphires, Garnets, Moonstones, Rhodolite, Rutile and Sillimanite. These gems occur naturally in the Cowee Valley. May-October. 2550 Ruby Mine Road, Franklin NC.
Gold City Gem Mine: Home of the 1061-karat sapphire, sift native and enriched buckets. They also have gold panning. Large, covered flume for rain or shine. New inside heated flume for cold days. 9410 Sylva Rd, Franklin.
Rose Creek Mine: They have Rubies, Sapphires, Garnets, Emeralds and so much more. Find special buckets, gem kits, lapidary supplies, jewelry, Opals and a world-class collection of minerals. April-October. 115 Terrace Ridge Dr, Franklin.
What To Bring To The Mines
Bring Ziploc bags or a plastic butter dish to take your stones home in (no glass). Rubber gloves are handy if it's chilly or you have a nice manicure. And a hat and some sunblock if it's sunny, although many mines provide cover on the "flume". Wear old clothes and tennis shoes or boots and bring a plastic bag to put your muddy shoes in and an extra pair to wear in the car. Bring a picnic lunch since most mines provide a place to eat outside. Most mines sell gem dirt in a bucket or bag (few allow digging). You are provided with a screen for washing and there is a flume - a trough of running water - with a bench along its length. The dirt goes in the screen, the screen goes in the water and the mud is washed away. Mine operators are on hand to help with technique and identification.
What To Look For At The Mines
The "3 Cs" of gem mining are Color, Clarity and Crystals. Gemstones come in every color from white to black. Garnets are glassy red, pink or reddish brown. Rubies are silky red, Sapphires are every other color, and both have a crystal formation with 6 sides. Moonstones are pearly white to gray and peach to chocolate brown with a flat box-like shape. Quartz comes in many forms, sometimes clear colors like Amethyst and Citrine, sometimes opaque colors with mica flecks like Aventurine and of course clear with sides - quartz crystals.
Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute: See an impressive collection of minerals, gems and meteorites (photo above), including a piece of the first one documented in 1492. This space and science center is a former NASA center, so also see space artifacts. See our PARI Guide.
Asheville Museum of Science: Located in downtown Asheville, their primary mineral collection includes some 4,500 specimens from North Carolina and around the world. See our Asheville Museum of Science Guide.
Museum of North Carolina Minerals: Located at Milepost 331 on the Blue Ridge Parkway near Little Switzerland, see treasures found in the state and the local Spruce Pine Mining District through interactive displays. Free admission. See our Museum of NC Minerals Guide.