Best Places to Pan for Gold and Gemstones in America
The United States is rich in gemstones and gold. In fact, much of the country’s history is tied to the gold rushes that affected patterns of migration and development. The most significant of these was the California Gold Rush, which happened from 1848 to 1855.
While no one is moving out West to make it in the gold mines anymore, there are still plenty of places where you can pan for gold or mine for gemstones. Besides being a fun activity, you also get to keep whatever you find, whether that's a common stone or a precious white diamond.
Ready to try? These are the best places in the U.S. to prospect for gold or gemstones.
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The Experience: Blue Crystal Mines
Azurites are the main gemstone mined at Blue Crystal Mines. The commercial site allows individuals to do independent digs for this beautiful crystal. However, the fee is quite steep, at $100 per person per hour.
Discounts are available for people who join a tour group with one of the companies listed on the mine's website. Even so, expect to pay a bit more for digging than you would on most places that made our list. On the plus side, you do have the opportunity to walk away with a gorgeous blue crystal.
29. Mount Mica Mine, Maine
Nearest city: Paris
What to look for: Tourmaline, rose quartz
Where to stay: Palisades Pines
The Experience: Mount Mica Mine
First opened in 1821, Mount Mica has been a place to find gems like rose quartz for more than a century.
The site is for independent rock hounders who are enthusiastic about bringing their own tools and looking for precious stones on their own. We recommend it to people who have some experience with prospecting and can easily identify the gems from the regular rocks.
Alternatively, you can join a tour with a guide who will take you gem digging and help you through the process.
28. Ron Coleman Mining, Arkansas
Nearest city: Jessieville
What to look for: Quartz crystals
Where to stay: Lake Ouachita Cabin
The Experience: Ron Coleman Mining
Located near Hot Springs National Park, Ron Coleman Mining allows visitors to spend an unlimited amount of time digging for crystals and quartz on premises. The staff will even teach you digging methods and help you identify the crystals, and you can buy equipment on site if you don't have your own.
If you don't want to spend the whole day digging, the establishment also offers other fun activities like ziplining and a tour of the mine. They even allow dogs to accompany you on your dig.
27. Fairy Stone State Park, Virginia
Nearest city: Stuart
What to look for: Fairy stones
Where to stay: The Gathering House
The Experience: Fairy Stone State Park
If mines seem too dreary for you, come to a beautiful state park instead. Virginia's Fairy Stone State Park is known for the staurolite crystals (fairy stones) that give it its name.
You're allowed to search for these crystals anywhere in the park, but we recommend getting a map from the visitor's center that will help you find the areas where they are most in abundance. The only tools allowed for the activity are your hands, though the stones are not deep enough for this to be a problem.
The Experience: Sunstone Public Collection Area
Sunstones are the official gemstone of Oregon. While they are not as valuable as other precious stones, they are undeniably pretty and make for nice customized jewelry or special keepsakes.
Oregon makes it easy to mine for sunstones at the Sunstone Public Collection Area. There are no tours available, but rather, you'll have to come independently and bring your own tools. Anything you find, you're allowed to keep. That said, remember you are not allowed any electric equipment or tools, and there are also private mines near the public area where you can't trespass.
25. Diamond Hill Mine, South Carolina
Nearest city: Abbeville
What to look for: Amethyst, quartz
Where to stay: The Belmont Inn By OYO
The Experience: Diamond Hill Mine
Despite its deceiving name, there are no diamonds at Diamond Hill Mine. Instead, what you'll find in this operational mine are quartz and amethysts.
The mine allows visitors to dig through 3 acres looking for gemstones that might have been missed on its own mining operations. For a $20 entrance fee, you're allowed to keep anything you find. Bring your own equipment, and have fun finding precious stones in the Appalachian Mountains.
24. Old Hundred Gold Mine, Colorado
Nearest city: Silvertone
What to look for: Gold, silver, copper
Where to stay: Kendall Mountain Lodge
The Experience: Old Hundred Gold Mine
The Old Hundred Gold Mine is more for people looking to have fun than looking to get rich. For $28, you'll join a tour that takes you 13,000 feet inside Galena Mountain and gives you an inside look into mining.
The ticket price also includes a panning experience. You'll be provided with a sluice box and taught how to pan like the former miners did. Depending on your luck, you'll leave with a bit of silver, copper or gold.
The Experience: Sunstone Knoll
Another place to search for sunstones is Sunstone Knoll is a small hill in Utah.
If you want to do rockhounding without arduous work, it is very easy to find sunstones. Simply walking around it on a sunny day should give you the chance to see one and easily pick it up off the ground. Of course, these exposed stones will be smaller in size.
If you want to try to get bigger ones, you are also allowed to put your rock hammer to work on the volcanic rock that forms the knoll.
The Experience: Herkimer Diamond Mines
Despite its name, you won't find diamonds at the Herkimer Diamond Mines. Rather, you'll find double-terminated quartz crystals known as Herkimer diamonds.
Still, this mine provides the opportunity for a fun adventure. You can choose to mine out in the field, equipped with a rock hammer for breaking stones and trying to find the quartz. If you want something easier and more guaranteed, you can also purchase a sluice bag and sluice it on site for gemstones, fossils and Herkimer diamonds.
When you're done collecting your treasure, you can have it turned into jewelry at the mine.
The Experience: Hell Gate Recreation Area
Gold is still highly coveted as one of the most valuable metals in the world. Rogue River, which passes through the Hellgate Recreation Area, is known for its gold deposits.
As public land, you are allowed to use the river for private use in several ways. The most popular activities include fishing, swimming and kayaking. But those with their eyes set on something shiny can also pan for gold.
Gold prospecting in the area is completely independent, so you’ll need to have previous knowledge as well as your own equipment.
20. Benitoite Gem Mine, California
Nearest city: Coalinga
What to look for: Benitoite
Where to stay: Laura Lodge
The Experience: Benitoite Gem Mine
California may be more famous for gold, but it's also rich in gemstones. At the Benitoite Gem Mine, you can hunt for the state's official gemstone.
You'll have to reserve before coming here, as this is a working mine, and must pay a fee of $100. Unlike other places, you are allowed to keep only what you can fit in a quart-sized Ziplock bag. If you're one who's in the game to keep whatever you find, this may not be the place for you. But benitoite enthusiasts will certainly appreciate the experience.
19. Jackson’s Crossroads Amethyst Mine, Georgia
Nearest city: Tignall
What to look for: Amethyst
Where to stay: Quality Inn
The Experience: Jackson’s Crossroads Amethyst Mine
This operational Georgia mine specializes in digging up amethysts. Part of the private mine is open to the public for digging. You must pay a $50 entrance fee and bring your own equipment, but the Jackson’s Crossroads Amethyst Mine website provides details on what tools are recommended. No electric tools can be used.
Since this is an operational mine, children under 14 are not allowed on the premises. You can keep whatever you find as long as its worth is under $500. Anything over that value will be offered for you to buy at a wholesale price, or if you don't want to, it will be sold by the company, which will give you 50 percent of the profit.
18. Graves Mountain, Georgia
Nearest city: Lincolnton
What to look for: Gold
Where to stay: Clarks Hill Lake House
The Experience: Graves Mountain
An experience for more serious prospectors, Graves Mountain requires previous reservations from hopeful miners. The mine has been used for commercial activity for over a century, with companies (think Tiffany's) conducting operations in it.
Because this is an actual mine that is in use, the site presents more hazards than other places. Prospectors can mine for numerous gemstones, including blue quartz and muscovites.
17. Morefield Mine, Virginia
Nearest city: Amelia Court House
What to look for: Amazonite
Where to stay: Amelia Inn & Suites
The Experience: Morefield Mine
Though you likely won’t find very expensive gemstones at Morefield Mine, it’s definitely worth visiting for the fun of it. The most common stone you’ll find is amazonite, though there are more than 80 rocks and minerals dwelling within the mine, including amethysts and topaz.
Part of the fun is that this is an underground adventure. The mine sells itself as a place for all ages and mining expertise. If you want to get into rockhounding, this is a good place to gain experience.
The Experience: Alabama Gold Camp
Want to strike gold without going all the way to the West Coast? Head to Alabama instead.
Around an hour and a half to Birmingham, the Alabama Gold Camp lets casual and serious collectors look for gold in the creek that runs through it. You’re allowed to pan, sluice and dredge by the side of the creek as much as you want and for as long as you want.
You can stay at the camp itself, where people have also found red garnets and fossils.
The Experience: Jamestown
As one of California's original mine towns, Jamestown has a long history with the shinny metal. And while locals aren't dependent on panning for gold for a living now, some still make money by renting and selling equipment to gold prospectors wanting to search the river.
You are more than welcome to have your own equipment and go off on your own. But if you aren't exactly experienced you can also hire an outfitter to teach you how to tell real gold apart from the tricky "fool's gold." You can also join a tour with Gold Prospecting Adventures, where a guide in period costume will take a group to the best places in town for getting gold.
The Experience: Cherokee Ruby and Sapphire Mine
You used to be able to mine for your rubies at the Cherokee Ruby and Sapphire Mine, but that ended in 2015. Instead, you pay $25 for a bucket of gravel — with a two bucket limit per day — and then sludge through it in the hopes of finding gemstones.
While this isn’t necessarily as fun as going into the mines yourself, it is a convenient option and one you can easily do if you’re looking for a fun family activity rather than for an opportunity to get rich.
You have the chance to find rubies and sapphires, as well as moonstones, garnet and other stones.
The Experience: Consolidated Gold Mine
Before the California Gold Rush, there was the lesser-known Georgia Gold Rush, which started in Dahlonega in 1829. While most of the gold mining attention moved once California proved to be richer in the metal, you can still visit the Georgia Gold Belt to see what you can find.
At the Consolidated Gold Mine, you can do a number of activities. The underground mine tour is popular, as you can see what a real old mine looked like. You can also buy a bucket and look for gems. But panning for gold is still everyone’s favorite activity. You’ll be taught the techniques before you pan indoors, getting to keep all the gold that you find.
If you want a more independent adventure, the rivers and creeks near Dahlonega still have gold and you are allowed to pan in them.
12. Gem Mountain Sapphire Mine, Montana
Nearest city: Philipsburg
What to look for: Sapphires
Where to stay: The Lazy 8 Apartment
The Experience: Gem Mountain Sapphire Mine
The deep blue of sapphires makes it one of the most beautiful gemstones out there. If you’re looking for a fun and unique tour in Montana, head to Gem Mountain. This is another place where you won’t exactly do the mining yourself. Instead, you’ll be provided with already-mined gravel and given instructions and equipment for separating the sapphires from the dirt.
There's still an element of luck in play, since you can’t predict the size and quality of the stones you’ll find. If you like the thrill of mining itself, this is probably not the place for you. But if you want a more comfortable treasure hunting experience, you’ll love it here.
What also sets Gem Mountain apart is that they will grade your finds and make jewelry from them for a fee.
The Experience: Reed Gold Mine
Lest you think North Carolina is only rich in gems, you can come pan for gold at Reed Gold Mine. As the site of the first documented gold find in the United States, the mine is a National Historic Landmark and a popular destination.
For as little as $3, you can pan at Little Meadow Creek and on site. Staff is available to teach you different methods to try to get gold from the water.
The Experience: Big Thunder Gold Mine
South Dakota’s Black Hills are a testament to the natural beauty of the U.S. And while hiking is the main activity around them, you can also put a twist on it by panning for gold.
At Big Thunder Gold Mine, you can do on-site panning, where they’ll teach you panning techniques and then let you spend as much time as you want putting them into action.
But what’s exciting about this mine is that there is also claim panning. Head to the property’s creeks and pan independently, much like 19th-century prospectors did.
9. Liarsville Gold Rush Trail Camp, Alaska
Nearest city: Skagway
What to look for: Gold
Where to stay: Historic Skagway Inn
The Experience: Liarsville Gold Rush Trail Camp
Dinner, a show and gold mining are the promises of Liarsville Gold Rush Trail Camp. Rather than paying simply for prospecting, you'll get a whole experience, which starts with an all-you-can-eat buffet in the forest.
After dinner, you have some free time to explore the old trail camp, which includes original items left behind by the people who came to the region in search of glistening metals. It'll then be time to see if luck is on your side while you pan for gold. A class will be given to those who are interested, and then you can celebrate your findings and end the day with a comedy and music show.
Skagway is very remote, which adds to the thrill of the experience. Entrance is $61.
The Experience: Jade Cove Trail
Along the breathtaking landscapes of Big Sur is the only known underwater concentration of jade. As part of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, Jade Cove is protected, and there are strict rules regarding prospecting.
Basically, you can dive or rockhound along the shore, but are not allowed to use heavy equipment and can only take what you can carry out.
To get to the cove, you have to do a steep trail right along the area’s famed cliffs. You won’t become rich with your finds, but you will get the prospecting experience of a lifetime.
The Experience: Royal Peacock Opal Mine
This pay-to-dig mine is more expensive than most other places on the list, but it’s still worth it for those who love hunting for treasure. Royal Peacock Opal Mine is known for, yep, opals.
Their black fire opals are the most valuable offering, but you can also find lemon, crystal and white opals. A few have even found fluorescent opal, which is very rare.
To dig the bank area — where you are more likely to find a fire opal — the fee is $190. If that’s a bit too much for you, you can dig in other areas for $75. Some of the equipment is available to rent.
6. Emerald Hollow Mine, North Carolina
Nearest city: Hiddenite
What to look for: Emeralds, sapphires, aquamarines, topazes, amethysts
Where to stay: Hampton Inn Statesville
The Experience: Emerald Hollow Mine
Did you know that emeralds are more valuable than white diamonds? Though the gemstones are not too common in the United States, they can be found in a handful of mines. Emerald Hollow Mine is the only of these that is open to the public.
You can dig for the gemstones on a surface mine or pan for them in the creek. Both are fun activities, so even if you don’t find anything, you’ll enjoy the experience.
The Experience: Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park
This state park commemorates the site where James W. Marshall discovered gold in California in 1848. Often cited as one of the most important events in the state’s history, this is what began the California gold rush.
You can join the park’s gold panning lessons before putting your new skills into practice. If you already know how to pan for gold, you can simply head to the American River and start your search.
The only tools allowed for prospecting are your hands and pans.
The Experience: Mount Antero
Don’t want to pay anyone to go prospecting? You absolutely don’t have to. If you’ve got some experience and your own equipment, you can come to Mount Antero in Colorado and mine for precious gemstones completely independently.
For the best chance of finding something, you’ll have to hike close to the summit, which rises at 14,269 feet. Nothing that’s worthwhile is easy.
You’ll be able to find stones like amethyst, topaz and aquamarine.
3. Randall Glen Mine, North Carolina
Nearest city: Asheville
What to look for: Rubies, sapphires, quartz crystals, garnet, citrine
Where to stay: Hilton Asheville Biltmore Park
The Experience: Randall Glen Mine
This experience doesn't take place on a mine but on a farm right outside of Asheville. Blessed with rich soil, Randal Glen Farm provides mining opportunities for people staying in their guest rooms as well as day trippers.
You are allowed to explore the property, digging for gemstones such as sapphires and rubies. The farm will provide all the tools that you need, completely free of charge. Whatever you find, you're allowed to keep.
When you're not mining, you can do other activities on the farm, like visiting the resident goats, sheep and llamas. There are also trails to explore around the farm as well as horseback riding tours.
2. Crow Creek Gold Mine, Alaska
Nearest city: Girdwood
What to look for: Gold
Where to stay: Alyeska Resort
The Experience: Crow Creek Gold Mine
Located an hour away from Anchorage, Crow Creek Gold Mine was once an active mine during the Alaskan Gold Rush.
Environmental protections (thankfully) limited the area’s mining activity, but this now family-owned mine still offers gold panning tours. What differentiates it from similar places is that it allows for an experience based on your interests.
Amateurs can do a mine tour and pan with the basic tools. But if you’re a serious gold rusher, you can bring your metal detector or suction dredge to increase your chances of finding significant quantities of the precious metal.
Also, you’ll be in Alaska, which already makes the experience cooler.
1. Crater of Diamonds State Park, Arkansas
Nearest city: Murfreesboro
What to look for: Diamonds
Where to stay: Creekside Cabin
The Experience: Crater of Diamonds State Park
As an entire state park dedicated to letting you mine for diamonds, Crater of Diamonds is one of the best places in the country to test your luck at precious stone prospecting.
The park has a Discovery Center, where they provide free tools and training to help you learn techniques for recognizing diamonds and other stones. You can also rent tools and equipment from the park if you don’t have your own.
Wondering if it's worth it? The park claims that visitors discovered 237 diamonds from 2016 to 2020. And in October 2021, a casual California tourist found a 4.38-carat diamond at the park.
White diamonds — one of the three colors found here — are one of the most valuable gemstones in the world. It certainly can’t hurt to try your luck.