By Guest Blogger Sandy Harper
If you are looking for a day trip that is exciting, rewarding and educational for the whole family, then gem mining is for you! Emerald Hollow Mine, in Hiddenite, NC, is just an hour’s drive west from the Triad, and as it turns out, is a hidden gem itself. Apparently, people come from miles away for the chance to sluice, dig and creek here. It’s an easy-to-miss turnoff onto a dirt road, and at first, because it looked small and unimpressive, you might think you made a mistake in choosing this place. However, it’s unique location makes it “one of the most unique and interesting geological locations on the North American continent,” says its web site.
Emerald Hollow Mine has multiple gem, rock and mineral finding activities. Their staff is friendly and knowledgeable. Plus, the cost is quite reasonable. Once we arrived, we chose to take on all three activities available!
The first activity we did was sluicing. Sluicing is what most people think of when they think of mining. Here you take a bucket of native and enriched earth, and sift through it with water. They also give you a thick bristled brush to scrub the dirt away. This way you can get a good look at your finds. You never know what could be in your bucket. If you are not sure what you have in your collection, do not hesitate to ask.
After we finished searching and sifting through our bucket, we walked to an open dirt area. Here we got to search the surface for any interesting minerals. This area is great for kids. It is much less physical work than actually digging at the mine site, which is an option too. Surface searching is especially rewarding after a hard rain because it unearths new finds.
Our final search site was in the creek. This was the favorite among all the kiddos. I believe it was for the adults too. The creek is beautiful, cooling (great for warm months) and shady. It is a shallow creek but obviously rocky. Use caution when walking around to not slip or step wrong. You can search for treasures by just looking down or by digging. You can dig with plastic shovels in the creek, but not in the bank.
Good to know before you visit:
- Wear play clothes because you will get dirty and possibly wet
- Dress for the weather because it is all outdoors
- There are restrooms on site
- Wear comfortable shoes because there is some walking involved
- Water shoes are also a good idea for when you are in the creek
- Bring a bag to put all your gem/rock finds in
- You can bring your own plastic shovels, sifter and buckets (smaller than 1 gallon) to use in the creek (no metal allowed)
- Tools are available to rent on site
- They offer a service to take your gem finds and turn them into jewelry (prices vary)
- I suggest bringing your own food/snacks and drinks. There are not many places to eat nearby.
I cannot say enough great things about our guide. She was extremely knowledgeable, patient and friendly. No matter what we brought to her to examine, she had an answer for us. It was great how she would share interesting information about each site or on the minerals. In addition, she was quick to nicely tell us if we were doing something wrong or if there was a better way to go about it.
There are multiple activity packages you can choose from. You can pay to do just one or all three. You can also purchase extra or larger buckets of native and enriched earth for sluicing. When you pay for an activity, you are also paying and agreeing to a prospecting permit. Permits are a must for anyone participating in the activity and those just watching.
If you are thinking of taking a trip to Emerald Hollow Mine, I suggest subscribing to their newsletters. They often offer special coupons and updates. The newsletter also has interesting articles about the minerals and gems. I have rock loving kids so I find the articles handy and a great way to teach my kids about their rock finds.
This is an excellent day trip for ages 3 and up. It is located in Hiddenite, NC, only about an hour from Winston-Salem. They are open every day, except for a handful of holidays. If you’re considering, other places nearby, I also found these gem mines from which to choose:
Gem Mountain, Spruce Pine
Several places in Franklin
Emerald Village, Little Switzerland
Chimney Rock Gem Mine, Chimney Rock
Thermal City Gold Mine, Marion
Jackson Hole Gem Mine, Highlands
Greater Foscoe Mining Co, Foscoe
Who knows what you will find but one thing is for sure. You will find something! Let us know if you’ve been to Emerald Hollow Mine or if you have another favorite gem mining location to share!