There’s something uniquely thrilling about finding your very own crystal specimen. Searching for them is like going on your very own treasure hunt, but it’s hard to know where to look. I decided to put together this guide so that everyone who wants to find their own crystals has a better shot at success.
The best types of places to find your own crystals are:
- Pay-to-Dig Sites
- Mine Tailings
- Creek & River Beds
- Abandoned Quarries
- Road Cuts
- Private Land
- Public Land
Each of these types of locations has its pros and cons. Some have much higher chances of success than others, while some are more easily accessible or affordable depending on where you live. The option you should choose depends on the type of experience you’re looking for.
There are many places in the United States (and around the world) that offer the public the opportunity to dig for their own crystals and mineral specimens. These locations are in areas that are well known for a high occurrence of decent quality finds.
Some of these places are known for one specific type of mineral while others offer the chance to find several varieties of crystals. A handful of these sites ‘salt’ their tailings with crystals from other locations. This isn’t a problem if you just want the thrill of finding your own specimens, but if you want to make sure you’re finding native crystals then make sure the site you’re digging at doesn’t participate in this practice.
A pay-to-dig site is going to be, by far, the easiest and most reliable way to find your own crystal specimens. The fees are usually very reasonable and most of these locations will let you dig all day. You can keep whatever you find, and sometimes your finds will even be pretty valuable. This option is probably going to be the best for kids since frequent finds will help keep their interest.
Many of these locations will have gear you can rent or borrow for the day, so this is a great option for people who are just getting into rockhounding or don’t have all of the appropriate gear yet. At the bare minimum, you’ll probably want a good backpack, a rock hammer/pick, and a sturdy field shovel. You can check out all of my gear recommendations here.
Depending on where you live there is likely a place not too far from you where you can go dig for your crystal specimens and have a pretty authentic experience. I’ve compiled a list of some of the more well-known locations in the U.S. for finding your own crystals.
Crystal Grove Hermiker Diamond Mine, NY
Location: About an hour drive to the northwest of Albany in upstate New York.
Hours: All day from mid-April to mid-October.
Cost: $12 for everyone ages 12 and up, $10 for kids ages 5-11, and free for kids 4 and under. There are group rates available. Tools are also available to rent for about $10.
What You Can Find: The Crystal Grove Mine is famous for its Hermiker Diamonds. These are actually quartz crystals that have double terminations. That means they are pointed on both ends, giving them a clean, finished, gem-like look. This is one of the only places in the world where Hermiker Diamonds can be found. This mine also produces some calcite, dolomite, and pyrite specimens.
The Experience: This is an absolutely fantastic site that is fun for the whole family. It’s an open-pit mine, which means that you’ll be looking in an open area and you don’t have to worry about going into any old mining tunnels.
You can find crystals just by walking around and looking closely at the ground or by digging and sifting through the soil (both great options for kids). If you really want to get the full experience you can also chip away at the quarry walls to try to find crystals in-situ (still embedded in the rock).
Pro Tip: Go after a good rain, when fresh specimens are likely to be exposed due to erosion.
Tools, including a hammer, chisel, sifter, and shovel are available to rent for a pretty reasonable rate of $9 for the day with a $20 deposit. Make sure to bring your own safety glasses if you plan to do any hammer work, since those are not available for rent.
Gem Mountain, NC
Location: About a 1 hour drive northeast of Asheville, North Carolina.
Hours: They are open from 10 am to 5 pm Monday through Saturday. Closed on Sunday. They only operate from March through December, so don’t try to plan a trip in January or February.
Cost: They sell buckets of ‘salted’ material to sift through for $30 apiece, so you are guaranteed to find quite a few gems of your own.
What You Can Find: The owners of this establishment haul in tailings from a few mines in the area, so you can find a variety of gemstones in a short amount of time. They advertise that you can find emerald, aquamarine, moonstones, garnet, citrine, amethyst, ruby, and sapphire.
The Experience: This mine is a great place to go if you want to be guaranteed of finding some decent quality gems. The experience isn’t the most authentic, though.
They haul in tailings from several mines in the area and mix them up together. They ‘salt’ each bucket with gems to make sure that every patron leaves with something.
The entire experience is pretty easy and comfortable, which is great for kids. They have plenty of covered stations to wash your samples where you can sit and enjoy the process without baking in the sun. You don’t have to do your own digging or worry if you’re in the right spot.
There is an option to go on guided mine tours in the area, but you’ll need to call ahead to make a reservation. This experience would be a little more rewarding for people looking to go to an actual mine and search for crystals on their own.
There is no need to bring your own equipment, as they will provide everything you need on-site.
One very cool feature that Gem Mountain offers is the ability to turn your finds into jewelry on site! They have experienced gem appraisers and jewelers that can clean, facet, and set your gems into jewelry. This makes for a very cool way to remember your trip.
Himalaya Tourmaline Mine, CA
Location: About an hour to the northeast of San Diego, CA by Lake Henshaw.
Hours: They are open year-round (can’t beat that San Diego weather!) They are only open from Thursday to Sunday from 10 am to 3 pm with no reservation necessary. You can also visit the mine on Mondays if you call ahead and make a reservation.
Cost: $75 for everyone ages 15 and up, half price for children 13 to 15 years old, and free for children 12 and under with a paying adult. Group rates are also available.
What You Can Find: The Himalaya Mine is world-famous for producing first-class tourmaline specimens in many colors in great quantity. The actual mine is a 5-mile underground labyrinth of tunnels, but you’ll be safely digging through ore that has been hauled out of the mine. You may also find other crystals such as quartz, apatite, calcite, topaz, garnet, lepidolite, and clevelandite. You can keep everything you find!
The Experience: This dig is pretty rudimentary but an awesome experience. There are enough facilities around to make it an easy excursion but the grunt work of finding your crystals is all up to you. Ore and tailings are hauled in from the mine and guests are allowed to search through it using whatever tools they have at their disposal.
Pro Tip: If you can’t make it to this site in person they have an option to mail you a bucket of ore! It costs $100 plus $35 in shipping.
You’ll want to bring gloves and a bag with you to keep you samples in, but shovels and sifting tools are present on site for everyone to use.
Cherokee Ruby and Sapphire Mine, NC
Location: West of Asheville, North Carolina. See their website for directions because Google Maps will lead you astray.
Hours: The mine closes at 4 pm every day except for Sunday when they close at 5 pm. They don’t accept any arrivals after 1 pm to ensure that guests have enough time to work through their ore. They close if the weather isn’t cooperating, so you might want to call ahead before you make the trip to make sure they’re open.
Cost: $20 per person. Free admission to children 5 and under. Discounted rates are available for groups of 20 or more. The fee gets you one bucket of ore, and you can buy additional buckets for $5 a piece. They only accept cash.
What You Can Find: This location is famous for being one of only two locations in the world where you can find high quality ‘pigeon blood’ colored rubies. It’s also one of only three places in the world where you can find collector’s grade sapphires. You can also uncover different types of rubies, sapphires, garnets, rutile, sillimanite, kyanite, corundum, and quartz crystals.
The Experience: This mine is special because they do not ‘salt’ their ore. Everything you find is local and genuine, taken straight from the local mine. This reduces the chances that you’ll make good finds, but in my opinion, it’s a better experience.
When you do make a score you know that the crystal is straight from the location you found it and you are the first person to ever see it. It’s a much more rewarding experience when you know your specimen hasn’t been planted by someone else.
At this mine, you will be given a bucket of ore to sift through in search of your crystals. They have a flume that fits about 30 people, so you’ll find a place and get to work. You get to keep everything you find, and the staff on-site will help with mineral identification and tell you about the geology of the area.
Wegner Quartz Crystal Mine, AR
Location: About 2 hours west of Little Rock, Arkansas.
Hours: Open Tuesday through Saturday from 8 am to 4:30 pm.
Cost: $18 per person for the open-pit mine. $40 per person for the Phantom Mine for 4 hours of digging. $10.50 per adult and $6.60 for kids aged 10 & under for the tailings pile. Tools and buckets are provided or available with a deposit.
What You Can Find: This place is all about quartz crystals, and lots of them. Their ‘Phantom Mine’ is world-famous for producing a special variety of quartz known as phantom quartz, which has inclusions that give it very unique coloring. You can also find tons of display-quality quartz clusters in their open-pit mines. They offer other activities such as geode cracking and a diamond experience, and while these are certainly entertaining the minerals are all hauled in from other locations.
The Experience: This mine is jam-packed with stuff to do for people of all ages and experience levels. For people looking for an authentic crystal hunting adventure, I’d recommend the Phantom Mine excursion and/or the open pit Crystal Forest Mine. These are both multi-hour excursions where you can search the area for your own samples and keep anything you find.
If you’re looking for something a little less strenuous or maybe you have kids with you, I’d recommend searching the tailings pile or doing the sluice. These options are easier on the body and still offer a very rewarding experience. The tailings pile is re-stocked every week or so with fresh hauls from the mine.
There are a bunch of other activities to take part in as well. You can search through bags or diamond ore to find your very own diamonds, or crack open geodes that have been brought in from Mexico. There are tons of museum quality samples on-site to admire as well.
Bonanza Opal Mine, NV
Location: About 30 miles west of Denio, Nevada in the Virgin Valley.
Hours: This mine is open from Memorial Day through Labor Day. They are closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Open from 8 am to 4 pm all other days.
Cost: $70 per person to search mine tailings for the day, children under 12 are free with a paying adult. Group rates are available, and no reservation is required. They only accept cash and checks.
What You Can Find: This location is famous for its brightly colored opals. They don’t advertise any other crystals or gems found in the tailings. They claim that their tailings are easier to sort through than other mines in the area because their tend to be dusty and dry as opposed to clay-rich.
The Experience: This mine is in the middle of nowhere in the Nevada desert and offers a very authentic and fun experience. You pay by the day and you get to keep anything you find. The owners suggest you bring a rake (or rent one from them) to help you sort through the dirt for your very own opals.
The digging is pretty easy and fun – great for kids. There are also great places to camp and fish in the area, so if you get tired of finding opals (how?) you can find other things to do in the valley.
Emerald Hollow Mine, NC
Location: About an hour north of Charlotte, North Carolina.
Hours: 7 days a week from 8:30 am to 8:30 pm, except for major holidays and weather permitting.
Cost: Depending on what you want to do here, adults can do activities for $12 to $20 dollars, while children run from $7 to $10 dollars. Buckets for sluicing are an additional charge and vary greatly depending on what kind you buy.
What You Can Find: This is the only emerald mine in the world that is open for the public to mine. You can also find emerald, aquamarine, sapphire, garnet, topaz, amethyst, citrine, rutile, tourmaline (my favorite!), and quartz crystals.
The Experience: You can choose from three activities at this mine (or do all three!) You can sluice for gems, go ‘creeking’, or dig.
If you choose to go creeking, I would suggest you do it after a good rain. You search the creek beds around the mine for crystals, and you are more likely to find good specimens after the rain has eroded and moved sediment around.
Sluicing is their most popular activity, and it’s in line with what you’d experience at other pay-to-dig locations. You can purchase a bucket of ore to sift through in the sluice and keep any crystals you find. One thing I love about this mine is that they offer buckets of native and ‘salted’ ore. This way you can choose if you want to only find specimens that are native to the area or to have a higher chance of finding any kind of gemstone.
Pro Tip: This location offers native and ‘salted’ buckets of ore.
The digging option is harder work. You can go to the mine and work pegmatite veins. You can find some awesome samples this way, but you’ll need some better tools.
They also have a lapidary shop on-site to turn your best finds into jewelry before you leave! This is a great way to show off your finds and be a constant reminder of the fun you had.
Rainbow Ridge Opal Mine, NV
Location: In the northwest corner of Nevada near the Oregon border.
Hours: From late May to late September, they are open from 8 am to 4 pm every day except for Wednesday and Thursday.
Cost: To dig through tailings for the day, it is $100 per person. Children 10-15 years old are half price and children under 10 are free. To search virgin loads of ore it is $700 per day for 1-2 adults, and an additional $100 per additional adult.
What You Can Find: As the name implies, you’ll find opals here! They come in all different colors, and tend to be shaped in casts of bits of wood, twigs, and branches. The quality of the opal here varies from common to fire opals.
The Experience: This place is really in the middle of nowhere, but it’s well worth the trip. You have two options available to you: searching through virgin ore or searching through tailings. The difference here is that with the virgin ore you are the first person to have a crack at that load of opal-bearing clay. Once you’ve picked through it, it will be moved and people who pay to sort through ‘tailings’ will get their chance at it.
If you’re going to make the trip all the way out here I would recommend that you suck up the cost and go with the virgin ore. They will bring out a huge load of clay and you and your friends can work through it for the entire day (it usually takes that long).
The other benefit of the virgin ore is that the opals found here are considered ‘wet’. This means that they are found in damp clay and need to be kept in water so as not to dry out and crack. If you search through tailings the clay will be dried out and the quality of the samples won’t be as good.
With either option, you’ll work through the clay and break apart clods searching for the opals inside. It’s best to use a little rake or claw, which you can bring yourself or rent on-site.
If there aren’t any pay-to-dig sites near you, don’t fret! Chances are there are some old mines not too far from you that may still have crystals to be found in their abandoned tailings.
Finding these mines isn’t always easy. Checking online sources such as Mindat.org can be a great place to start, but many mines are reclaimed or overgrown, while others are privately owned and off-limits.
Your best bet for finding these abandoned but productive sites is to join local rockhounding groups and ask around. Local gem shops might also be able to help point you in the right direction.
If you choose to go this route be sure that you have permission to be on the property you’re searching, an only look through old tailings (the ore brought out of the mine). Don’t go into abandoned mine shafts – they are incredibly dangerous for a ton of reasons including toxic gases and potential collapses.
If you do find tailings to search through, chances are you’ll be getting the last pick of the litter. These sites are typically well known to local rockhounds and have been thoroughly picked over. That being said, they can still be worth your while. Just because a specimen was left by others doesn’t mean that it’s worthless!
Creek & River Beds
Depending on the local geology of your area, you may be able to find crystals in creeks and river beds near you. Most crystals form in pegmatite dikes, but they can be transported long distances by erosion and water currents.
Again, local rock shops or rockhounding clubs will be a great asset here. If a particular creek has produced quality crystal finds, you can bet that local enthusiasts know about it.
The types and quality of the crystals you’ll be able to find will be entirely dependent on your local geology and luck. In creeks and river beds, crystals tend to be more weathered and rounded due to the constant abrasive forces of the water and other rocks.
If you find a promising creek bed, look near areas where the water would tend to flow more slowly, causing larger pieces of sediment to settle to the bottom. Check around tree roots and dig around the edges of the creek bed, as crystals tend to accumulate there.
Similar to old mine tailings, old quarries can be a great place to do some digging for crystals of your own. You might be lucky enough to find some tailings you can sort through, but your best bet will be to do some heavy work and chip away at the rock face following any veins you find.
Again, you will want to make sure you have permission to search any old quarries. Some of them can be quite dangerous and you need to have the proper safety equipment and follow all the rules the land owner sets forth.
Some old quarries can still be quite productive for individual collectors, but it requires a lot of hard work, experience, and luck to score quality specimens this way. You will likely need some more specialized tools such as a rock hammer, chisels, and pocket tools. If you want to see the gear that I personally use and recommend I would suggest checking out my Best Gear page.
Some road cuts offer a great look at the rock layers that you walk on top of every day. There are a few near me that I’ve been to several times as part of class field trips and they never cease to amaze. They can also be a decent source of crystals if you know how and where to look.
You’ll need to check the local and state laws near you before attempting this because it’s not always legal. Also, be sure to be very careful because the side of the road isn’t exactly the safest place to spend a day looking for mineral samples.
The road cut may reveal a vein to follow which might produce some crystals. In my experience, it is worthwhile to check on top and behind the road cut for visible outcrops. These tend to be less picked over since they are harder to find and not as obvious.
Be sure to treat these road cuts with care and respect. Don’t do any unnecessary damage to them, as they are often valuable learning tools for local schools and rockhounding clubs.
There are plenty of fantastic mineral collecting localities that are privately owned and not advertised to the public. The best (and probably only) way to get access to these sites is to network with rockhounding clubs in your area and meet someone who has a connection.
The people who own these sites will often allow collectors that they know onto their land to search for specimens, but they don’t want to be bothered by the general public. For that reason, the locations of these sites are often kept under wraps.
Sometimes the owners might charge a small fee or require you to sign a waiver to search, but often times you can just get their permission and then go to work. Always be sure to treat their land with respect – don’t ruin the site for future hunters!
Depending on where you live there may be great places to search for crystals near you on public land. Land owned by the Bureau of Land Management is generally free game for rockhounds, but there are some rules and regulations you need to be familiar with so be sure to check with them. For a complete explanation of rockhounding laws and regulations on public land, check out my article which goes into detail about different types of public land.
These rules generally restrict how much material you can haul out, but the maximum quantity is very large and probably won’t affect a casual crystal collector. Anything you collect must also be for personal use in your own collection – you aren’t allowed to sell anything you find without a permit.
Below are some specific parks and locations on public land that let you search for free.
Crater of Diamonds State Park, AR
Location: Murfreesboro in southwest Arkansas.
Hours: The diamond searching area is open year round from 8 am to 4 pm, and during the summer (late may to August) they are open from 8 am to 7pm.
Cost: $10 for everyone ages 12 and up, $6 for kids ages 6-12, and free for kids 5 and under. They sell a maximum of 1500 tickets daily and they do sell out sometimes, so it’s best to get tickets in advance.
What You Can Find: This volcanic crater is famous for producing diamonds of many different colors. You can also find amethyst, garnet, jasper, agate, and quartz crystals. This site is home to the largest diamond ever found in the U.S. – the 40 carat ‘Uncle Sam’ diamond!
The Experience: This park is one of the best places in the entire country to go crystal hunting. It is one of the very few places in the world where the public can search for their own diamonds, and it’s fun for the entire family.
There is plenty of staff on-site to give advice on where and how to search, so it is very accessible for beginners. The staff will also help with mineral identification so you don’t have to wonder what it is you’ve found. They also till the soil about once a month to make sure there are crystals to be found.
The park itself is an old volcanic crater that is now just a field that is easy to search. There is plenty of infrastructure at the park so the experience is very comfortable, but the process of finding crystals is pretty authentic and real. You have to put in the work to score a find, and it’s very rewarding when you do.
You can keep anything you find here – even if you strike it big and find a massive diamond. You can bring your own equipment as long as it doesn’t include any powered or motorized tools. Basic tools are available for rent at reasonable rates.
Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge, OK
Location: North of Enid, OK in north central Oklahoma.
Hours: They are open from sunrise to sunset from April 1st to October 15th.
Cost: Free! There is no cost for park entrance or to dig.
What You Can Find: This park is famous for its selenite crystals. It is a type of gypsum that forms in the salt flats of the state park. These selenite crystals are particularly famous for their ‘hourglass’ inclusions that form from wet sand and clay being included in the formation of the crystal.
The Experience: This is a unique experience for crystal collectors. You drive into the state park and follow the signs to the designated digging area in the salt flats. The area is huge and exposed.
The crystals form just below the salt encrusted surface – crystals are rarely found more than two feet deep, so no serious digging is required. You generally just need to dig back the top layer of salt and clay to reveal any crystals hiding beneath.
The guides on site will tell you that the finer the soil in the area, the clearer the crystals tend to be. You are allowed to haul out up to 10 pounds of crystals per person, plus a large crystal cluster. That is a lot of crystals!