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Panning for buried treasure

New York, Georgia, Arkansas, Montana, Idaho

Dig for Buried Treasure in the USA

By: Terry Ward

Nick Ares/Flickr
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  • States:
    New York
    Georgia
    Arkansas
    Montana
    Idaho

The gold rush days in the United States may have ended in the 19th century, but you and your family can still strike it rich in the USA.

Just below the ground’s surface lies a trove of riches, including gold, diamonds, opals and more. Not only will you return home with a prize, but the memories you make with your kids on your hunt for buried treasure are sure to last a lifetime.

Strike Gold in Dalhonega, Georgia

Drive about 105 kilometers northeast of Atlanta, Georgia, to the authentic Appalachian mountain town of Dalhonega. This quaint town was the site of the USA’s first major gold rush in 1828 — a good 20 years before California’s Gold Rush. Though official mining has stopped at Consolidated Gold Mine — once the largest hardrock gold mine east of the Mississippi River — the site is open for visitors looking for the thrill of the gold rush. You and the kids can explore old mining tunnels before panning for your own precious metal in the mineral-rich sand from the nearby Chestatee River.

People have been panning for gold in the Consolidated Gold Mine in Dalhonega, Georgia, for nearly 200 years.

People have been panning for gold in the Consolidated Gold Mine in Dalhonega, Georgia, for nearly 200 years.
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Consolidated Gold Mine
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Mine for Diamonds in Murfreesboro, Arkansas

About 175 kilometers southwest of Little Rock, Arkansas, Crater of Diamonds State Park is the only public diamond-producing site in the world. The hunting grounds are the gem-rich eroded surface of an ancient volcano. You can rent buckets, screens and shovels to increase your chances of striking it big. Kids ages 6 and under search for free. When searching, keep your eyes peeled for rounded shapes and a shine in the rocks that looks like pearl or metal — the telltale signs of a diamond in the rough!

Keep your eyes peeled for a metallic sheen when you’re digging around Crater of Diamonds State Park near Murfreesboro, Arkansas. It could be a diamond.

Keep your eyes peeled for a metallic sheen when you’re digging around Crater of Diamonds State Park near Murfreesboro, Arkansas. It could be a diamond.
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Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism

Hunt for Opal in Spencer, Idaho

Idaho’s nickname is the “Gem State.” And at the open-air Spencer Opal Mines in eastern Idaho — only 140 kilometers west of Yellowstone National Park — you’ll soon learn why. Outfit your little ones in sturdy footwear and bring a spritzer bottle of water to help wash debris off rock piles during your search for opals. You can scour the rocks for the gems’ shiny opalescence between April and mid-October. You are welcome to leave with up to 0.45 kilogram of treasure for the cost of the dig ($10 for adults and $5 for kids ages 4 to 12). You can take more rocks for an additional fee.

The rolling green hills around Spencer, Idaho, hide a colorful secret: opal. Dig for these multifaceted gems at the Spencer Opal Mines.

The rolling green hills around Spencer, Idaho, hide a colorful secret: opal. Dig for these multifaceted gems at the Spencer Opal Mines.
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U.S. Forest Service
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Gather Garnet in North Creek, New York

They may not be a very valuable rock, but garnets — January’s birthstone and the official gemstone of New York State — are nonetheless a thrill to find. One of the world’s largest garnet deposits of garnets can be found about 375 kilometers north of New York City in the Adirondack Region. Located near the small mountain town of Lake George, New York, the family-owned Garnet Mine Tours occupies a historic mine that has operated since 1878. From June 30 through mid-October, you can pick up a pan and try their hand at sluicing in the babbling brook to search for the pretty dark-red jewels.

See those red spots on the rock? That’s bona fide New York garnet.

See those red spots on the rock? That’s bona fide New York garnet.
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Ron Schott/Flickr
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Uncover Gems in Philipsburg, Montana

The chance to unearth a sparkling sapphire should be enough to draw your family to Gem Mountain, about 350 kilometers northwest of Yellowstone National Park’s north entrance in the tiny mining town of Philipsburg, Montana. Over the past 100 years or so, more than 180 million carats of sapphire have been unearthed at the Gem Mountain Sapphire Mine, and you could make the next discovery. Staff members are available year-round to instruct you and your family how to search spot a sapphire in the rough and enhance the color of your stone using a sapphire heating treatment. You’ll get wet and dirty during the search, but that’s all part of the fun.

Philipsburg is one of several little mining towns in western Montana where you can line your pockets with shiny gemstones.

Philipsburg is one of several little mining towns in western Montana where you can line your pockets with shiny gemstones.
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Visit Montana
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