Did you know Emerald Village Mine has a cave where you can see minerals glow in the dark? If you’re looking for a bucket list adventure in Western North Carolina, the Black Light Tour at the Emerald Village mine near Little Switzerland, NC is it. Kidding Around’s Kristina took her kids for this unique experience and tells us about it.
I thought Geology was a pretty boring subject until we studied it for a homeschool science unit. I was completely taken with the cool rocks, how the cycle of minerals, magma, and sedimentary rocks form. I loved learning about the chemical makeup of minerals. And when I took my kids to the Geology Museum at Clemson, the fluorescent black light room was a favorite. So when I heard that the Emerald Village Mine near Little Switzerland, North Carolina, was offering a very limited Black Light Mine Tour, I was in. I didn’t hesitate to get tickets when they went on sale back in the early spring and good thing, because they immediately sold out.
So start planning your 2023 adventure right now! As of January 29, 2023, tickets are now on sale for the 2023 season.
About the Emerald Village Mine
The area of Western North Carolina where the Emerald Village is located is well-known for its early Gold Rush years and massive mineral mining operations from the 1800s. Emerald Village is a collection of 12 mines and the Bon Ami feldspar cleaning agent was produced here for many years. In fact, you can still buy it in the gift shop.
There is a neat three-story museum at the mine that you can visit when you book the Black Light Tour and learn about the history of the mines, see old school advertisements for the Bon Ami cleaner, and see the equipment used in the old mines.
We didn’t do mining or a tour so I cannot speak to those but we do have an older story on those activities. Emerald Village is open March through the end of October.
The Black Light Tour
Emerald Village has nighttime black light tours offered throughout their season starting in the summer. Tickets go on sale when they open in March and I was quick to grab tickets since they only have 10 nights they offer it. When we checked in, a couple of ladies in front of us must have been persistent because they managed to score last-minute tickets by calling the mine to check for cancellations.
I was under the impression that we would be able to enter the mine like tours I’ve done at caverns. That’s not the case. After you check in at the gift shop, you can watch a video at the museum about the history of the mine, peruse the gift shop and gems, or check out the museum. Then you are instructed to get your safety glasses and head outside to the massive cave next to the Bon Ami waterfall. There are boards in the cave that tell you about the mine, which are cool. There are stairs leading down and then rail tracks with old mine carts you will pass. Try not to trip. There were probably at least 60 people milling about in the cave just waiting to begin the tour. I think we were all wondering what would happen. Would there be a presentation? A guide to take us in groups someplace? Nope.
So, after all we were gathered in the cave next to the waterfall and river (pond?) area, an employee of the mine got everyone’s attention and told us to get ready because they were about to turn out all the lights. He told us to head towards a wall of the cave of our choosing to see the minerals light up under the black lights so I grabbed my two kids and just got next to a wall as instructed.
Then the lights shut off and it was dark. About 15 seconds later the UV lights turned on and a collective gasp went out from the crowd as we saw the ceiling turn a bright lime green. Pockets of the cave walls lit up in bright green with some purples and reds. As our eyes adjusted, we could walk more easily and get up close to the minerals that lit up.
Learning About the Minerals
I wanted to know more than we were told, which was pretty much nothing, so my kids and I found a couple of employees holding big black lights right up against the walls and asked a million questions. What are the minerals that show up in black light? Is this a normal thing in all mines? Who came up with the idea to shine black light in a mine? Why do we have to wear safety glasses? Can we touch the walls? Are there other minerals that turn fluorescent under black light?
The employees were a wealth of knowledge and were a lot of fun to speak with. It turns out that while this does happen in other places, it’s very rare. The mines in that area of North Carolina are pretty special. The minerals that lit up lime green under the black lights are Hyalite Opal and the ones that lit up in purple or pink are feldspar, the same mineral used in the Bon Ami cleaner.
There is another mineral at the mine that lights up in a rare phosphorescent blue. The employees told me they don’t know what it is. I tried so hard to get a good photo but was unsuccessful. Actually, it was really hard to get any good photography while there so I apologize for that – just know that it was really cool to see.
You have 45 minutes to explore the cave and talk to the employees, get your questions answered, and take a million photos that are too dark. We were done in about 30 minutes and then checked out the gift shop (they’ve got fudge). It was a super cool thing to do and since we homeschool, it counted as an awesome homeschool field trip!
Totally Unique Experience
There are few things I love more than finding unique and cool experiences to try out with my kids. And living where we do in the Upstate, there are a lot of these kinds of things (looking at you, Blue Ghosts and Synchronous Fireflies). This easily ranks up there as something to do as a Southeast bucket list item.
The tours are at night so my kids and I ended up making a weekend out of the event and spent an amazing couple days up in the High Country of North Carolina – which also happened to be when the leaves were peeking, which was just unreal. We ate lunch at the cafe at Little Switzerland, hiked all over the Blue Ridge Parkway, and soaked in all the beautiful goodness.
You can also add in a trip to Grandfather Mountain while up there, take a ride on the Alpine Coaster in Banner Elk, go shopping in Boone, or visit other local gem mines like Lucky Strike in Marion. For a wonderful place to stay that is about 45 minutes from the mine, Gold River Camp is a fantastic option.
There is no shortage of things to do in that area to make it a full weekend or day trip.
Tips on Doing the Black Light Tour
- Get your tickets right when they go on sale because they will sell out.
- The tour is not wheelchair or stroller-friendly.
- We were not prepared for the weather. While the tour happens rain or shine because it is covered from the elements, it’s pretty much outdoors and at night in October, it’s chilly up there. Be prepared.
- For a free add-on activity and to boost your knowledge of the local geology, go to the Museum of NC Minerals nearby right off the Blue Ridge Parkway. This is a free museum with lots of great interactive activities that tell the story of the local mineral and gem mining history.
Getting Your Black Light Tour Tickets
So here’s the tricky part: you need to pay attention and be on top of your game to get these tickets because this is popular and they will sell out. Lucky for you, we are here to help. We have been paying attention and as of late January 2023, tickets are on sale for the 2023 season. The cost is $20/adults and $10/kids.
Emerald Village Bon Ami Mine
331 McKinney Mine Road, Spruce Pine, NC