Are you looking for a day trip that combines a history lesson, beautiful scenery and fun for the whole family? Whether you are looking for activities for a day along the Blue Ridge Parkway or just wanting a quick respite from the city, this day trip is the answer! Local mom Melanie shares her review of Emerald Village in North Carolina’s Little Switzerland, including all the information you’ll need to make the most of your day in this “Hidden Gem” off the Blue Ridge Parkway.
About Emerald Village
Set just a few miles off of the Blue Ridge Parkway, the picturesque town of Little Switzerland is so small that most mapping systems don’t recognize it. This resort community was founded in 1909 by a Supreme Court justice. Included in this town’s history is a fight against the Blue Ridge Parkway, which resulted in the narrowest part of the Parkway in North Carolina being found here at just 200 feet wide.
The highlight of a visit to the town of Little Switzerland, and what draws most of its visitors, is the Emerald Village Mine. I learned about this place while browsing through Groupon. I’d been to a ruby mining attraction in Franklin, North Carolina pre-children and husband, and it sounded like a fun day trip adventure to enjoy with the family. The season runs March through November, and we went the last weekend of the 2017 season. It was a cold and rainy day. Luckily most of the Emerald Village activities are indoors or under some sort of cover.
When you first arrive at the Emerald Village, you’ll want to stop at the building on the right where the entrance to the Bon Ami mine is located. This tour includes a history of the mine and access to the mouth of the mine. Bon Ami scouring powder is an all-natural, scratch-free cleaning agent that was made from feldspar, mined here until the mine was closed and production was moved to Illinois.
I have to admit, not having any experience with actual gemstone mines or tours like this, my expectation was very different from what was actually there. The descriptions I’d read led me to believe that the tour included actually going into a mine. This is not the case. The mouth of the mine, just a few hundred feet, is what is accessible. Inside of this area are boards set up with information about the history of the mine along with some of the equipment that was used.
There is a blacklight tour that would definitely be more fun for children. It is conducted several times a year and the current dates can be found here.
The mine tour is not stroller friendly and I suggest wearing your infant (that’s what we did).
A short drive or walk up to the building on the left, will bring you to the Discovery Mill building.
Mining at Emerald Village
The Emerald Village also offers two different types of mining depending on the age of your children and the energy level of your group.
For families with younger children or those less adventurous types, the “gemstone mine” will be where you’ll want to head. With the purchase of a bucket (starting at ten dollars) you can have a seat at one of two different covered water flumes to sift for treasure from the contents of your bucket. Most of the buckets, with the exception of the “native bucket”, are peppered with gems from other mines. This insures that no one leaves empty handed.
We split two ten dollar buckets between the four of us and came away with more beautiful gems than I could count. Unfortunately, we were there right up until closing time, so we weren’t able to utilize the free gem identification service they offer. They will also cut down and set a gem for you on the spot.
A trick that I learned from past gem mining adventures that I taught my son on this trip, was to keep an eye out for what other people discard at the flume. Whether it be impatience, lack of knowledge or just people being in to much of a hurry – you’ll be amazed by what you’ll find other people let wash down the flume. We sat at the very end of the flume for this reason. We could have had a nice little souvenir collection without even purchasing a bucket, although I don’t recommended that. With assistance, even our two year old was having a fun time looking for “beautifuls.”
Gold panning is also available at this location, although I was unaware of that until I recently stumbled across that information on their website.
For families with children over twelve and a more adventurous spirit, the Crabtree Emerald Mine option is for you!
In the entire United States there have only been two significant sources of emeralds. At Crabtree mine, you’ll be at one of them. For only twenty dollars a day, you can search the dump piles from the mine that for just under 100 years supplied emeralds to jewelers which include Tiffany & Co of New York.
The task of unearthing gems in the mine piles is not for the faint of heart or casual adventurer. The day permit doesn’t include the tools you’ll need to break rocks and move earth. They are available for rent, however the task at hand is still not an easy one. The hard work could definitely pay off with the pride of being able to find an heirloom quality gem, that will have an exciting origin story!
Housed in the Discovery Mill building is a small mineral exhibit and different gem related souvenirs for sale. The exhibit is up a flight of stairs, so it is not stroller accessible.
There is an outdoor picnic area and snacks and refreshments are available. Packing a picnic with you is welcome and most likely your best option.
If dining at the mine doesn’t sound like a good fit, back towards the Parkway you will pass several of Little Switzerland’s country dining choices.
While In the area we had planned to also visit the Orchard at Altapass. Unfortunately, the inclement weather prevented this from happening. There are tons of family friendly events held here. It’s also, a location of a Kids in Parks Trail Track!
Plan a visit to Emerald Village in Little Switzerland
331 McKinney Pine Road
Spruce Pine, NC
Open daily until November 4th. Follow this link to see hours.
Would your family enjoy a visit to Emerald Village in Little Switzerland?