Dig for Gems in a Creek at Emerald Hollow Mine in Statesville, NC

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Emerald Hollow Mine near Statesville, NC is the real deal when it comes to gem mining – you get tools, buckets, and all the things you need to search for gems in the creek and dirt. And it’s really fun! 

Thanks to Visit Statesville for setting up our experience at Emerald Hollow Mine.

I’ve been gem mining before and it’s fun but I had never gone real gem mining, like digging in creeks and dirt to search for precious stones until I went to Emerald Hollow Mine near Statesville, NC, just a little over a two-hour drive from the Upstate. 

This place is incredibly unique. It’s the only emerald mine in the world where the public can prospect for gems. In fact, it was also here at Emerald Hollow Mine in 1998 that the largest emerald in North America was found, named the Carolina Queen. Its estimated worth is about half a million dollars. The area where the mine is located has been dubbed the “most complex geological zone in the world” by famous geologists Kunz and William Hidden. 

I’ll tell you all about the neat things you can do at this mine plus give you some tips on how to enjoy it with your family. 

Creekin’ at Emerald Hollow Mine 

This was my favorite thing we did at the mine and one I’d love to go back and do again. There is a small creek that runs through the property and guests are allowed to get in it and dig for gems. You don’t need to dig deep and the tools – a sluice box and nylon trowel – are provided for you. 

You basically just get your tools and walk down to the creek. It’s only a couple minutes by foot and there are picnic tables set up along the creek that you can use for your shoes and towels or lunch and water. There’s a video you watch before you go down to the creek that suggests to look around the little waterfalls or where the creek turns to search for the gems. 

My two daughters and I found a nice spot, got in the water and started digging up some of the sandy bed with our trowels and putting it into the sluice box. We didn’t find anything for a while so moved to another spot. On our way, we asked another guest if he had found anything and he had! He showed us a small emerald and amethyst plus some other pretty gems that I forgot the names of. 

Ok, so there’s hope for us, I thought. We picked another spot and got to work. After a few minutes, I saw a speck of green and found an emerald. I was so excited! We ended up finding a couple of topaz stones also before heading up to the sluice to do our buckets of gems. 

We spent probably an hour in the creek but you can easily spend all day there, especially on a hot summer day. You have to get in the shallow water and many people there were way more prepared than we were (I’ll tell you in a bit what you should bring – none of which we brought). 

Diggin’ at Emerald Hollow Mine 

There are also spots at the mine where you take a shovel and bucket and just go digging in the dirt. We were seriously not dressed for this occasion but tried it anyway. You have to walk about a quarter of a mile into the woods and from there, it’s very easy to spot where to dig. 

There are big holes and troughs everywhere, which is kind of fun to see. My girls and I hike a lot but of course, never see this kind of stuff on the trails. We dropped down into some of the holes and started throwing dirt into our bucket. As we had to carry it back to the sluice to see what we found, we only filled it halfway since it was really heavy. 

We saw much better-prepared guests with wagons hauling their tools and buckets out of the woods. I made a mental note of this for next time. 

Sluicing at Emerald Hollow Mine 

Sluicing is what you probably think of when you think of gem mining. This is having a big bucket next to you as you sit on a bench and put the dirt into a box with a metal bottom with small holes while water runs over it. You find the gems, wash them off, and see what pretty things you’ve found. 

You can totally do this at Emerald Hollow Mine. We had three five-gallon buckets, which was a huge amount for us. We ended up just getting through two of them since it can take awhile, especially with kids who scoop slowly. 

The gems you find don’t necessarily come from the mine’s property but the dirt does so you may find some native stones. 

Lapidary at Emerald Hollow Mine

Admittedly, I didn’t know what a lapidary was when I went to the mine. I had wondered previously if it was possible to find someone to make jewelry out of the gems you find when you go gem mining but I did not know that kind of work is called a lapidary. 

Well, Emerald Hollow Mine has the only lapidary within a five-state radius and it’s seriously cool. Their services are in such high demand that they are currently running about eight months out for orders. But all the gems you bring them to use for jewelry is what they use. They don’t order anything from anywhere else. 

We met a couple there who had several pieces made by this lapidary and they were currently picking up many more pieces that day. One ring the woman had was made there and it was beautiful! 

They can also mail you the pieces when they are finished so you don’t have to go back and pick them up. Prices start around $45 and go up from there.  

Tips on Enjoying Your Time at Emerald Hollow Mine 

There are several things you can do or bring to make your time even more fun than it will already be at the mine. 

I spoke with the employees at the mine plus, considering my own experience, and these are the things I suggest you bring with you if you are going to be digging in the dirt or the creek:  

  • Wagon
  • Garden tools
  • Picks
  • Hammers
  • Waders, water shoes, or hiking boots
  • Towels
  • Change of clothes
  • Bug spray
  • Lunch 
  • Water 
  • Waterproof cushion
  • Some type of container to keep your finds in

Well-behaved pets on leashes are also welcome at the mine. There are minimal snacks and drinks at the mine so it’s best to bring your own. An employee recommended a nearby restaurant, Yellow Deli, which is open most of the year and very tasty. 

Admission at the Emerald Hollow Mine 

The mine is an active mine site, which means everyone must have a permit to enter, whether or not you are participating in digging. Permits cost $25/adult and $10/kids (ages 4-11). That includes as much time as you want and all the tools. You can also come and go as you please during the day. 

For the sluice, you choose which enriched bucket you’d like and that determines the cost. They range from $7 up to $1,000.

Emerald Hollow Mine is open daily 8 am – 8:30 pm but call them if you want to come after 4 pm as their hours may change. They are only closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day. 

484 Emerald Hollow Mine Drive, Hiddenite, NC
Emerald Hollow Mine Website

About the Author
Kristina Hernandez is a mom of two girls, freelance writer and photographer. Originally from New Jersey, she is in love with the Upstate and could not imagine raising her kids anywhere else. She enjoys hiking to waterfalls, kayaking, camping, cooking, and exploring all that Greenville has to offer. And she really loves baby goats. Follow her on Instagram at @scadventurer.

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