It was suggested to me that I could do a blogpost on “hidden gems” in Asheville. I thought about it and I came to a sparkling realization: no gem is more hidden and gem-like than an actual hidden gem. Yes, I mean garnet, rubiess, sapphires, and emeralds, the latter of which happens to be the state gem of NC. I speak of gem hunting for actual gems; a hobby I was recently introduced to via a visit to Idaho, the gem-state itself.
WNC may not be as bedazzled as Idaho, but still, gem hunting pairs nicely with Asheville’s natural proclivity for hiking. Just last week I found some delightful quartz fragments, lying right on the path. Since then I’ve done some (metaphorical) digging, and I’ve found some fine spots to indulge in a little gem hunting in Asheville.
Spread out over a series of twelve historic mines, Emerald Village offers some of the best gold-and-gem panning in the area, while lying only about forty minutes from downtown Asheville. Now this place is a tourist-spot for sure—a far fling from scouring the wilderness for diamonds in the rough—but I decided to start off my gem hunting recommendations at what I’ll call “initiate level.”
Besides, many visitors to Asheville bring children and depending on their age, lugging around rock-hammers over ten miles of mountain trail may be a little above their pay grade. Plus—according to my parents’ unverified reports—I enjoyed gem panning here as a child myself. Honestly, I can’t attest to anything that happened before 2011, but that’s beside the point.
At Emerald Village, a bucketful of panning-fun starts at $10. Personally, I’d recommend getting one of their “native buckets,” which are unseeded—meaning you may not find anything—but whatever you do find is one-hundred-percent authentic.
Final Analysis: A good place to start if you are just tipping your toe into gem hunting in Asheville. More expensive than most other options but significantly easier than wandering around a forest hoping to find something shiny.
Lying one hour away from downtown, I’d call Gem Mountain the next step in a potential rock-hound’s training. While both Gem Mountain and Emerald Village offer gem-panning, what I’d like to focus on here is Gem Mountain’s mining trips.
These four-hour endeavors take you into one of two genuine mines. Transportation, equipment, and professional gemstone-identification are all provided, allowing you to familiarize yourself with the dusty business of gem hunting itself.
Between their two mines, I would prefer to try my hand at Hoot Owl, on account of its beautiful surroundings. Ultimately though, I would want to have a look at both mines. Its not often I find a mine without a “keep out” sign or warnings of “imminent collapse,” or something like that. What’s more—and this may seem obvious—actual mines are one of the best places to go gem hunting.
Final Analysis: For gem hunting in Asheville a touch more on the rigorous side, Gem Mountain’s the place for you.
As an oddity though, their mining trips require a minimum of six people, which isn’t exactly the average family-size. For that reason, I’d suggest bringing along either the extended family and/or some local Ashevilleian relations.
This exhibit is attached to Asheville’s downtown Museum of Science and although those veteran rock hounds among you may baulk at my suggestion of “gem hunting” at a museum, consider this: you are absolutely guaranteed to find top-notch rocks at Colburn. You may not be able to take them home but they sure are fine to look at.
A visit to Colburn is an excellent contribution to one’s working knowledge of geology and lends an idea of what you can aspire to as you go gem hunting in Asheville. Families with STEM-inclined kids will also enjoy the museum’s numerous other exhibits and families/individuals of all kinds are sure to appreciate the museum’s proximity to Patton Avenue, downtown’s premier restaurant-street.
Final Analysis: Ultimately, I’m including Colburn on this list as a respite from all the outdoorsing and with the assurance that anyone coming to Asheville intent on finding gems will appreciate this exhibit.
Disclaimer: online resources about gem hunting in WNC seem few and far between. As such, most of what follows in these next two entries is a combination of speculation and personal observation.
With that out of the way, remember those quartz pieces a mentioned at the start? Well they came from Graveyard Fields, and by golly, there is a whole lot more to be found.
This local Blue Ridge Parkway favorite—about an hour out from downtown—has a whole lot going for it. Even with a full parking lot, it seldom ever fields crowded, thanks in part to its extensive, interconnected series of trails. Speaking of trails, any hiker here will notice that most of the trails have been cut into the ground, meaning 90% of the digging has already been done for you. Simply look down every so often and you are bound to find a promising stone wedged into the dirt.
If you need a more solid destination, aim for the creeks. Graveyard Field’s waterways are lined with mounds of naturally pre-tumbled rocks—a perfect place to go gem hunting.
Now I didn’t have my trusty rock hammer with me last time I went, so I can’t attest to what’s inside of any of those rocks. But even if you walk away from Graveyard empty handed, the views and vibrant Blue Ridge flora will have been well worth your time.
Final Analysis: A terrifically popular spot for hiking in Asheville, regardless of whether you are after gems or not. Since gem hunting in Graveyard Fields is what I’d consider “true” gem hunting (free of guides, seeded finds, etc.) I’d like to drop a couple of tips.
First off, individuals are free to take small amounts of rocks from NC’s national parks, so no legal worries there. Second off, if you don’t have a rock hammer, I find brick hammers work just as well, and are sold at most hardware stores.
Oh also: if you want to go around cracking open rocks, wear eye protection. Trust me.
As the highest peak this side of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Grandfather is an absolute icon of Asheville hiking, even if it lies more than an hour away. For a fee, you can access spanning views of the peak and surrounding mountains from a hanging bridge. Alternatively, you can roam eleven rocky trails free of charge.
For those reasons alone, Grandfather Mountain is worth a visit, but by cross referencing a few geological surveys, I found that this peak lies in a hotspot for all sorts of gems. All the rugged terrain (cliffs, caves, etc.) suggest geological upset and therefore more plentiful access to rocks of interest. As always, if you want to go gem hunting here, aim for the water.
Final Analysis: I’m kind of going out on a limb here but Grandfather Mountain does seem to have all the elements I look for in gem hunting. Besides, it’s a stunning hike in its own right and so I have little trouble suggesting it for part of your efforts at gem hunting in Asheville.
331 McKinney Mine Rd, Spruce Pine, NC 28777
13780 Highway 226 South, Spruce Pine, NC 28777
Asheville Museum of Science
43 Patton Ave, Asheville, NC 28801
Graveyard Fields, Canton, NC 28716
2050 Blowing Rock Hwy, Linville, NC 28646