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The 9 Best Places to Dig for Gems in California (with maps)

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California is an accessible location for finding gemstones, with a wide variety to choose from.  Many people enjoy going on digs to find them while they are in California. San Diego is even known as one of the largest producers of gemstones.

The best places are usually in mines that are open for the public, specifically in the Pala mining district. There are a few free options as well, but they come with the risk of finding fewer gemstones and no equipment provided.

If rockhounding in California is next up on your adventure list, then this article is for you. Keep reading for the nine best places to dig for gems in California.

If you are interested in checking out the best book about rockhounding in California you can find it by clicking here (Amazon link).

Himalaya Mine

The Himalaya Mine is an accessible location for the public to visit to find gemstones. They are located at Lake Henshaw Resort, where you will be allowed to dig a screen through ore from the mine.

They offer a wide variety of Gemstones with varying degrees of success stories from customers.

What Gemstones to Expect

Many people go into digs expecting to find a certain kind of crystal, so you will need to be aware of what kind of stones or Gemstones tend to appear in different minds. The Himalaya Mine often produces a large variety of gemstones:

  • A variety of tourmaline
  • Quartz
  • Clevelandite
  • Spessartine
  • Garnet
  • Lepidolite

They do produce other kinds of Gemstones along with these, but these are the most commonly seen. Tourmaline is one of the most popular or common gemstones you will find within California.

Price to Dig

Most mines have a public dig available, but it will cost a fee to do so. Himalaya mine allows adults to dig for $75, and kids are allowed to dig for $37.50. Any children under 12 years old are free and additional children are $20.

What Do They Provide?

Since they are located at Lake Henshaw Resort, they do offer accommodations for the night. Unfortunately, these are not included in the price for digging. There are other hotels or parking for RV’s available nearby.

What You Need to Bring

To dig, they do have some recommendations on what you should wear or bring with you. You will be digging through the ore, so it is important to pay attention to the weather.

Many people usually bring muddy or rain gear with them. If you would like to keep your hands clean, you may consider bringing rubber gloves as well.

The main tools they ask you to bring are a toothbrush, something to carry your Gemstones, and perhaps something to wrap them in to help protect them.

History

The Himalaya Mine has been known for its tourmaline variety and quality since 1898. These productions began with an Asian Empress raised the demand for pink tourmaline within the Chinese market.

When the Chinese market crashed in 1912, the mine began operating sporadically. Many rockhounds enjoy visiting the mine dump to find their own gems.

Plumas County Gold Panning

Plumas County is located in northern California and has been known for gold panning since the 1800s. The majority of these camps have been torn down since then, but there are still several areas where the public is allowed to search for any gold left.

What Gemstones to Expect

You will most likely not see any Gemstones while here. You will most likely only be able to find gold flakes while panning at this location. However, gemstones are usually found in unexpected ways, so you may be able to find some anyways.

Price to Dig

Gold panning in these areas is usually free to the public. You can pan for gold in any area that hasn’t been staked. There are also public areas where inexperienced gold panners prefer to go.

The Golden Caribou Mining Association does offer lessons for gold panning and even has equipment available. You would need to visit them while in town or message them on Facebook for more information on these.

What Do They Provide?

Due to the free areas, they do not provide most equipment. The Golden Caribou Mining Association does have equipment that they offer to new gold panners. To ask about these, you would need to contact them directly.

What You Need to Bring

If you are able to provide your own equipment, then you should bring it. Along with this, consider wearing clothes that you don’t mind being dirty.

Also, remember to consider what the weather conditions will be; bringing an extra jacket or a hat is never a bad idea.

History

This was a popular location during the gold rush for people to find gold. This is largely due to the story of Thomas Stoddard finding a lake with large nuggets of gold sitting in it. He found this lake while lost with a companion while they were wandering around lost.

After Stoddard returned with the gold nuggets, many rushed to find the Gold Lake. However, none were able to find this lake. Instead, many set up camps around streams in the area and were successful in these areas.

BTW: Do you want to know more about rocks and minerals identification? The books listed below are the best ones you can find on the internet (Amazon links):

OceanView Mine

OceanView Mine gives you a rare experience of seeing the only active mine in the Pala Gem mining district. You are allowed to screen through the dump piles they have excavated and searched for Gemstones that the miners may have missed.

What Gemstones to Expect

You will most likely find a wide variety of Gemstones at this location. They are most known for their variety of tourmaline, but they do have others as well:

  • Tourmaline
  • Kunzite
  • Aquamarine
  • Morganite
  • Lepidolite
  • Quartz

They have many other gemstones that have been found as well, but these are among the most common that have been dug up.

Price to Dig

The price for adults to dig is $75, 5 to 11 years old is $60, and any children under four years old are free. For this price, you will get to keep any gemstones you find and one 5-gallon bucket of rocks that you have found.

You will be allowed to dig for four hours after your training session.

Along with the dig, you will be given a jeep tour through Chief Mountain. You will be able to see all of the currently active mines, including the most famous, Tourmaline Queen Mine.

What Do They Provide?

They take care of every tool you will need while digging. Before allowing you to dig, they will give you a brief training session. The tools they include are screens, water, buckets, and shovels.

What You Need to Bring

The main thing you will need to bring is clothes you don’t mind being somewhat ruined since you will be digging through piles of dirt.

You also will want to consider if you will be in the direct sun or other weather conditions. You are bringing a hat, or an extra jacket is never a bad decision in these situations.

History

The work in this mine began in September 2000 and has found several pockets over the years. The mine is typically run by five miners at a time and has been known to regularly produce quality gemstones.

Opal Hill Mine

Opal Hill Mine is located in eastern California, near the border of Arizona. This site location is sometimes called Coon Hollow and can be found deep in Mule Mountains.

Currently, this location is closed as they get approved by the BLM to resume digging. Once it is reopened, they plan to allow the public to have access to the mine once again.

What Gemstones to Expect

As the name suggests, this mine is best known for the stunning opal eggs it produces. Along with the opal it produces, it tends to also have rare fire agate and a variety of quartz Gemstones.

Other gemstones have been found as well, but these are the most iconic or common of them.

Price to Dig

To learn the prices and any other information on the site, you will need to contact them directly. You will also be able to ask for more information on the accommodations.

What Do They Provide?

Outside of providing directions and accommodations, you will need to pay for; they do not provide any tools or lessons. Coon Hollow campground has sites with picnic tables, grills, and vault toilets.

What You Need to Bring

To access this site, it is recommended to be driving a high clearance vehicle due to the difficult terrain near the end. Along with this, you will need to bring food, water, and firewood if you decide to camp.

Opal Hill has a list of tools that you should bring to provide the best experience. These include a chisel, wire brush, pick, shovel, sledgehammer, and any other tools you may feel you need. You should also bring a large bucket so you can carry any gemstones found.

History

This mine was created in 1965 and was managed by Helen Madden for 18 years. Unlike most mines, this site was established into a hillside.

You can find rock outcroppings and holes where the gemstones have been extracted over time. Over the years, the site has been damaged by the desert heat, vandalism, and a tornado even came through and destroyed the camp.

Gems of Pala

Gems of Pala is a local business that is run by Blue Sheppard and his wife, Shannon. Blue has over 52 years of experience that he and his wife are willing to share with any visitors. They are the #1 choice in San Diego County for a family mining adventure.

What Gemstones to Expect

This mine, like many others in the area, is well known for the beautiful tourmaline that can be found. They have a good variety of others that are found as well:

  • Quartz
  • Lepidolite
  • Kunzite
  • Morganite
  • Tourmaline

They even have had some people walk away with a profit because of the gems they have found. Some have even dug up amazing new finds that even the owners were surprised by.

Price to Dig

The biggest thing to be aware of is that this is a cash-only site. So, make sure to bring some with you so you can afford anything you may want.

This includes a Gem Bucket for $30, so you can take your gems with you. If you would prefer to purchase a pre-dug bag, then you can buy one for $50.

You aren’t required to make reservations unless you have a large group; you just need to show up on Saturday or Sunday between 10 am and 3 pm. You will need to contact them about any further prices that may be included.

What Do They Provide?

They provide any equipment that you will need while digging. You will have screens, bins, water, and anything else you may need on-site. They will also give you any instructions or tips you need to be successful in finding gemstones.

What You Need to Bring

As I’ve mentioned previously, you should wear clothes that you don’t mind being ruined. Digging for gemstones isn’t clean work, but the payout is always worth it.

History

In the 1850s, miners who were looking for gold ended up finding an array of gemstones instead. Gems of Pala gives the opportunity to mine in the same stockpiles that were mined then. Blue and Shannon Sheppard opened this location and are willing to share their plethora of knowledge on mining with any who visit.

Benitoite Mining Company

This location has been on every rockhounds list of mines to visit due to its high-quality gems. The mine is named after California’s state gemstone, benitoite.

What Gemstones to Expect

The most obvious gemstone you may find is benitoite. There are other gemstones that can found, like different kinds of quartz, but this is the main crystal people go to this location looking for.

Price to Dig

The mine is only open from 9 am to 3 pm on Saturdays by reservation. You can set up a reservation on their website or contact them for more information on the classes they have available. The cost for adults to dig is $100, and children under 12 are $50.

They are going to soon be offering classes, workshops, and demonstrations. These will be focused on several topics around benitoite, mineral collecting, gems, and various skills for creating specimens.

What Do They Provide?

They provide a wide variety of tools and equipment for your dog. This includes screens, shovels, washing tables, and your quart-sized bag. They also provide a UV room so you can look through your materials and other equipment.

They also have workers who will be able to assist you with your dig or any questions you may have. The workers will also be able to help identify any gemstones you find.

What You Need to Bring

This is a sunny area, so it is recommended to bring something that can provide any form of shade for yourself. This could even be a pop-up shade if you have access to one and lawn chairs. They do not provide meals or drinks, so you will want to bring some with you.

History

In 1907 a prospector found blue Gemstones that he believed were sapphires. When he brought them back, a few were given to a professor of mineralogy. In July 1907, he published an article naming a new mineral that was found, benitoite.

In 2005 the current owners purchased this mine and opened it to allow for the public to search for gems as well. Before 2020 this mine was called the California State Gem Mine.

Gold Prospecting Adventures

Located in Jamestown, California, Gold Prospecting Adventures is known for being the best for gem hunting. This was a prominent leader during the iconic gold rush. They are professionals at what they do and have a unique way to bring their clients back in time.

What Gemstones to Expect

This site is known best for finding gold when you are using a pan to sift. While you may be able to locate a few other gemstones while doing so, the main focus at these locations is to relive the gold rush experience.

Price and Packages

This is a highly unique camp due to it being set up to replicate the genuine layout of a gold rush camp. They offer a wide variety of packages that can include lessons, a family package, or just straightforward panning.

Gold Panning Adventure

This is a two-hour package that can be extended along with the price. For one adult, it is $75, while teenagers are half price.

This package will give you a gold panning lesson at the 1849 mining camp. It is in a shaded creek near historic downtown Jamestown.

The Want-To-Be

For this package, you will be allowed to dig your own hole and pan without a guide for five hours. This package costs $50 for an adult, half for teenagers, and free for children under 12.

This package is for people who already know how to pan and do not need any equipment or help. If you do need to rent a sluice box, then you can do so for an additional $30.

This is a package that gives you a private mining camp and goes about mining your own way.

Sluice and Panning Adventure

This is the most popular package they offer, as it also features the use of a sluice box. This means most people will be able to walk away with more gold than if you just pan.

They do have several lengths available, but the main package is for two hours. This package costs $120 per adult, and teenagers are half price.

Family Sluice and Panning Adventure

This package is very similar to the previous one, but the price is set for a family instead of individually. For $235, you can bring two adults and three children under 12. Just like the previous one, they do offer longer options as well.

Metal Detector Classes

You will be able to learn how to properly search for gold using either your own metal detector or the one provided. This is a two-hour experience for $200 per person.

Prospecting Course

This is a fully immersive, three-day course. For this option, you will have a detailed course to teach you how to best locate gold in streams along with other in-depth information. You will get to go over a little bit of everything from the previous packages as well. This course costs $1,150 per adult and teenagers are half price.

What Do They Provide?

For the majority of their packages, they include all of the equipment, except for The Want-To-Be package. Make sure to contact them prior to your experience so you can know exactly what they will be providing.

What You Need to Bring

Make sure to bring clothes that you don’t mind being ruined. While some packages do include clothes, you still don’t want to have to worry about your nice clothes being ruined in the stream.

For some of the longer packages, it is recommended to bring along a lunch, but there are restaurants in the area as well.

History

Gold Prospecting Adventures has been around for over 40 years. The camp they are located in is called the 1849 Gold Mining Camp and has over 25 attractions outside of panning for gold. This town is supposed to bring a little piece of history into the present.

Roaring Camp Mining Company

Roaring Camp Mining Company can be found in Pine Grove, California. This location is open May through September and has a variety of attractions to enjoy while spending time in the gold mining camp.

What Gemstones to Expect

This location is popular for gold panning and was once a camp for Forty-Niners. You will most likely not see anything other than gold in this area, but there is still the possibility.

Price to Dig

They have a wide variety of options for gold panning. Outside of panning, they have a cabin or tents that visitors can pay to stay in. There are even tours of the area with an experienced guide.

Gold Bearing Gravel Piles

For this option, they will provide a sluice box, water, settling pond, and any equipment you will need. You will also have assistance from their workers.

The material is dug from bedrock, and any larger rocks are removed. You are allowed to use the equipment for three hours a day, and each pile can take around five days to clear.

The cost to do this is $350 per pile, but you will need to reserve prior to arrival as they are limited.

Saturday Night Cookout

For the cookout, you will leave at 5 pm and take a five-hour trip into the canyon. You will get to go through the Museum, Camp, and then be shown how to pan for gold. This costs $50 per person, or free for anyone who is staying inside the camp.

All Day Guided Gold Planning Tour

This tour takes you through Mokelumne River Canyon, where Forty-Niners once mined. You will get to see a variety of attractions and even get to swim while on this hike.

You can either bring a lunch or eat at their Trading Post. This tour costs $40 per person.

Crystal Mine

Crystal Mine is near Loyalton, California, and is an old mine that used to be used for digging up gemstones. The area is marked by a brown sign before you reach Lookout Campground. It is a hidden gem within the National Forest.

What Gemstones to Expect

There are a wide variety of gemstones that can be found here, but among the most common is quartz. You can find a wide variety of quartz Gemstones at this location, and sometimes you can find hidden gems among them.

Price to Dig

The best part about this location is that it is a free site. However, there are a few downsides to the site being free. The main concern would be that you have no supervision, and no tools will be available for use.

What You Need to Bring

You will need to bring all of your own tools. It is recommended to bring a bucket, gloves, tools for digging, and anything else that you may want while searching. You are allowed to take up to 5-pounds of Gemstones per week.

Since this area isn’t supervised, you will need to consider everything you may need to bring. This also includes meals and water to clean Gemstones with.

History

This location used to be used during World War II when Gemstones were needed in abundance. Gemstones were used for two-way radios, which were used heavily in WWII. Dynamite was used to bringing the Gemstones to the surface.

You can still find whole Gemstones despite the blast that went off. While you may find pieces more commonly, there are still hidden gems among the hillside.

Be sure that you and your companions stay safe while you are rockhounding. I wrote an article about recommended safety equipment for rockhounding, check it out here:


Recommended Safety Equipment for Rockhounding: Stay Safe!


Final Thoughts

Each mine has something different to offer; this can vary in several ways. Finding out what equipment a mine may provide, what accommodations may be offered, and what kind of gemstones are most common in each mine.

If you have a certain gemstone, you are looking for, and then you will need to pay attention to what each mine is best known for. Otherwise, it mainly comes down to what each mine has to offer at what cost.

You will also want to do research on what previous customers thought of each mine. Sometimes a mine will be known for not having a large gemstone turnout, and you don’t want to walk away without any gemstones.

If you want to know more about rockhounding in California or you prefer paper books, I recommend buying these two books: Gem Trails of Southern California and Gem Trails of Northern California.

I found these books very useful and clearly written. You can buy the first book (Southern California) here (Amazon link) and the second one (Northern California) here (Amazon link).

BTW: Check out this amazing metal sign (Amazon link) which is perfect for everyone who loves rockhounding in California!

TIP: As you already know, some of the mentioned places require to bring your own rockhounding equipment. So be sure to check out this article about the recommended equipment for rockhounding:


Recommended Rock Hammers, Picks, Chisels & Bars For Rockhounding