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When you hold a gem in your hand, you are holding a piece of the Earth’s history. Created through time and pressure, gems hold clues to what the Earth was like before it became the World as we know it today. When the mountains of Colorado were formed, they pushed these bits and pieces of history before recorded time to the surface, where we can dig for them now.
There are plenty of gems in Colorado for you to dig. All you need is a map, a sense of adventure, and maybe a pickaxe and a shovel. The best rockhounding locations in Colorado are:
- Mt. Atero, Chafee county
- The Turret Mining District
- Golden Gate Canyon
- Devil’s Head
- Wolf Creek Pass
- Pike’s Peak
- The Bachelor-Syracuse Mine
- The Old Hundred Gold Mine
Loosely defined, a gem is a mineral that has been cut and polished to make jewelry or other sorts of adornments. The challenge is finding a rock that is hiding a beautiful gem beneath its surface. The beauty of Colorado’s landscape makes it the perfect place to dig for gems if you know where and how to find them. Follow this guide and discover the perfect gem.
If you are interested in checking out the best book about rockhounding in Colorado you can find it by clicking here (Amazon link).
Can You Dig for Gems in Colorado
Gems and minerals are abundant throughout Colorado. You can dig for gems in Colorado almost every part of Colorado and if you are lucky, you will be rewarded with a beautiful gemstone.
The mountains of Colorado were once at the bottom of the ocean. Plate tonics pushed the seafloor up to make the scenic mountains we see today.
Rocks and minerals flowed downstream through the rivers and streams, some eventually landing on the flat plains and mesas found in the deserts of Colorado.
The number of gems and minerals you can find here is only rivaled by the number of stones you can find in California. Gems of all types are everywhere.
However, just because gems are plentiful, doesn’t mean you can just start digging and hauling loads of gems into your truck to sell later. The Bureau of Land Management has established some rules to ensure people respect property boundaries and nature.
Here are some highlights from the BLM guidelines:
- Most public lands are open for gem hunting. National monuments are not.
- You can only collect items for your own personal use. No commercial uses or dealers.
- Don’t go overboard. You are allowed to collect up to 25 pounds of specimens per day or 250 pounds a year. These include:
- semiprecious gemstones
- petrified wood
- other rocks
- Dig in areas approved for a rock collection. In other words, don’t start digging on private property or recreation areas unless they are clearly designated as such.
- While most recreational gem hunting is perfectly fine in most areas, if you are going to do more serious collecting and plan on taking out a large haul, you may need to fill out some paperwork to make sure you have the legal rights to do so.
Just as a side note, you cannot collect Native American or historical artifacts. Nor can you collect vertebrate fossils from any animal with a skeleton. Leave these to the archaeologists and scientists. Invertebrate fossils are okay as long as you don’t collect too many.
What Gems to Dig for In Colorado
Whether you are a serious gem or rock collector and part-time geologist, or you just want to experience the thrill of searching for that treasure of a lifetime, in Colorado, there is something for everyone.
Gold was discovered in 1859. That was soon followed by the Colorado Silver Boom in 1879. Since then, Colorado has been known for its rich gold and silver reserves.
As a result, Colorado calls itself the Silver State. Mining for these metals is still in productions at sites like the Cripple Creek and Victor Gold mine.
But that doesn’t mean that gold and silver are all you are going to find here. The state is home to over 770 minerals. Only the state of California has more variety of minerals in the United States.
But wait, we are talking about gems, not minerals, right? The minerals and crystals found in the rocks you collect have the potential to be gems.
Once you find the right mineral or rock, it needs to be cut and polished before it can be classified as a gem. That gemstone then becomes jewelry or some sort of decoration.
So, what kind of gems can you dig for in Colorado?
A diamond is formed under immense pressure deep in the Earth’s surface. Kimberlite tubes are volcanic pipes that push their way to the surface, taking all sorts of rocks and minerals with them. Diamonds that have hitched a ride are often found around these kimberlite tubes.
Normally, these diamonds found near kimberlites are not all that rare and usually used more for commercial use rather than a jewelry set.
However, in 1996 a yellow diamond that was 28.3 carats was found in the Kelsey Lake Mine which is located in the kimberlite area of Colorado.
Later high-quality diamonds of over 13 carats were found in the area. The Kelsey Mine has since been closed, but you can still find low-grade diamonds around the kimberlite tubes in that area.
Diamonds in Colorado have had an interesting history. In 1872, Philip Arnold and John Slack planted cheap, low-grade diamonds and other gems they had purchased in South Africa in a far corner of the Northwest corner of the Colorado territory.
With the unwitting help of a naïve mining engineer named Henry Janin, these two men were able to con the likes of George McClellan, Baron von Rothschild, and Charles Tiffany of Tiffany and Company, out of thousands of dollars.
Aquamarine is the state gem of Colorado. This is a beautiful, often transparent blue-green stone. Cut and polished it looks lovely in any jewelry setting. Aquamarine is the birthstone for March.
Rhodochrosite is a deep red to pink stone. Because of its softness, this mineral is not always cut. It can, however, be easily be shaped into beads and jewelry pieces. The more translucent the stone, the higher the value. This gem was named the state mineral of Colorado in 2002.
Topaz is the November birthstone. It is a beautiful, clear gem but does not have the popularity of other gems because it doesn’t have the desired brilliance. A topaz’s color can range from pink to orange and from colorless to the rarer blue.
Fluorite is a brittle gem that is found all over the world, but with large pockets in Colorado. While it is too delicate to set in jewelry, it makes a great collector’s piece and comes in a wide variety of colors.
- Amazonite and Smoky quartz
A 2-for-1 gem, amazonite, and smoky quartz are often found together. The opaque, blue-green amazonite is nestled in the dark quartz crystal. Separately the hard-smoky quartz can be cut and put into settings. Unfortunately, the amazonite is more fragile and tends to chip, making it unsuitable for cutting in most cases.
But wait! That’s not all! Here are just a few more of the gems you can dig for in Colorado (there are many more):
- Lapis lazuli (blue sapphire)
- Rose Quartz
BTW: Do you want to know more about rock and mineral identification? The books listed below are the best ones you can find on the internet (Amazon links):
- Smithsonian Handbooks: Rocks & Minerals
- Gemstone & Crystal Properties (Quick Study Home)
- Ultimate Explorer Field Guide: Rocks and Minerals (National Geographic Kids)
TIP: Are you interested in buying the rocks mentioned above? Be careful when buying rocks online, the internet is full of fake rocks and minerals. If you want to know the differences between real and fake rocks, check out the articles below:
Where to Dig for Gems in Colorado
Now that you have an idea of what gems you can dig for in Colorado, you need to go find them. You could just zip up your backpack and go, but that could cause some problems.
You don’t want to go rock hunting on someone’s private lands. Sometimes telling where the property lines begin, and where they end is difficult.
For the casual gem hunter, there are still plenty of places to wander and find gems with just a keen eye and a little patience. Start with the BLM website and other online resources to get an idea of where you can and can’t go.
Rock hunting clubs and mineral societies are also good places to get information. Sometimes they can also arrange for you to visit private lands with permission.
For those that want adventure with a little more guidance, there are mines and quarries that allow you to dig for gems and pan for gold.
Check for the details before you plan your trip. Most also charge for the adventure. Popular Areas Where You Can Dig for Gems in Colorado
Popular Areas Where You Can Dig for Gems in Colorado
There are so many places you can dig for gems in Colorado, where to start is the hardest part. However, here are a few places to begin.
Mt. Atero: This mountain in Chafee county is abundant in a huge variety of minerals. It is the highest gemstone collection site located just below the mountain’s 14,269-foot summit. This area freezes during the colder months so the rock collecting season is only about four months.
Here you can find:
- Smoky quartz
- and many other gems and minerals
The Turret Mining District: This area contains the ghost town of Turret and several abandoned gold mines. Here you can dig for:
- among many more gems
Golden Gate Canyon: Near the city of Golden, this area is southwest of Denver. It is near the Golden Gate Canyon state park, but you can only hunt for gems in the road cuts.
Look for these gems at Golden Gate Canyon:
- Black tourmaline
Devil’s Head: This is a beautiful area with a good hiking path. You can collect there as long as there is no snow on the ground. You should visit Devil’s head if you are looking for:
- Smoky quartz
Wolf Creek Pass: This pass wraps Treasure Mountain, named after a legendary treasure of gold, supposedly hidden there by a French expedition party in 1790. Besides just wanting to visit a place called Treasure Mountain, you can find these gems:
Pike’s Peak: Not only can you dig for gems in the areas around the mountain, but if you get tired of being a rockhound, you can buy tickets and visit the many activities at America’s Mountain in Colorado Springs.
Here you can find:
- Smoky topaz
The Bachelor-Syracuse Mine: This was a fully functioning gold and silver mine in previous times. Today it offers tours and reenactments of what mining was like back then. There is a creek on the property where you can try to find precious metals in your pan.
The Old Hundred Gold Mine: This mine offers tours down into the heart of the mine. It also has exhibits of mining from the 1800s and the 1930s. You can use the sluice box to test your luck at finding gold and semi-precious stones. The odds are good you will find something since the gems and gold flakes are planted for you to find.
Here are a few more places that you can dig for gems and other treasures in Colorado:
- Royal Gorge area: Large specimens of beryl, green and pink tourmaline, and many other gems and minerals.
- Curio Hill – agates
- Houselog Creek – geodes and agates
- Garden Park – fossils
TIP: Did you know that the different rocks and minerals are common for different environments? Find out the most common rocks and minerals in the earthquake zones are:
What You Need to Dig For Gems in Colorado
For the novice or casual gem hunter, you don’t really need too much to dig for gems. If you keep an eye out and you know what you are looking for, gems and minerals are plentiful enough in some areas that you might find some on a laidback hike through the woods.
You could also look into fee mining sites. If you are willing to pay a fee to hunt for gems and almost guarantee you will be successful; you might want to check out a fee mining site.
These are areas designated for rock hunters to pan for gold or look around and dig for gems. The fee includes the right to keep whatever you find. Some mining sites will provide you with all the equipment you need.
Here are a few fee mining sites in Colorado:
|Name of Site||What You Will Find|
|Colorado Gold Camp||Gold|
|Country Boy Mine||Gold|
|Phoenix Gold Mine||Gold|
|Pinnacle 5 Minerals||Topaz, smokey quartz, amazonite|
|Bob’s Rocks 4 U – Prospector Tours||Dinosaur bones, gold, petrified wood, and more|
|Vic’s Gold Panning||Gold|
For those more serious gem hunters, if you plan to make a day of it wandering over mountains and through parks, a small shovel and pickaxe will help you find treasures.
Of course, you want to be safe, so a pair of goggles is always a good idea when you are striking at rocks with your pickaxe.
Here is a basic list of what you should take if you are going to do some more serious gem hunting:
- Rock hammer or pickaxe
- Small shovel
- Magnifying lens
- Collection bag
TIP: If you are looking for new rockhounding equipment or you need to replace your old one, check out my articles on recommended equipment for rockhounding:
Another option for gem hunting is going to an alluvial mining site. We have all seen movies where the prospector has a pan that he puts in the stream and shakes around to find gold or gems at the bottom of his pan. Alluvial deposits are the runoff from the minerals up in the mountains that flow down into the rivers and creeks.
Again, you need to be sure you have the right to collect anything you find. There are fee mining sites that allow you to shift through the silt in hopes of striking it rich.
The best piece of equipment you will need when you dig for gems is a guidebook. Not only will you learn where to go, but almost as important, you will learn what to look for.
It is easy to imagine that shiny yellow topaz stones and brilliant aquamarines will just be lying around under a tree beside the hiking trail waiting for you to discover it.
In reality, of course, gem hunting is a lot more challenging than Easter egg hunting. You may not recognize the gem in the rock right in front of you.
Remember gems are hidden in layers of ordinary-looking rock. Geodes are a perfect example of this. Overlooking a treasure is easy if you don’t realize there is a gem inside. Using a guidebook will give you clues for what to look for so you can literally find that diamond in the rough.
Colorado is a gorgeous state with a history that is part of the fabric of the legacy of the Old West as well as the story of our nation. Countless gems and minerals can be found here.
Whether you are just on vacation to wander the hiking paths or explore the national and state parks, or a more serious geologist in search of that rare find, Colorado has much to offer.
You should do a little homework and research before you plan your rock hunting trip to the Silver State. But you don’t need much to dig for gems in Colorado.
You will find the adventure and the challenge of finding the gems hidden inside an ordinary rock far outweighs the amount of effort you need to put into planning your trip. You can dig for gems in Colorado and you can have fun doing it.
If you want to know more about rockhounding in Colorado or you prefer paper books, I recommend buying a book Rockhounding Colorado: A Guide to the State’s Best Rockhounding Sites. I found this book very useful and clearly written. You can buy it here (Amazon link).
BTW: Check out this amazing metal sign (Amazon link) which is perfect for everyone who loves rockhounding in Colorado!
TIP: If you don’t live directly in Colorado and you visited this state for vacations only, you could be interested if you can bring the rocks you found on the plane. If so, I wrote the article below for you, check it out: