Cool rocks and gemstones have been my jam since I was a little kid. Every family road trip would have me scouring the roadsides for "Rock Shop" signs or anything of the like.

One thing I never had the chance to do was actually mine for my own treasures. My folks were surprisingly tolerant about stopping at every rock shop I noticed, but doing the work of washing buckets over a screen and such was never something we did. There are several places throughout Montana where you can do this, if you want that experience:

Philipsburg, MT: Gem Mountain Sapphire Mine - 21 Sapphire Gulch Lane at mile marker 38.4 of Montana Highway 38, Skalkaho Pass Road, between Hamilton and Philipsburg. You can make a reservation to visit the mine and wash through gravel to find your own Montana sapphires. They provide all the equipment you'll need, and guidance on what you're looking for. (The $40 reservation prepays for your first gravel bucket and reserves your equipment. You can then add more buckets if you want to.)

Jesse Ropelato
Jesse Ropelato

Butte, MT: Butte Mineral and Gem Club - Obviously this is a club, not a mine itself, but they DO have field-trips throughout the year to mines across the state. Plus, they're a knowledgeable bunch who also host the Butte Mineral Show at the Civic Center. If you're a rock hound, getting involved with this club might be the perfect avenue for more regular involvement in all things gems, rocks, fossils, etc. Membership is only $15 per year.

Helena, MT: Spokane Bar Sapphire Mine - 5360 Castles Road, Helena. Don't let the name fool you. This mine is just outside of Helena so it's a reasonable day trip for almost everyone. "The largest known sapphire from the Spokane Bar was 155 carats, found by a man from Idaho." You can either order a bag of gravel to sift through at home or visit the actual mines. You may end up finding sapphires, garnets and rubies. Their FAQ page is very helpful in explaining your options.

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Emerald Creek Garnet Area near St. Maries, Idaho - OK, this one is in Idaho but it's worth a look if you're willing to road trip. Never heard of St. Maries? We hadn't either. But here's the lowdown on mining your own gemstones in this remote location: "Emerald Creek Garnet Area is a federal site that opens every year on Memorial Day weekend for organized mining. People from around the world come to this remote corner of Idaho to hopefully find their own ruby-red gem."

West Yellowstone, MT: Yellowstone Gemstone Mining Company - 105 South Faithful Street, West Yellowstone. This is way more of a tourist place, not a serious mine. But, the 'mining' is great for little kids, whereas the other options listed aren't really kid-friendly at all. There are other activities here which are more of the focus such as zipline, rafting and horseback riding.

Franco Antonio Giovanella - unsplash
Franco Antonio Giovanella - unsplash

Alder, MT: Red Rock Mine and Garnet Gallery - 2040 Montana Highway 287, Alder. "Screen a bucket or screen all day. Along Montana Highway 287 between Alder and historic Virginia City we have set up water tanks and a shade building to screen for beautiful Montana garnets. Visitors are welcome to stop and screen or shop for the jewelry." This option is family-friendly too, so if you want to 'mine' with the kiddos, this is a good option. If you buy a bucket and someone gets restless, you can bag it up and take it home. Phone: 406-842-5760.

Helena, MT: The Montana Blue Jewel Mine - 5582 Four Cees Road, Helena. You absolutely must have reservations to dig here so make sure you call ahead. Phone: (406) 437-8605. Cash only and only 3 sapphire gravel screening stations are set up. Latest cost info says 6 screened 5-gallon buckets costs $100. This one is NOT a touristy kind of place and you'll need to be prepared to be out in the elements.

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