Montana has earned its nickname of the Treasure State many times over. With abundant natural beauty, the treasure of fresh air and healthy forests, and glittering rivers and lakes, it seems only fitting. But the long history of mining—whether for gold, silver, and copper or gemstones—ties in too. When you visit Montana, there are plenty of fun ways to take home a little treasure with you.
At the base of the scenic Skalkaho Highway outside Philipsburg, Gem Mountain lets any interested rock hunter enjoy digging through buckets of gravel for sapphires in the rough. You pay by the bucket, so it’s easy to just keep hunting, especially with the possibility of finding a record-setting gem. The scenic setting combined with the excitement of the search makes for an experience to remember. And if you visit in winter, you can still pick up gravel, polished gems, or even try some gravel washing of your own at their Philipsburg in-town location.
Another great spot for sapphires just outside of Helena, the Montana Blue Jewel Mine sells spots to dig at $100 for five buckets of gravel. Call to reserve your place, and be sure to load up your day bag with sunscreen, snacks and water before you go.
Near Helena, you’ll also find the Spokane Bar Sapphire Mine, where you can pick up bags of sapphire concentrate—sapphire rich gravel from one of their mines—for sale to take with you, or go out for a full-day mine extravaganza with one of their pros.
For a small fee of $5 per vehicle, the national forest site at Crystal Park offers an exciting adventure hunting for quartz crystals. In grey, clear, white or purple hues, these six-sided prisms sparkle in the sun, catching your eye as you dig. Bring your own hand tools—a trowel works well, and you might want a screen as well. Make sure to follow posted restrictions while you get after some shiny rocks.
Buy buckets of gravel and change things up from the sapphire scene when you screen for garnets at Red Rock Mine near Virginia City. Open from May 1 to October 1, hunting for gems here lets you sample the mining history of the ghost town.
Every rockhound has its secret spots, and while you might be hard-pressed to pry their favorite hunting grounds from them, the good news is that you can find your own. In Montana, any land below the river’s high-water mark allows for public access. So if you make your way to the river from a public launch or fishing access site, you can stroll the banks to your heart’s content.
Peer into gravel beds and see if you can spot sapphires, garnets, or the famed Montana agates. The one caveat is that the burden falls on you to know the regulations of the land manager and understand whether collecting—and how much—is allowed there. But the hunt in the wild makes it worth the research and the hard work of the chase.
Ready for your Montana adventure? Get out and explore with a home base of a Highline Adventures property. Book now, and get out into the Treasure State.