What kid doesn't love the idea of finding hidden treasure? At the following destinations, families get the chance to hunt for emeralds, diamonds, and even gold -- all while messing around in dirt and mud. You probably won't strike the mother lode, but you'll have a load of fun. The best part? It's all finders, keepers!
California Gold Panning
The treasure: Gold!
Why it's fun: Back in the days of the California gold rush, Jamestown's Woods Creek was one of the richest claims. Today, the owner, Miner John, recounts that history, while leading group hikes to the area's mining sites. Budding prospectors hear about how gold deposits are formed and are shown the proper way to pan from the streams.
What you'll need: A pan, bucket, and a shovel (all are included)
What it costs: $120 to $160 for a family of four, which includes a 2-hour lesson in panning and using a sluice box*
Season: Open year-round
For information: Call 209-984-4038 or go to
Tools of the trade
- A sluice box is a long, walled tray with riffles in the bottom that's used to separate heavier materials, such as gold and gemstones, from the sediment in a stream of muddy water.
Crater of Diamonds State Park
Courtesy of Arkansas State Park
The treasure: Diamonds (and some 40 other gems and minerals)
Why it's fun: At the discovery center, families first learn how to recognize white, brown, and yellow diamonds in the rough, then head outside to search for them in a 37 1/2-acre plowed field on the site of an ancient volcano. Afterward, they can cool off in the on-site water park.
What you'll need: A shovel, screen, and bucket (rentals start at $8)
What It Costs: $7 for adults, $4 for children ages 6 to 12, and free for kids ages 5 and under
Season: Open year-round* (except for the summer-only water park)
For information: Call 870-285-3113 or visit
- The best time to visit Crater of Diamonds State Park? After a good rainstorm, say experienced miners, when it's easiest to spot the gems on the ground.
Crystal Grove Diamond Mine and Campground
Courtesy of Crystal Grove Diamond Mine
St. Johnsville, New York
The treasure: Herkimer diamonds, which are quartz crystals in the shape of cut diamonds
Why it's fun: Beginners can dig and sift in the dirt of two large pit mines, while more adventurous types can take a chisel and hammer to the rock walls, where the brilliant crystals form in pockets. Campsites and cabins are available for overnight stays.
What you'll need: Shovels and screens, hammers and chisels, safety goggles (rentals start at $2; you can buy safety goggles for $3 a pair)
What it costs: $10 for adults, $8 for kids ages 4 to 14, and free for children ages 3 and under
Season: Open mid-April through mid-October
For information: Call 518-568-2914 or go to
Emerald Hollow Mine
Courtesy of Emerald Hollow Mine
Hiddenite, North Carolina
The treasure: Emeralds (shown at right) as well as sapphires, garnets, aquamarines, topazes, amethysts, and other gemstones
Why it's fun: Located about an hour from the Blue Ridge Parkway, this is the only emerald mine in the country that's open to the public. Part of it is a surface mine, where kids can use shovels and screens to sift through dirt, but families can also use a sluice or pan for emeralds in on-site creeks.
What you'll need: A hand shovel, screen, and bucket (equipment rentals start at $2)
What it costs: Permits are $5 per person for sluicing (includes a bucket of ore); $10 for sluicing and creeking (panning in the creek); or $20 for sluicing, creeking, and digging
Season: Open year-round
For information: Call 828-632-3394 or go to
Former FamilyFun intern Ashley E. Blom blogs at
Originally published in the August 2012 issue of FamilyFun