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.
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.