Ruby Red Adventure: North Carolina’s Public Mines Open for Exploration

The complex geological history of North Carolina has made it a prime destination for rockhounds across the globe. The state stores away an astounding variety of rocks and minerals, including emeralds, amethysts, beryl, garnet, and the subject of this article–rubies.

Rubies and sapphires come from the same family of rock, Corundum. Rubies are recognized by their rich, deep red color. The greatest concentration of rubies in North Carolina seems to be in the southwestern corner, and several sites are open for public collecting.

Ruby Mines In North Carolina Open To The Public

Cherokee Ruby and Sapphire Mine

Located in Macon County, Cherokee Ruby & Sapphire Mine is the number 4 pick among places to mine in the U.S. by the International Gem Society. Although the mine is called a dig-your-own site, that is not really true. Raw material is dug in the mine itself and made available for individuals to sort through.

Rubies found in this and other locations in the Cowee Valley are high-quality gems known as the “Pidgeon Blood” variety. These rubies are of a vivid red hue said to mimic blood. They are also particularly glossy due to the presence of chromium as an impurity. 

The Cherokee Ruby & Sapphire Mine offers flume mining. Collectors pay a fee for a pre-filled, 100% unsalted bucket of raw ore. The material can be processed at the flume using natural Caler Creek water. Most of the equipment needed is supplied on-site, but you may want to bring a magnifying glass and tweezers for smaller specimens.

The fee is $20.00 per person, but there are several possible discounts listed on the website. Children aged 5 and under are free with a paying adult. The site is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday through Friday. 

The mine may be closed for inclement weather or if it gets too crowded, so call ahead to 828-349-2941. The website gives very specific directions to the site. Read these carefully, as GPS tends to go wrong on this one.

Other Franklin Area Mines

Cherokee Ruby &Sapphire Mine is just one of many near the town of Franklin. While in the area, you might check out some of the other locally-run operations. 

  • Sheffield Gem Mine–Like the Cherokee Mine, the Sheffield Mine offers buckets of raw ore to work in the on-site flume. Unlike the Cherokee site, Sheffield’s buckets may be salted with imported raw gems. Book a visit from April through October by phone (+1-828-369-8383) or visit the mine’s website here.
  • Old Cardinal Gem Mine–At the Old Cardinal Gem Mine, raw ore may be dug from the mine’s piles or purchased by the bucket load and sorted in the site’s flume. The site is open seven days a week. Visit the mine’s website for more information about the amenities and contact information.  
  • Rose Creek Mine–Rose Creek Mine has been in operation since 1952. All the necessary equipment is provided to dig buckets of raw ore from the mining tunnel and reveal any findings with the flume. The mine is open Thursday-Saturday only, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., April through October. The last miners are allowed in at 4 p.m. Visit the website here for more information. 
  • Mason’s Ruby and Saffire Mine–This is another family-owned mine that’s been around since the ‘50s. The site is open to visitors Tuesday through Saturday, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Dig your own or purchase a bucket of ore for the flume. This site also offers black-light hunts after dark for parties of four to twelve. These night hunts cost $50 per person and must be scheduled beforehand. See the website for further information.

Many other mines are listed here and there for the Franklin area. But not all of them are still open to the public. Some that are, so far as I have been able to find out, closed at this time are the Jacobs, Holbrook, Gibson, Gregory, Dale, and Yukon ruby mines.

Elijah Mountain Gem Mine

Elijah Mountain Gem Mine is located near Hendersonville. The site is open seven days a week, year-round, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. It’s been voted the best gem mine and mining experience in North Carolina many times in recent years. The mine offers indoor mining during cold months, special theme days, kid activities, and a goat farm. Check out the Elijah Mountain website for more info.

Emerald Hollow Mine

Emerald Hollow Mine is located in Hiddenite, about 140 miles northeast of Franklin. Although emeralds are the focus of this mine, rubies and many other gems and minerals are not uncommon. The site is open 8 to 8, seven days a week. Reservations are not required, but a permit must be signed before sluicing, digging, or creeking begins. 

Thermal City Gold and Gem Mines

Located in Union Mills, The Thermal City Mines boast plenty of boasts some of the best gem mining in the state. The site is open from mid-March through October. Visit the website to find out the exact days and hours along with scheduled special events. 

Chimney Rock Mine

About 100 miles northeast of Franklin, Chimney Rock Mine is also a flume mine where various-sized buckets of mine dirt are available for children or adults. A regular bucket of material runs around $16, but a bucket specifically labeled rubies goes for $95. These buckets are more than likely salted for the desired gem, but sometimes that means more significant finds for collectors who aren’t concerned about imported specimens.

Gem Mountain Gemstone Mine

Gem Mountain in Spruce Pine, North Carolina,  offers flume mining and guided mine trips into privately-owned sites. Those who choose the mine trip will be transported about 20 minutes from the primary location to one of two closed-to-the-public sites to explore and collect for themselves. It’s unclear if reservations are required for these guided tours. See the website for contact information.

Foggy Mountain Mines

Foggy Mountain Gem Mine has two locations in Boone, North Carolina. The sites are open year-round, but check the website for the days and hours of each mine. Currently, one is open seven days a week and the other only on weekends. The operation seems to consist solely of flume mining, both indoor and outdoor, so weather is less of a factor.

Although other gem mines are listed for North Caroline, I have tried to list only the ones that list rubies among the finds. Always check the current status of a mine before planning a visit since closings are unpredictable and may depend on a number of factors, including incoming inclement weather. 

Many mines provide all the tools you’ll need for general collecting. But you may want to include more specialized tools for collecting smaller gems. Some mines also provide finishing and jewelry-making on-site.

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