Mine, Mine, Mine

We’ve traveled to a few places in the Ohio/Tennessee Valley area where they have miniature ‘pan for gold and gemstones’ activities set up for children. You buy a bucket of sand and start sifting your dirt through a screen dragged through water to see what treasures you can uncover. My kids have done it a few times and went home with a small jeweler’s bag of rocks. Usually fool’s gold or pieces of amethyst and such. Nothing all that valuable; it’s really just a fun activity to do when you’re in a location that centers around Appalachian heritage or coal and diamond mines.

But Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, Tennessee took it to a whole new level. They had ‘Mining for Gemstone’ sites every few miles. Big ones! Attached to Rock Museums and gift shops. These weren’t just simple stands that you passed on the streets of old-timey towns; these were tourist attractions. And with two kids (even if one is actually a grown man) and a rockhound in our group, we had to check them out.


The buckets for sale were a little bigger and more varied than at other sites we’ve visited. Still, we chose two of the smaller buckets at $15 each. Other families bought a more expensive bucket and let their kids share. (Smart!)


My son and daughter sifted and sifted, finding more gemstones than I expected. If you’ve ever seen the “Fill a bag with stones” at souvenir shops, then you know I was expecting a tiny pouches’ worth of stones, but each of my kids actually unearthed quite a haul.


But here where’s the goldminers of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge really expanded on their fortunes: after you finish emptying your bucket and sifting out all your stones, you take it to their gemologist who sorts them for you and explains what you have. This was actually pretty neat. It was fun to learn about the stones we were taking home. Then they took it a step further: you could have your very own gemstones cut and set into jewelry. Rings, earrings, etc. They’d take your treasures (mmm hmm, sure) and turn them into jewelry.


Luckily (?) I have a son who thinks he can do that himself. We saved ourselves a bundle. I don’t know if he’ll ever actually try to cut his emeralds and quartz and make his beautiful wife a pair of earrings, but I’m pretty sure that’s the only way she’d end up with his gemstones dangling from her ears.

Not that it matters. The fun was in the mining. And for $30, my kids had a fun activity they did together, a geology lesson, and a bag full of souvenirs to take home. It was worth it.

Have you ever tried panning for gold and gemstones? How did you like it?


19 responses to “Mine, Mine, Mine

    • Yes, the rocks are purposely put in there, but these Tennessee portions were more generous than other places we’ve been.
      I’ve heard about the diamond mining in Arkansas, too. We’ve talked about going many times, but don’t expect to really find any treasure.

  1. I remember doing this on a school field trip back in elementary school. Our teachers had told us that we might be able to unearth actual gold and got us all excited. None of us found gold but the anticipation of “what if” was enough to keep us going for the entire day at least. 🙂

  2. Super fun! Growing up in SoCal meant quite a few field trips involving panning for gold.

    Every now and then someone would unearth the tiniest fleck while the rest of us threw daggers as we ended up with diddly squat. I think the place you guys went to sounds much better…less animosity between the kiddos, and a sense of happy achievement. : )

  3. The next time I’m in that area I’m going to do this! As a rockhound myself, I cannot believe I haven’t tried this just for the fun and amazement of it!

    • Metal detecting sounds like fun. My stepfather used to do that back in his cornfields and found some interesting things. I’d forgotten all about that. It was something I always thought I’d like to do. I’m going to remember that now.

  4. Wow! This is one of the most exciting activities for kids that I ever read. A priceless activity and memory for the entire family. I was surprised by how much gemstones they got. Thanks for sharing a fun adventure. Now, I’m going to google if there’s one around Texas.

    • Let us know if you find one in Texas. I was surprised at how many gems they got in their Tennesse buckets, too. In Indiana and other places, it’s been more like a Dixie cup full. Well, and is usually $5 or $10, instead of the pricier Tennessee experience. But we all really enjoyed it.

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