Spend five minutes in Montana (or even on this site) and you’ll figure out that rocks are crazy important. The rocks of Montana have shaped the last two centuries of the state’s history. The gold rushes in Bannack, Alder Gulch, and Helena were some of the most important episodes in Montana history. The copper mines of Butte were some of the most famous in the world. Oh, and Montana’s Yogo Sapphire is the only North American gem featured in Great Britain’s crown jewels. But the best part about Montana’s rocks? You can participate in the long history of Montana rockhounding. There are few better ways to interact with the history of Montana than to plan a rockhounding trip, and Southwest Montana has some of the best rockhounding sites in the state.
Most people would agree that some of the best rockhounding in the state can be found at Crystal Park. Located along the Pioneer Mountains Scenic Byway, Crystal Park is set aside specifically for rockhounding. The outstanding beauty of the Pioneer Mountains, combined with the thrill of digging up amethysts and crystals makes for a perfect day in Southwest Montana. Crystal Park is open during the summer, and there is a $5 fee per car, bring your own shovel and screen.
If you head up the beautiful Ruby Valley looking for rubies, you might be disappointed. That is because the shimmering blood-red stones in the gravel beaches of Ruby Reservoir are garnets, not rubies. But garnets there are, and plenty of them. Although most of the Ruby River is privately owned, the reservoir is relatively easy to access.
New to the whole rockhounding thing, don’t have the equipment, or just want a bit more structure? Philipsburg sapphires are famous around the world for their quality, and two businesses in Philipsburg cater to the aspiring rockhound. Montana Gems and the Sapphire Gallery will both supply you with everything you need (including the gravel!) to pan for Montana sapphires. You get to keep what you find and they’ll even turn your favorites into pieces of original jewelery.
Of course those three locations are just stratching the surface of all of the great rockhounding opportunities in SWMT. So make sure to include rockhounding in your next vacation itinerary!