One of the fascinations of my brother’s youth was rocks, gems, arrowheads and fossils –ancient treasures you could pull out of the Earth and be instantly transported across eons.
My brother loved stones. And they didn’t have to be precious, necessarily. Just interesting and new and different from what he already had.
I never had the passion for it as he did. However, I certainly saw the appeal. I love the feel of an old rock, running your fingers along the ridges of a fossil or finding something bright and shiny from a pile of dirt.
While he never found anything that amounted to much financially, that doesn’t mean what he had wasn’t valuable.
He also loved gem mines, the places where you go to sift through a bucket of rocks. These are places you are guaranteed to find some treasure less valuable than the money you paid for it with a slight chance of finding something of real value.
But my brother enjoyed the thrill of the search. It was the challenge of sifting through the clay and dirt that my brother loved.
There was a reason he kept those rocks and gems for years.
The gems were memories, transformed over eons to hard rock and again from the bucket to the water to his hands into something even better.
This leads us to the gem mines in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg.
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How much does Pigeon Forge Gem Mine cost?
The cost varies depending on what type of bucket you purchase. At the time of this writing, a gemstone bucket will cost $35.
But on my last visit, they also had buckets that promised rubies, sapphires and other real gemstones that range in price from $200-$1,500.
Pricing for gem mining in Pigeon Forge will also vary by location.
How does gem mining work?
At most places, you will pay for a bucket or a bag of dirt and clay.
You will then take the bucket and use sifters and running water to pick out the gems and rocks from the clay. It can be a fun activity and sometimes a surprise to find out what you get from your purchase.
Are the gems in gem mining real?
Well, the answer depends entirely on the location.
We called many of the attractions on this list, and the results were, let’s say, a mixed bag.
The Pigeon Forge Gem Mine told us that their gems are in fact real, natural stones.
Goats on the Roof told us their gems are a mix of real and simulant.
Big Rock Dude Ranch at Ponderosa didn’t seem sure one way or the other.
Anakeesta told us that the majority of their gems were simulants, although there were some authentic items that could be found like seashells and other fossils.
Real vs simulant, when it comes to gemstones, is an important distinction. This is why you will notice throughout the article we preface the use of the word “gemstone” with “simulant” for clarity.
With that out of the way, here is our list of gem mines to explore in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge.
6. Old Smoky Gem Mine in Gatlinburg
Old Smoky Gem Mine is a great little shop in Gatlinburg. It has jewelry, stones and a knowledgeable staff who will help you sift through the dirt to find your next prized possession.
Pricing for gem mining depends on what type of bucket you purchase but can range from $20 to $250.
If you’re interested in making jewelry out of your finds, this is a great place to do it.
Old Smoky Gem Mine is located at 968 Parkway in Gatlinburg.
5. Big Rock Dude Ranch at Ponderosa in Pigeon Forge
This may be my personal favorite place to go for gem mining in Pigeon Forge.
The operation itself isn’t as slick or fancy as some of the other places, but the location away from the strip on a dude ranch with horseback riding and other activities makes it feel more authentic.
A 3.5 lb bag goes for $14.95 or you can get two for $22.95. Each bag will contain the following types of stones (or possibly simulants): quartz crystal, amethyst, pyrite, blue calcite, serpentine, septarian agate, rose quartz, selenite, jade and turquoise.
As a disclaimer, Big Rock Dude Ranch seems uncertain as to the authenticity of those stones. That said, it makes for a good time regardless.
Big Rock Dude Ranch is located at 909 Little Cove Road in Pigeon Forge.
4. Little River Gem Mine at Prospector’s Rock Shop in Sevierville
This little shop in Sevierville has an impressive selection of rocks and gems.
Pricing for buckets can range from $20-$100 and promise to contain “wonders of the Earth”.
This hidden gem – pun intended – consistently gets great reviews based on the owners’ knowledge and expertise.
It’s located at 2189 Winfield Dunn Parkway in Sevierville.
3. Anakeesta Gem Mine in Gatlinburg
Speaking of the proper atmosphere, Anakeesta has a nice location for their gem mine. It’s not as old-west-y as the Big Rock Dude Ranch but the sluice and views make for an entertaining experience for the whole family.
Located at the end of the Treetop Canopy Walk, the Anakeesta Gem Mine is adjacent to the Treehouse Village Playground.
Access to Anakeesta requires a general admission ticket. The gem mining activity is sold separately. It features an interactive waterfall and a sluice perfect for kids of all ages.
At the time of this writing, tickets for gem mining start at $8 and your youngsters can find mostly simulant and synthetic gemstones or a fossil mix in their pan.
If you are planning a trip to Anakeesta sometime in the near future, be sure to check Tripster for discounts before you go.
The Anakeesta Gem Mine is located at 576 Parkway in downtown Gatlinburg.
2. Goats on the Roof in Pigeon Forge
Goats on the Roof offers, in addition to the goats, a mining operation sure to entertain the rock hounds in your family.
Start with a bucket of gem-rich soil and then sift through it in an authentic, old-style water sluice. The moving current of water washes the dirt away through the screened tray, possibly revealing the treasures – a mix of real and simulant stones – that remain behind.
Based on my last visit, small buckets run about $15 each or two for $20. Large buckets are $25. Ask about a $5 coupon if you ride the mountain coaster, but that coupon is typically not eligible on the two-for $20 deal.
Goats on the Roof is located at 1341 Wears Valley Road in Pigeon Forge.
1. Pigeon Forge Gem Mine
This mine offers a variety of buckets at varying price ranges from $35 to $1,500.
It’s also one of the only locations on our list that claims to have all genuine, natural gemstones.
The smallest, the specialty bucket, has an original mix of rubies, sapphires, emeralds, garnets and more. In all, 20 different types of stones are possible.
You can also get mixes that include various fossils. Part of the fun is when your miner takes their treasure inside to a certified assayer who will identify the stones.
Pigeon Forge Gem Mine is located at 2865 Parkway in Pigeon Forge.
Is gem mining in Pigeon Forge worth it?
Ultimately, the question – as it is with all tourist attractions – is simply, are gem mines worth it?
The answer, of course, is subjective. If you’re looking to make a profit or hit it big, you’d be better off with the lottery.
But if you’re a kid – or adult – with a bit of geologic bend of the mind, there are many worse ways to spend your time and a few bucks.
But, if you buy the $1,500 bucket, give me a call. I’d love to see what all is hidden in that thing.
Have you mined for gems in the Great Smoky Mountains? What did you think? Tell us in the comments.