By: Marlene Affeld
Montana, known as the “Treasure State", is indeed a treasure chest for rock collectors and gold prospectors. Gold, fossils, garnets, sapphires and quartz crystals are but a few of the many rocks, minerals and gemstones to be found throughout the state.
Please be respectful of private lands and mining claims. It is wise to seek permission on private land and check with the local U.S. Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management office about the areas you wish to explore for collecting purposes. As a general rule, you may collect fossils, minerals, gemstones and rocks on public lands without a permit if you are doing so as a recreational activity. However, you may not collect fossils or minerals or scientific importance, nor may you collect in a protected area.
Here are a few collecting sites you may wish to explore:
Libby Creek Recreational Gold Panning Area
The history of gold prospecting along the Libby goes back to the early 1860s. By 1867 there were between 500-600 miners working on Libby Creek. The area is a great place for gold prospectors to try their luck. The Libby Creek Recreational Gold Panning Area is located 23 miles south of Libby, Montana, within the Kootenai National Forest. The public is allowed to pan for gold within this area and any gold you happen to find is yours to keep.
Cedar Creek Gold District
Located in Mineral County Montana, Cedar Creek near Superior, Montana, offer the recreational gold panner and treasure hunter a wealth of opportunities, old tailing piles and fresh placer movement entice gold seekers. Although quite rare, platinum nuggets have been found.
Philipsburg, the county seat of Granite County, has a rich mining history. Search the old dumps and tailing piles for gold and tiny crystals of manganese. The Gem Peak on Rock Creek near Philipsbury is world famous for the exquisite sapphires mined there. The Rock Creek deposit, discovered in 1892 was exceedingly abundant and these unusual red and yellow sapphires are still a hidden treasure enjoyed by prospectors of today.
Crystal Park is a beautiful recreation area in the Beaverhead-Deer Lodge National Forest that is set aside for diggers. Located at an elevation of 7,800 feet in the Pioneer Mountains in southwest Montana, Crystal Park provides an opportunity to look for amethyst and smoky quartz crystals. Crystal Park is 26 miles south of the Wise River along the Pioneer Mountains Scenic Byway.
Located at the bottom of Homestake Pass just West of the Continental Divide in southwestern Montana, Butte is famous for the incredible deposits of gold, silver and copper mined in the area.
Limonite cubes can be found near the area of the Toll Mountain Campground and the Radar Creek area near Toll Mountain yields outstanding smoky quartz crystals. Quartz crystals are also found in the Boulder Batholith region east of Butte.
At an elevation of 6,000 feet, Georgetown Lake is located 18 miles west of Anaconda, Montana. Scheelite and epidote can be found in the old tailing piles at Cable Mountain, northeast of Georgetown Lake. Prospectors find argillite and quartz crystals along the Pintler Scenic Route west of Georgetown. Travelers enjoy the Pintler Scenic Route through the majestic mountain passes and along the shoreline of Georgetown Lake. Visit the many ghost towns that speak of the area’s mining past as well as St. Timothy’s Chapel which overlooks Georgetown Lake.
The Alder Gulch gold rush produced the largest amount of placer gold in the Northwest; an estimated $120 million. Alder Gulch yielded an estimated $30 million in gold just in the three short years between 1863 and 1866. Gold and garnets can be found in the old tailing piles, while working the creek still yields good color. Calcite, opalite and garnets are found south of Alder in the area known as Ruby Reservoir.
Some operating sapphire mines in the Canyon Ferry area allow digging for a fee and will rent the proper equipment to you if you don't have your own.
The area near Indian Creek offers white and banded masses of calcite.
Beautiful while quartz crystals are to be found at this location, eight miles west of Twin Bridges, Montana.
Wishing you a fun filled adventure and may the bottom of your pan be golden.