Mom smiles at son as he mines for star garnet in a sluice area. A butterfly sits on his hat that says "wild."

The Complete Guide To Digging For Idaho Star Garnet At Emerald Creek Garnet Area

Post Summary: A guide on where to find and dig for Idaho star garnets at Emerald Creek Garnet Area.

Digging for star garnet at Emerald Creek Garnet Area in northern Idaho is one of the most unique outdoor adventures you can have in Idaho. In fact, it’s the ONLY PLACE IN THE WORLD where you can do it.

The star garnet is the official state gem of Idaho and is so rare that it can only be found in large quantities in Idaho and India. You read that right. Idaho and India. As the kids like to say, make it make sense!

We recently embarked on our own day trip from Coeur d’Alene to explore this natural wonder and to let our son unleash his inner prospector. It was amazing! So fun we’re thinking about making it an annual tradition. Read on to learn how to find Idaho star garnet at Emerald Creek Garnet Area and our best tips to enjoy your rockhounding adventure.

Also, if you want to see this activity in video you can check out our Instagram reel of mining for star garnet. Give us a follow and join along while you’re there!

*This post may contain affiliate links, which means we might earn a small commission if you purchase from them. This is at no extra cost to you! We only recommend products and services we truly think are helpful.

A Breakdown Of Star Garnet

A close up of two Idaho star garnet on a ledge.

Before we jump into how to find star garnets in Idaho, here’s a breakdown of star garnets and some interesting facts.

What are star garnets?

Star garnet is a rare variety of the mineral garnet, distinguished by its unique star-like pattern. The star that flits on the stone’s surface is an optical illusion due to asterism. Asterism is the phenomenon where a star-like pattern, usually comprising four or six rays, appears to flicker on the surface of a stone. This effect is caused by rutile or silk-like inclusions within the stone, which reflect light in a symmetrical pattern.

The star garnet has a dodecahedron shape, or in other words, has 12 flat sides to it.

Why are star garnets unique?

While garnets can be found worldwide, star garnets are special gemstones due to their rarity in the world and prized star pattern. If they were easy to get, it wouldn’t be as unique! With its distinctive appearance and illusive nature, the star garnet holds a special place in gemstone lore.

Fun Fact: It’s much less common to find a six-pointed star pattern. If you happen to find one, you’ve really lucked out!

Where can star garnet be found in Idaho?

In Idaho, star garnets are found in the Emerald Creek Garnet Area, located in the northern part of the state, within the Idaho Panhandle National Forests. This area is renowned for its significant deposits of star garnets and is the only place in the world where they can be collected by the public.

Did you enjoy that bit of Idaho trivia? Read here to learn more fun facts about Idaho.

Planning A Visit To Emerald Creek Garnet Area

Mother and son walk to sluice station at Emerald Creek with buckets of rocks.

Planning Your Visit to Emerald Creek

So, how do you plan a trip to Emerald Creek for garnet digging? Well, you’ll need to do some planning beforehand. While it would be great to jump into your car and head over on a moment’s notice, that’s not how this experience will play out.

To access this treasure trove, let’s start with the practicalities of getting into the dig site and reaching the location.

Emerald Creek Garnet Area Hours

Emerald Creek Garnet Area is open from Friday to Monday, starting Memorial Day Weekend and ending the Monday of Labor Day weekend.

Emerald Creek Garnet Area Permit Info

To dig at the recreation site, you must have already reserved a permit online. You can not show up the day of and buy a permit. Permits are available starting in March on a 90-day rolling basis starting at 7 a.m. Pacific Standard Time.

They offer a morning and afternoon time slot, and each session lasts for three hours.

Each person needs a permit (regardless of age). Recreation area tickets are $15 for adults, $5 for ages 6-12, and free for kids five and under. There is an additional $1 service charge for each ticket.

Important things to know:

  • You must print out your tickets and bring them to Emerald Creek on the day you visit.
  • You must bring a valid form of I.D. on the day you visit.

You can reserve permits here at Recreation.gov.

INSIDER TIP

While going to Emerald Creek is an off-the-beaten-path destination, it is still VERY POPULAR. If you want to secure a permit, I suggest deciding the weekend you want to go and then setting a reminder the day before you need to reserve your permit. When you get the reminder, set your alarm for 6.55 a.m. so you can be ready to reserve them the next day. That’s what I did! I bought three permits, and by the end of the day, the weekend was already sold out.

Directions to Emerald Creek Garnet Area

Street sign saying "Emerald Creek Garnet Area, Idaho Panhandle National Forest."

Emerald Creek Garnet Area is in a remote area of northern Idaho. The closest town is St Maries, Idaho, and is about 30 minutes from the recreation site. Coeur d’Alene is two hours away from Emerald Creek.

We used our GPS directions as well as the written directions from Recreation.gov to get there. GPS can be unreliable for these back areas of Idaho, so we suggest using GPS only as a general guide. Road 447 is a gravel road, but since you’ll be traveling in the summertime, the roads will most likely be accessible and clear. It is a logging road, so you might have to share the road with big logging trucks. Once you’re on Road 447, you will see signs for Emerald Creek Garnet Area.

Here are driving directions from St Maries, Idaho:

  • From St. Maries, Idaho, follow Highway 3 south 24 miles to Road 447
  • Turn right on Road 447 (Emerald Creek Road)
  • Follow the road for 8 miles till you get to the parking area on the left

Digging For Idaho Star Garnets

It’s time for the best part! Mining for star garnet!

Once you get to the parking lot, you’ll walk up a 1/2 mile path to the dig site. If you’re unable to walk the path, you can call the St. Joe ranger station beforehand at (208) 245-2531, and they will open the gate so you can be dropped off directly at the site.

The session starts with everyone waiting in line at the ranger’s office to get their federal mining permits and a quick rundown of how it all works. The rangers explain what they look like and how to spot them. Even without an explanation, it’s a pretty straightforward experience. There are three stations: the dirt pile, the sifting area, and the sluicer, which you’ll rotate through for your three-hour session.

First, you’ll get two buckets and a shovel and head to the massive pile of dirt that looms in the background. It’s a long day, so I would suggest only shoveling what your body can comfortably carry. You don’t want a strained back to ruin your fun.

Back in the day, they used to allow mining straight from the river bed, but deteriorating water quality and concern about the safety of the environment put a kibosh to that. Now, the forest service digs up the dirt in the area and plops down a 30-foot pile of dredged-up earth that’s packed with star garnets.

Mom sits on bench holding one side of wooden sifter with rocks shaking it while her young son holds the there side.

Second, you’ll take your dirt and head over to the sifting station. Thankfully, this part has umbrella shades, so you can sit and get a respite from the heat of summer. You’ll pour the dirt into the sifters and shake, shake, shake the dirt away to end up with a muddy pile of rocks. The sifters are heavy! They’re made of solid wood, so I found it easier to shake it with my husband. I tried to recruit my five-year-old son, but he quickly rejected that idea after two tries.

Mother and son in sluice station  look through sifters trying to spot Idaho star garnet.

Lastly, you’ll head to the sluice station to hopefully have your own eureka moment. You’ll dump your muddy rocks into a steady stream of water and keep your eyes peeled for a maroon flush in the rocks. With the sun beaming down, they’re pretty easy to spot. On our first round, we found eight! We were hooked.

We did the rotation four times and moved at a pretty leisurely pace. There were definitely people there who were more focused than us and did it MANY more times than us. I watched as a group of three all stayed at their own station: one person shoveled, the other sifted, and the last sluiced. They were on a mission.

Each person is allowed to take home two pounds of star garnet. We were pumped to meet our quota and take home six pounds of garnet. Alas, we came out with 2 pounds total.

Perhaps we shouldn’t have been so leisurely?

A big Idaho star garnet gets weighed at Emerald  Creek Garnet Area.
You’ll weigh your garnet at the ranger station. Our son found the biggest star garnet of the day!

Regardless, we had a blast doing it. AAAND, we are proud to say that our son found the biggest garnet of the day. It’s the size of a ping-pong ball and weighs 5.5 ounces! The ranger told us it’s always the kids who find the big ones.

Tips For Visiting Emerald Creek Garnet Area

Comfortable shoes and a hat are a must!

The site provides everything you need to dig for Idaho star garnet, including plastic bags to store the garnets you find. Here are some useful tips and what things to bring to Emerald Creek to help enjoy your time there.

  • Wear comfortable shoes and clothing you don’t mind getting dirty. Especially if you’re going with kids! I personally wouldn’t wear open-toed shoes since you’ll be climbing up a pile of dirt.
  • Bring a filled-up water bottle. There is no drinking water at the sight.
  • Wear a hat and sun-protective clothing, as well as sunscreen! There are a few shaded spots, but it’s mostly direct exposure to the sun.
  • There are a few shaded picnic tables, so bring a cooler, lunch, or light snacks for when you need to take a break and eat.
  • There are two vault toilets, including an accessible one, at the dig site.
  • While it’s not necessary, having work gloves will make it easier to shovel, sift, and carry heavy buckets. If we go again, I will absolutely bring gloves.
  • Show up on time. You’re only allowed three hours, and the rangers promptly shut off the water at the end of the session.
  • As newbies, we picked up every garnet we found. We were just so excited! We’ve since learned that the ideal garnet is smooth on all sides without broken-off pieces. Many of the garnets you find will have broken sections. For some people, that’s fine- it was for us- but serious collectors are looking for a more flawless garnet.

Where To Stay Near Emerald Creek Garnet Area

Emerald Creek Garnet Area is near Clarkia, Idaho, with the closest lodging being available in St. Maries, Idaho (30 minutes away) and Harrison, Idaho (one hour away). If you don’t mind the drive, you can also stay in the super cute town of Wallace, Idaho, or the beautiful lakeside town of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Both of those are a two-hour drive from the dig site.

If you want to be right near the dig site, then your best option is camping at Emerald Creek Campground. It’s located 2 miles before the dig site, so it offers the best access. It’s a beautiful, quiet campground with vault toilets.

Attractions Near Emerald Creek

woman and soon hike along scenic mountain ridge looking over an aquamarine colored lake.
Hiking Mineral Ridge Trail in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.

Looking for more fun things to do in northern Idaho? Here are some of our favorites that are in the area:

  • Route of the Hiawatha: This famous bike path is part of the Rails to Trails program. It’s a must-do in Idaho!
  • Coeur d’Alene, Idaho: The biggest town in North Idaho offers the best activities for all types of visitors.
  • Wallace, Idaho, is one of the most charming and historic small towns in Idaho. It’s the epicenter of mining in Idaho, and you can learn more about Idaho gem mining here.

Final Thoughts On Digging For Star Garnet In Idaho

Close up of little boys hand pointing at a sifter of rocks with a big Idaho star garnet.

All in all, digging for Idaho star garnet at Emerald Creek Garnet Area was one of the highlights of our summer. We are a family that’s passionate about rocks, and this unique experience is sure to tickle any amateur rockhounder.

We’ve been asked what we plan to do with all our garnets. For now, they’ve been left unpolished, but our plan is to put them in our rock tumbler to smooth them out and see if we can spot the star pattern.

We have considered cutting them, but it seems like you need to get it professionally done by someone who has experience cutting star garnet. For now, that’s more work than we’re willing to do.

For us, it was all about the experience! If you have any questions about digging for star garnet in Idaho, let me know in the comments below.

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