Sapphire Mining in Montana (Gem Mountain Sapphire Mine)

Mining at Gem Mountain Sapphire Mine is a fun way to spend part of a day if you’re traveling through west-central Montana. You might not strike it rich, but everyone seemed like they were having a fun time, and everyone can find real Montana Sapphires.


Gem Mountain Sapphire Mine Sign

The Gem Mountain Sapphire Mine has an address of Philipsburg, MT but the mining area is way out of town. From Philipsburg, you go south on Montana Highway 1, then head west on Montana highway 38, aka Skalkaho Road. Follow the highway until just before the pavement turns to gravel and you will see the sign for Gem Mountain.

The actual mine where the ore is gathered is around 4 miles away from the public mining area.

Pay & Pick Your Bucket

Gem Mountain Sapphire Mine bucket
Do you feel lucky?

You first step is to get ticket(s) for your bucket(s) and then pick a bucket of “ore” or “gravel”, i.e. small mixed stones. I decided to try a single bucket first, so I paid my $25 (credit cards are accepted) and then trot out to the yard to pick the bucket. Now the fun part – you HAVE to pick your own bucket so finding something good is up to your own luck and skill. You are given a place to set up and a square sifter.

Wash & Dump

The washing station

You shovel some of your ore into your sifter and then go rinse it in a muddy washing trough. The assistants will show you how to sift it to draw all of the sapphires to the bottom, so when you dump your sifter, the best sapphires will be on the top.

Do You have an Eye for Sapphire Mining?

Spot the Sapphires

Now it’s time to start searching for sapphires. You sort through your ore looking for the bits that look like glass – whether clear, blue, or pink. These are the sapphires. It’s easy to miss some. They predict that 20% of the sapphires are missed and just swept onto the ground. The staff does not search for these because the small sapphires have minimal value.

Practice you Tweezer Skills

Gem Mountain Sapphire Mine
Raw sapphire on top!

Once you find a sapphire, it’s time to put in your little test tube. Use a provided tweezer to pick up the tiny stones. Many are less than a carat – that’s really tiny!

What to do with your Montana Sapphires
After you finish your sapphire mining, you can pay $5 to have your sapphires inspected by the gem experts on site. They’ll tell you if any of your gems are worth getting treated and cut. My stones were all small. The largest sapphire was about 1 carat and I was told it would only be about ¼ carat once cut. Instead, I bought a glass locket for $25 to display my finds.

A $25 bucket worth of Sapphires

Gem Mountain Review

I had a fun time at Gem Mountain and enjoyed sorting a single bucket of ore. Sapphire mining can be addictive – you find sapphires in every batch and it’s a bit like the lottery – you pick out your own bucket and you might find a bunch of itty bitty sapphires or you might strike it rich. I saw one guy buy a “Mega Bucket” which has extra, higher quality sapphires included. This big plastic jar costs $199. This guy was looking for a stone to make an engagement ring for his girlfriend and he found some nice Montana Sapphires, including a few pink sapphires.

Get Some to Go

You can buy some Gem Mountain gravel to go. They’ll bag it up for you. There was one father daughter pair that were taking a couple dozen buckets to go. You can also order sapphire ore online and have it delivered.

What to Do After Your Mining Trip

Skalkaho Falls

The Gem Mountain Sapphire Mine is on Skalkaho highway. Just beyond the mine, the road becomes gravel and goes up over Skalkaho pass. This pass is only open a few months per year and it’s a great chance to visit the very unique Skalkaho waterfall that falls extremely close to the road. Park your car or stand next to the falls and get some great pictures. There was still snow in the pass when I visited so the falls were too powerful to get too close. This little used mountain road is also a great place to spot wildlife like deer and bears.

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Sapphire Mining in Montana – Where to Stay

Gem Mountain Sapphire Mine Camping – If you’re set up for camping and self-sufficient, you can camp for free behind the parking lot of the “mining” area. The only facilities are porta-potties.

If you’re hoteling, you can stay in Anaconda. Not only is this a cool city name, there’s lots of choices and a hot spring too. (Check Rates and Availability).

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