Let’s state this right upfront so nobody gets into trouble. Gold prospecting and rockhounding are completely off-limits within Yellowstone National Park. You cannot dig or collect anywhere within the park boundary, and you could get in serious trouble if you do.
With that said, there are quite a few places just a short drive away that you can explore. Yellowstone sits at the corners if Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, and each of these states have ample public land where a person can explore. And there are some good places to find gold and valuable minerals too.
Virginia City is now a popular tourist spot. It was once a thriving gold mining camp situated along Alder Gulch in southwest Montana. If you visit today you will see miles and miles of old dredge tailings as you drive up the road. There is even an old dredge still in place.
What you see from the road is just a fraction of the gold bearing area. These rich gold deposits were fed by gold veins in tall mountains of the Beaverhead National Forest. You will find that a lot of the creeks in this area produce gold. You will need to steer clear of active mining claims and mines, but an adventurous person could certainly hike into some remote areas and pan for gold from the many creeks.
Bannack was once the first Territorial Capital of Montana. Now it is a state park and one of the nicest preserved ghost towns in the West. This town has some amazing history and is a must-visit for lovers of Old West history.
If you visit during the afternoon hours in the summer, there are tubs set up where people can try panning for themselves. Just keep your panning endeavors to the tubs, because prospecting any other areas within the park is prohibited.
When most people think of gemstones like sapphires they think about exotic locations like Thailand and Cambodia. Surprisingly, there are some amazing sapphires found in a few locations in Montana! One such location is the town of Phillipsburg. This one is a bit of a drive, about 3 hours from Yellowstone.
This is the only opportunity for the public to dig for sapphires in the US. Several businesses allow visitors to sift through sapphire-rich gravels from the mines and search for the tiny treasures. Sapphires typically range from a clear to a light blue color. Experts will be on hand to examine your finds.
Head west into Idaho and visit the Spencer Opal Mines for a chance to bring home some genuine opals. These opals are distinctive and spectacular. Large high-grade pieces are valued by collectors and can bring thousands of dollars.
Check with the mine prior to your visit due to seasonal hours.
Crystal Park is situated in the Pioneer Mountains about 3 hours northwest of Yellowstone. This is a Forest Service site that is set aside for visitors to dig for quartz crystals. Clear, smoky and purple variations of quartz can be found at this site.
Keep in mind that the dig site is high elevation and access is seasonal. This is a good one to check out in the summer, but it might be worth a call to the Forest Service office in Dillon just to make sure it is accessible before you make the drive.
Also Read: 7 Rivers in Montana that are Full of Gold
Yellowstone River Moss Agates
One of Montana’s most famous minerals are the lovely moss agates that are found in the Yellowstone River. There are many open and accessible areas along the river where people can search for these beautiful stones.
The best areas are east of Billings. The agates will be scattered throughout the gravels along the river, so late in the summer is the best time to visit when water levels are low and gravel bars are exposed.