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Montana Blue Jewel Mine: A Guide

The Montana Blue Jewel Mine has repeatedly been reported as one of the best sapphire mining experiences in Montana. The site of the mine is 45 minutes northeast of Montana’s capital Helena, and you can find it at the Eldorado Bar, an ancient gravel bar set just above the Missouri River at the base of the Little Belt Mountains.

The mine opens seasonally from mid-April and welcomes visitors throughout spring and summer. All the equipment necessary to search for sapphires is already on site as this is an authentic mine. Visitors are permitted to take home purchased buckets of gravel concentrate as well as use the mine’s equipment if they wish.

Some visitors get lucky with a clean 8-carat sapphire or something smaller. You get to screen the gravel yourself from a dirt pile used by the mine for its processing. This means your odds are as good as anyone’s when it comes to striking lucky.

In this article, we will take a closer look at the Montana Blue Jewel Mine and what you can expect on your visit:

el dorado bar
Image: Tim Evanson

Visiting The Montana Blue Jewel Mine

The Blue Jewel Mine is a great way to spend an afternoon in Montana digging for sapphires and who knows what else, and many visitors are thrilled to find their own sapphires. Bookings are necessary and this can be done either through the website or by calling (406-437-8605), and visitors pay cash for the dig which they are then free to take home if they wish. Please note, that the mine doesn’t allow any pets on the site.

getting to the mine
Image: Tim Evanson

Getting to the Mine

The US Highway 12 from the direction of Euclid will take you east into Helena. Once you are close you should look out for a left turning on North Benton near Carroll College. After that comes a right turn onto Custer across the I-15, then just past the airport you’ll make another left on York Road, which leads past a golf course.

You’ll also see one of the other nearby mines by way of the Spokane Bar Sapphire Mine before crossing the Missouri River and taking a left onto Nelson Road. Now you are on a gravel and dirt road which can be a bit rough depending on weather conditions but is usually fine in warmer months.

If you look for and take another left onto Favorite Gulch Road, after that you will start to see signs for El Dorado Bar and the mine once on the road. Google Map will help with navigation to some degree but visitors should keep in mind there is little to no cell coverage in some areas.

Main Attractions at the Blue Jewel Mine

main attractions at the blue jewel mine
Image: Tim Evanson

The main attraction at Blue Jewel Mine is mining sapphires! Montana sapphires are considered some of the best in the world, and this is your opportunity to find some of your own.

This is a privately-owned yet commercial mine where visitors dig from the same gravel used by the owner. There is nothing fake or pre-packaged, and you actually have to do the work yourself although of course there is help and guidance from the owner, who is reportedly super-helpful.

You will learn all that is possible in your time at the mine about mining and how to find a decent gem. It can get hot and dusty but it’s all part of the experience for those hardy enough to undertake it. There are many who find the rewards worth it, and rock enthusiasts will love it.

This mine provides a slightly different experience from some of the others in the region as you learn genuine mining. The owner is very knowledgeable about the minerals in the ground, and how to operate a working mine.

Dig Fees and Other Pointers

So let’s just reiterate that this is a privately owned mine rather than a tourist attraction set up, especially for visitors. So there is a fee to dig here, which is somewhere in the region of $100 for 5-gallon buckets containing between 1/8″ and 1/4″ of concentrate.

You do the digging and the concentrating parts of the process yourself and the buckets will then be jigged.  It is reasonably demanding physically so some people will work with a partner or in groups.

You have to shovel the material from a huge pile of dirt into the 5-gallon bucket and physically screen the material yourself. For many, this is actually the exciting bit though, and a huge part of the experience.

There are no amenities such as the mine in case you wanted to replenish supplies. So with that in mind visitors should bring snacks, lunch, and plenty of water.

Allow a minimum of 2 hours for this activity, and consider that the mine is just under an hour’s drive from Helena.

Sapphire Mines in Montana

sapphire mines in montana
Image: Tim Evanson

Sapphire mining began in the region in the late 19th century once stories of gems discovered by ranchers ending up in Tiffany’s in New York had gotten around. An appraiser in the city announced that the sapphires were ‘among the finest precious gemstones ever found in the United States.

More gem-quality sapphires are produced in Montana than anywhere else in North America, and other well-known locations in the western half of the state include the Rock Creek location near Phillipsburg.

This is apparently the most productive sapphire mine in Montana, with its gems rumored to have inspired the name of the nearby Sapphire Mountains.

Established in 2003, the Blue Jewel Mine has since discovered and shipped out over 10,000 carats of sapphires to date.

The Bottom Line

Montana Blue Jewel Mine is a place where visitors get some deep and interesting insights into the sapphire-mining process in Montana.

Getting an insider’s view of the process often provides those involved with an appreciation of how mining back in the day worked.

If you don’t mind a bit of work, not to mention a spot of dust, you will love this rugged outdoor mining experience. It may be hot when you go but hopefully, you get to see the reflection of the sapphires you find in the sun.

You just never know what will come out of those buckets of gravel, especially in this neck of the woods.

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