Bo's Mine Tours

Mine Tours in Western North Carolina
Spruce Pine Mining District

Last Updated: January 6th, 2020


*** Bo's Mine Tours in 2020 ***

Due to loss of our cabin as a base of operations and health factors, I am no longer giving personal mine tours. I have thoroughly enjoyed giving tours and hope that I have provided enjoyable and educational experiences for my customers. I am leaving my Bo's Mine Tours Website up however, to keep the information on the mines available for those who are planning trips to the area. I am gratified that I continue to get requests for mine tours and have provided advice and recommendations for those who have contacted me. As a result. I am adding a section to this website covering the most frequently asked questions and my recommendations.

I have transitioned the business side of  Bo's Mine Tours to mineral sales and making jewelry with my base of operations in Jacksonville, Florida. I used to call it Bo's Jewelry.  But my wife Diana has become interested in wire wrapping pendants so I have changed the name to B & D's Jewelry!

My Background

BA Geology- Cornell University 1963
U.S.Navy 1963-1991; Retired Captain (aircraft carrier pilot, squadron commander, ship's Captain)
Earth/Space Science high school teacher and university Earth Science Lab Instructor; 1991-2007
Program Manager, Protein Crystals in Space in Florida Schools; 1999-2008
Aerospace Education Mentor, Florida Space Research Institute; 2006-2007
Conducted research on geology and history of the Spruce Pine Pegmatite Mining District; 2005-present
Platinum Member, Mountain Area Gem and Mineral Association (MAGMA); 2006-2019
Member, Jacksonville Gem and Mineral Society (Florida); 2009-2011, 2015-present
Martin Feldspar Mine Tour guide for Rock Mine Tours; 2010-2012
Bo's Mine Tours; 2011-present

Frequently Asked Questions and Recommendations

Is there anyone in the Spruce Pine/Burnsville area who gives mine tours?
To my knowledge, there is no one who offers personally guided mine tours like I used to do. 

Are there any other opportunities for tours to collect rocks and minerals?
The following facilities make mine dump collecting available to the general public.

Gem Mountain- Gem Mountain is a very popular tourist oriented facility which operates a sluice mine. retail store, and mine tours.  Gem Mountain's address is 13780 NC Route 226N, Spruce Pine, North Carolina 28777 (take the Rout 226/NC Mineral Museum exit off the Blue Ridge Parkway) phone number is:
(828) 765- 6130. General website is:

Gem Mountain offers group tours to two mines, the Brushy Creek Aquamarine Mine and the Hoot Owl Mine


These are both real mines. I have taken the Brushy Creek Aquamarine Tour and have collected at the Hoot Owl Feldspar Mine.   Both mines are genuine mine sites and involve moderate physical exercise in an actual mine location.

Emerald Village- Emerald Village is a large tourist complex consisting of three large feldspar mines.
The Bob Ami Mine has a self guided tour, sluice collecting, museums, retail store, and a collecting opportunity. Open every day from March 24th through October 31st. (Closed November through March).  There are also night tours of the Bon Ami Mine on selected dates featuring fluorescent light displays of the opal surface coating if exposed cave mine surfaces. See websites below for more details.Emerald Village also offers an opportunity to collect minerals from the McKinney/Bon Ami Mine dumps. The fee is $20/adults and $10/children under 10. You can either use your own tools or rent them from Emerald Village. See the website below for more details.

Emerald Village's address is:
331 McKinney Mine Road, Spruce Pine, NC 28777; Phone Number is (828) 765-6463. Email:

General website:
Bon Ami Mine Tour/Museum Mine Tour website:
Black Light Tours website:
McKinney/Bon Ami Mine dump collecting website:

Emerald Village offers numerous opportunities. I strongly recommend taking the Bon Ami Feldspar Mine self guided tour as the first step in your mining experience. This tour offers an opportunity to learn about the history of feldspar mining in the Spruce Pine Mining District, a chance to see mineral samples from various area mines, and then a walk through the mine opening cave looking at mining equipment and viewing the fluorescent opal surface coating of the mine minerals.  I also recommend doing the collecting activity available at Emerald Village.  It is less expensive than the tours at Gem Mountain and you will be collecting from the actual minerals mined (no salting). It is also very convenient as it across the street from the Bon Ami Tour site.  I suggest you bring one heavy duty 5gal bucket per person (Home Depot/Lowes/Ace) and invest in one 3 lb mason hammer per adult and a smaller rock hammer for children (See more details below)

My recommendation for a day long mining experience is:

1. Invest in a good field guide of rocks and minerals. I suggest Walter Schumann's "Rocks, Minerals & Gemstones" ISBN 0-395-51137-2

2. Start between 9:00-10:00 with the Bon Ami Tour at Emerald Village (allow about an hour there).  Spend some time looking at the minerals in the mineral/video room to see what the Spruce Pine Mining District minerals look like. Skip buying anything at the store at this time except your tour tickets and perhaps some fish food for the large rainbow trout which inhabit the water in the mine.

3. Next, do a couple hours or so of collecting at the McKinney/Bon Ami Mine Dump.  Before collecting, check out the display of minerals that have been found at these mines that is in the same building that you pay your fees and sign your waver forms. During collecting, look for the Smoky Quartz (gray), cream colored Feldsar (Orthoclase and Microcline) and dark green Muscovite Mica. You should also be able to find some Almandine Garnet with the green mica. There is an outside chance you may find some green Felsdpar (Amazonite- "Amazon Stone"). After you do your collecting, if you decide that you want to buy a sample, buy one at the retail store where you paid you fee!

 Take a break and go to the Switzerland Cafe for a sandwich and drink (a short drive).

Address: 9440 Hwy 226A, Little Switzerland, NC 28749      Hours: 10:30 am-4:30 pm March through November   Phone: (828) 765- 5289

4. I recommend that you finish your day gem sluicing the the Rio Doce Gem Mine.  After lunch, get back on the parkway and head north through the Little Switzerland tunnel and get off at the North Carolina Mineral Museum exit, milepost 331. Take NC 226N past the mineral museum and you will find Rio Doce on the left.

Address: 14622 Hwy 226S, Spruce Pine, NC 28777 Phone (828) 765-2099 Hours 9am-5:00 pm most of the year (they usually close in December but check their website). 
The owners, Bob and Elaine, are experienced professionals who not only produce high quality cabochons or facets at a reasonable price but also conduct classes on cabochoning and faceting in addition to their retail gem sluicing business. Rio Doce Gem Mine

Rio Doce has a broad choice of buckets available to suit the needs of each customer. My personal choice is the $65 bucket which is large enough for two people to share and includes several facetable gemstones and many other minerals suitable for cabochons. The $65 price includes faceting one gemstone or one cabochon.  I still maintain my relationship with Bob and Elaine in connection with my Bo's Jewelry business.

6. The North Carolina Mineral Museum. After finishing your gem collecting at the Rio Doce Gem Mine, if you have time, you might want to stop by the North Carolina Mineral Museum which is just up the road to the north at the intersection of the Hwy 226 and the parkway.  It would provide an educational review of your activities with it's excellent free exhibits. Address: 79 Parkway Maintenance Rd, Spruce Pine, NC 28777   Phone: (828) 765-2761
Hours: 9:00 am- 5:00 pm all year.

What other opportunities are there to collect Spruce Pine Pegmatite rocks and minerals?

Crabtree Emerald Mine- See my description below

Sink Hole Mica Mine- See my description below

Ray Mica Mine-  See my description below (collecting with a beautiful hike in the Piscah National Forrest)

If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to
email me at or text me at (904) 708-9186

Detailed Description of Mine Tour Activities 

Bon Ami Feldspar Mine at Emerald Village

Tour of the Bon Ami Feldspar Mine at Emerald Village . Pay your fees at the retail shop next to the mine cave.

Fees; $8.00 adult. $7.00 seniors (60+), $6.00 students through high school, pre school (free))
The Bon Ami Mine is a typical feldspar mine of the 1920s-1940s. This tour features a brief description of Spruce Pine Pegmatite geology and the mining equipment and feldspar processing techniques of that period.  The length of thr tour is about 45 minutes to an hour.

 The Emerald Village complex is located a few miles from the North Carolina Mineral Museum.

Following the Bon Ami walking tour, most groups either stay in Emerald Village and collect from the dumps (tailings) of the McKinney Feldspar Mine or drive to the Sink Hole Mica Mine to collect there!

Collecting at the Emerald Village McKinney Mine Tailings

This is a very nice specimen of the most common minerals found in the McKinney Mine tailings; green muscovite mica (upper left and lower right), smoky quartz (gray), and cream colored potash feldspar (microcline or orthoclase).

You can collect from the tailings from the McKinney Feldspar Mine onsite at Emerald Village.  The procedure is to check in at the main retail store down McKinney Mine Road from the Bon Ami Mine. You sign  waiver of liability forms and pay the fees there.

Fee Schedule: adults 13 and older-$20,
children 12 and under- $10.00

I will provide tools and help you identify the minerals you find if I lead you during your collecting experience. You can rent tools  from Emerald Village if you go on your own. You will need sturdy shoes and some 5gal strong buckets for the samples you collect.

There is a collection of the minerals found in the McKinney Mine tailings in the Emerald Village office to help you know what to look for when you collect at the tailings.

Lunch after mineral collecting

Most tour groups elect to take a break for a rest, cool drink, and lunch after completing mineral collecting.

If you decide to collect at Emerald Village, the place to go is the Little Switzerland Cafe just a few minutes from Emerald Village

Collecting at the Sink Hole Mica Mine

Spruce Pine Pegmatite from Sink Hole Mica Mine
Beautiful muscovite mica (rum mica) in gray colored quartz and postasium feldspar (creamy white) matrix

The Sink Hole Mica Mine is currently closed due to some inconsiderate folks dumping trash in the mine area. But, I have made arrangements with one of the co-owners, Ed Silver, that if you give him acall on his cell (828) 467-0179 and tell them that Bo Smith of Bo's Mine Tours told you to give him a call to get permission to collect at the mine, he probably will give you permission.

But, please make sure you leave nothing behind and pick what trash you might saee that you can remove.

You will need a four wheel drive, all wheel drive or a rugged 2 wheel drive with amle ground clearance to drive up the road to the mine!
The Sink Hole Mica Mine is about a 45 minute drive from Emerald Village off of State Road 80N near Bakersville, NC.

The Sink Hole Mica Mine used to provide an excellent mineral collecting experience at one of the area's most historic mines. The Sink Hole Mine has a unique mix of excellent samples of the Spruce Pine pegmatite with small "gemmy" garnets in a mica/feldspar/smoky quartz matrix. The owners of the mine continue to remove material from the upper tailings for road fill.  Although there is less material up there, the remaining material has been turned over and new rocks are exposed.

  Classic Spruce Pine Pegmatite Minerals
Feldspar (cream), Smoky Quartz (gray), Muscovite Mica

Nice Spruce Pine Pegmatite specimen with Muscovite Mica
from Sink Hole Mica Mine

Nice Gem Feldspar (upper right) from Sink Hole Mine with "gemmy" garnets found in August 2015

You can begin with a short hike to see one of the shafts and the location of the Native American mine works.

Next, you can collect samples from the "tailings"
of the minerals found at the Sink Hole Mine.

Middle school aged students particularly enjoy the "hands on experience"

More Examples of Minerals Commonly Found at the Sink Hole Mica Mine

There is plenty of typical Spruce PIne Pegmatite at the Sink Hole Mine.
This one has some pink feldspar.

Green Apatite crystal in Feldspar.
(fluoresces bright yellow)

Top left- If you look carefully at the Feldspar you colllect, you might find some "gem feldspar"

Small "gemmy" Garnet crystals are commonly found in the pegmatite at the Sink Hole Mine

Lunch after mineral collecting

Most tour groups elect to take a break for a rest, cool drink, and lunch after completing mineral collecting.

If you decide to collect at the Sink Hole Mica Mine, the place to go is Helen's Restauraunt about a ten minute drive to Bakersville. Helen's has great sandwiches /burgers, sweet potato fries , and milk shakes!

Closed Tuesdays!

"Tourist" Gem Mining (sluicing):

I began Bo's Mine Tours to give tourists and local inhabitants an option in addition to typical "tourist" gem mining attractions. "Tourist" gem mining normally involves separating colorful semi-precious gem stones from North Carolina gravel through "sluicing".  This is fun for all generations and especially small children.  However, the colorful stones found in these places generally do not come from North Carolina. The "tourist gem mine" operators purchase these gems from suppliers especially from Brazil and then mix them with local gravel. 
Bo's Mine Tours offers the oppportunity to collect North Carolina rocks and minerals from a real mine.

However, my experience over the past few years with Bo's Mine Tours is that there are two situations when it is beneficial to include "tourist gem mining" as part of my tours.

Tour modified for elementary aged children accompanied by parents/grand parents:
 Emerald Village/Sinkhole Mine Tour

For tour groups which include young children who have never been gem "sluicing"  and have selected to do the Bon Ami Feldspar Mine tour might want to consider having the kids do some "gem mining" at the Emerald Village facility (bucket prices vary from $15 up).  Emerald Village is an attractive, well run facility. 
This takes about and hour or so.
After the Emerald Village activities, you might want to move on to a shorter (about 1-2 hours) collecting experience either at the McKinney Feldspar Mine tailings onsite at Emerald Village or at the Sink Hole Mica Mine.  I have found that elementary age children are very enthusiastic about collecting at "real mine" tailings but their attention span is such that they begin to wear out and get a bit "figity" after an hour or two.

Spruce Pine Mining District tour modified to include those who are interested
in doing "gem sluicing" with the goal of obtaining a faceted gemstone or cabochon

Rio Doce Gem Mine

After a bit of "marketing research" of the local "tourist gem mines",
I have determined the best place to get reliable high quality gem stones along with the demonstrated ability of cutting the stones by experienced professionals is the Rio Doce Gem Mine. Rio Doce has a broad choice of buckets available to suit the needs of each customer. The most popular choice of my recent customers is the $65 bucket which is large enough for two people to share and includes several fecetable gemstones and many other minerals suitable for cabechons. The $65 price includes faceting one gemstone or one cabochon.  Additional faceted stones are $50 each and cabochons are $30.

Rock Collecting Tools and Equipment

In addition to some kind of appropriate containers
(I recommend Lowes or Home Depot sturdy 5 gal buckets),
you will need proper rock hammers to process the material.
I recommend that each collector have a regular rock hammer (brick hammer) with a chisel end (shown in my left hand in the picture) ($30 at Homer Depot or Lowes and a 2 1/2 lb to 4 lb mason hammer with a chizel end (shown in my right hand). A 12 lb sledge hammer would be helpful to break up larger boulders.

The picture demonstrates how to use these hammers to break rocks in a controlled manner.
Safety Notes: Each collector should wear sturdy shoes/boots/athletic shoes (no sandals). I always wear jeans to provide protection in case of a fall.
But, many of my customers have worn shorts.  Everyone should wear some type of light weight gloves (garden gloves) to protect against cuts from a fall or contact with sharp edges of the minerals. Always wear eye protection when breaking rocks with hammers!

The Crabtree Emerald Mine

We also have had several excellent tours to the Crabtree Emerald Mine. Crabtreee provides a more difficult challenge than the Sink Hole Mine in finding good specimens but it can be done and our Crabtree tours were successful in that almost everyone found some emerald.

can sign the required forms, pay the fees,  and get directions to the mine from either the MAGMA (Mountain Area Gem and Mineral Association) website which manages collecting at the mine or at the Emerald Village shop next to the Bon Ami Feldspar Mine. I can provide the forms and forward your check to MAGMA if I take you to the mine.

Minerals Commonly Found at the Crabtree Emerald Mine

Common grassy green Beryl crystals in Feldspar matrix

Emerald in Crabtree matrix

Black tourmaline crystals and pink Thulite in Feldspar

Black tourmaline and golden beryl in Feldspar matrix

Special Finds at the Crabtree Emerald Mine

Above- Nice Emerald crystals in Feldspar matrix; found August 2014
Right- Beautiful Emerald crystal found in the gravel at Crabtree; August 2015

Ray Mica Mine

The Ray Mine is one of the oldest and most famous of the old mica mines. Excellent examples of spuce pine pegmatite material can be found there. Especially fine examples of "rum" mica some with black tourmaline inclusions can be found.  The Ray Mine is one of the best sites in the area to find Aquamarine.  It can be found by searching through surface material or by the digging and sifting technique. In 2012, the US Forrest service instituted digging restrictions for the Ray MIne area and avoidance policies for shafts due to bat preservation issues.  I have found nice samples of mica and black tournaline in the quartz/feldspar matrix the creek alongside the trail up the mountain. No digging in the creek! Up the hill in the vacinity of the mine shafts is a large mine dump area (tailings). Surface collecting using hand tools is permitted in this area.  There is an approved digging area above the mine shafts. I suggest you check with the US Forrest Service before collecting at the Ray Mine area.
I suggest you call Matthew McCombs, District Ranger, Appalachian Ranger District at (828) 689- 9694 (office) oe (970) 309-0367 (cell) for the latest information before collecting at the Ray Mica Mine.

Directions to the parking area at the Ray Mica Mine trailhead:

From Burnsville take Rt 197 South (The Pensacola Road) for .7 miles
Turn Left on Bolens Creek Road for 1.4 miles
Turn Left on Ray Mine Road to the top of the hill

GPS Coordinates:
N 35 deg. 53.241 min.
W 082 deg. 16.733 min.

The Pisgah National Forest land begins at the post with the yellow and black poster on the right in the picture. You may park on National Forest land in front of the post is private land.  I have had permission from the owner in the past to park on his land. He does not want any payment; just do not block his mail box on the right!

This a map of the Ray Mine area.  The hatched area above the shafts is the authorized digging area. 

The old road which is adjacent to the digging area leads up to the ridge line where there is an old Kyanite Mine.

Hike up the hill toward the tailings.
You may surface collect along the trail but no digging!

You may surface collect in the stream;
 but no digging!

 You may surface collect from the tailings near the shafts but no digging. Digging is permitted only in the approved digging area above the shafts!

Minerals that can be found at the Ray Mica Mine

Partial Common Beryl crystal
 in Quartzite matrix

Aquamarine in Feldspar

Muscovite Mica (Rum Mica) in Feldspar

Black tourmaline crystals in Muscovite mica on Feldspar

lf you hike up toward the ridge line from the Ray Mine shaft area you might find some blue Kyanite in Quartzite.

Are you interested in Gold Mining?

I met the owner of of the Thermal City Gold Mine at the Grassy Creek Gem and Mineral Show late in July 2015.
His family has owned the mine for five generations.  The area between here and Charlotte was mined for gold for about 20 years beginning about 1830 and was the primary source of America's gold until the big gold strike in California.

You can pan the unsalted stream gravel that produced the gold for $10/person and they will provide the pan; what a deal! You have a good chance to find a flake or two of gold by panning  You can also reserve a piece of gold mining equipment called a trommel for four hours for $60.

Our first tour was for a family who decided to try panning for $10 a person

They were also given an explanation of the operation of the trommel by the owner.
Our second tour group opted to operate the trommel for $60

Loading the trommel

Cleaning the sluice

Panning the concentrate

Small nuggets and flakes from the trommel operation

Additional Activities

A Good Place to Start Any Tour

The North Carolina Mineral Museum

At Rte 226 and the Blue Ridre Parkway

Pine Mountain Mining Facility

You can take a route to the Sinkhole Mine that includes a brief roadside stop along Rte. 226N with a view of the  Quartz Corporation's Pine Mountain Mining Facility.

Take Route 226 N from Rt 19E north towards Bakersville.  Stop along the right side of the road and take a look at this operating feldspar mine, the largest in North America.

After this stop, continue on towards Bakersville and take a left at Rte 223 (Mine Creek Road) at the Sink Hole Mine road sign.

The History of Bandana Settlement

The Sink Hole Mice Mine mine is located in the town of Bandana southeast of Bakersville in Mitchell County.
mine is currently owned by Ed and Sam Silver.  The Bandana area and the valley to its south, Kona, have been continuously occupied by the Silver family since the mid-1750s.  My research into the geology of the area has resulted in getting to know many of the local folks so I have learned quite a bit about the history of the area. This cabin, built by one of sons of the area's first resident of European decent, George Silver Jr.was built between 1809 and 1816 can be found in the village of KONA.  If you drive south on Rte 80S from Bandana, you will find KONA. Take the Old Kona Road down to the village to find this cabin.

The History of Native American Mica Mining

During the years that I have devoted to the study of the geology and history of the  Spruce Mining District, I became very interested in the history of  North Carolina mica mining by Hopewell era Native Americans. I have published my research online at:

    Native American Sink Hole Mica Mining Website

If you are interested in this subject, be sure to search for the ravine at the Sink Hole Mine, the site of Native American aboriginal mining 2000 years ago.

I commissioned the oil and natural materials painting on the left which I donated to the Yancey County Visitor's Center in Burnsville. It is on display there in the visitor's center office.

Dellinger's Grist Mill

The tour takes about 45 minutes to an hour. There is no fee for the tour but you might want to purchase some of Jack's corn meal, grits, or polenta.

The Dellinger Grist Mill has been at it's Cane Creek location (a few miles east of Bakersville) since the mid 1800s. Four generations of the Dellinger family have operated the mill. It is the only iron wheel grist mill still in operation in North Carolina. The mill is currently operated by Jack Dellinger. Jack was born in the hills near the mill, watched his daddy operate the mill and learned the stories of his grandpa and great grandpa's experiences with the mill which he relates to those who visit the mill.  Jack is an amazing person who started in the corn field,was  educated in a one room school house, eventually became an Electrical Engineer and as one of an IBM  team of computer programmers was involved in designing the computer program that controlled the Saturn V Rocket for the Apollo 11 Lunar mission. Check hours of operation at the Dellinger Mill Website

Nearby Accommodations
Richmond Inn B & B
Located in Spruce Pine, NC. Run by our friend Maggie. Nice period rooms. Friendly atmosphere. Family style breakfast. Pet friendly. 
Spruce Pine Motel
(no website)
Located at 379 Oak Avenue (end of "upper streeet") downtown Spruce Pine. Economy type motel, under new ownership, offers clean inexpensive rooms.($50 one queen. $55 two double beds) 828-765-9344
Terrell House B & B
Located in Burnsville, NC. Run by our friends Laura and Mike Hoskins. Nice period atmosphere. 
Switzerland Inn
Located on Blue Ridge Parkway. Luxurious chalet atmosphere. 
Beautiful view. Excellent restaurant. Rates-moderate to expensive.
Big Lynn Lodge
Located on Blue Ridge Parkway. Comfortable. 
Beautiful view. Reasonable rates.
Alpine Inn
Located on Blue Ridge Parkway. Beautiful view.Rustic atmosphere. Optional breakfast served on the lodge's balcony. Reasonable rates.
Vance Toe River Lodge
Located on Route 19E about 14 miles northeast of Spruce Pine in Plumb Tree, Avery County. The Vance Toe River Lodge offers inexpensive accommodations in the lodge and cabins, camping, and a Zipline attraction.

Website and photographs by Robert S. 'Bo' Smith