Clarkia, Idaho – If you are okay with driving a couple of miles on gravel roads into the absolutely breathtaking Idaho Panhandle National Forest outside of Clarkia, you will be rewarded with a true treasure: The Emerald Creek Garnet Area.
The confusing name came to be because early discoverers thought they’d found a motherlode of emeralds. Turned out it was garnets.
You can find garnets in other parts of the country – including in Washington – but this is the only place in the United States where you can find star garnets. The only other place in the world star garnets can be found is in India.
The Emerald Creek Garnet Area has been closed for maintenance for a couple of years, but the good news is it will reopen on May 28 and stay open until September 6, 2021. Tickets are already available and must be purchased online in advance or by calling (877) 444-6777 or (208) 245-2531 – see more directions below.
The star garnet is the official state gem of Idaho. The most common garnet colors are deep, dark burgundy, almost black, as well as reddish brown. If there is a star in the garnet it usually only really shows after the rock has been polished.
The first star garnets were unceremoniously dug up in the middle of the creek here in the 1930s. Today, a more environmentally friendly approach is used as sediment containing garnets is dug up and hauled in near the visitor center sluice system by tractors. Rockhounds grab buckets of mud and sand, and start rinsing away looking for gemstones.
A couple of years ago I found my very own star garnet. The size of a large grape – and covered in rust-colored mud when I found it – I later had it polished, and the interior revealed not one but two milky white stars. Set in silver it is now one of my favorite rings with a cool story attached.
Garnet digging is fun and rewarding because you are almost certain to find a garnet.
Here’s a little more advice for your garnet digging adventure: