#10 of 17 Asheville Things To Do

Emerald Village

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Emerald Village in Little Switzerland: Fun Above and Below Ground
Staff Score:
4 / 5
The Bottom Line:

The Emerald Village in Little Switzerland is North Carolina’s number one gem mining site. The campus is full of mining equipment and displays, with so much to do that you could easily spend several hours learning about mining and hunting for gems.

- The SmokyMountains.com Local Expert Team

Approximately one hour outside Asheville – midway between Asheville and Blowing Rock — is Emerald Village, home to fascinating mining museum, fun shops, and 12 real mines. The site is so unique that it has been featured on a number of television programs, including those shown on National Geographic TV and the Travel Channel.

While on the property you can take a peak into an old-time company store, explore a blacksmith shop, and enjoy the Bon Ami Waterfall. The true fun, though, takes place around those 12 mines.  For example, you can take a self-guided tour of an underground mine.

It may be closed now, but a trip through the Bon Ami Mine offers a glimpse of what life must have been like for those who woke up every morning to work it. You’ll see rich veins of smoky quartz, tons of mica that sparkles like stars on a dark night, and the mining equipment once vital to getting gems out.

Many visitors claim that the highlight of their trip is the after-dark experience in the mine. About 10 times a year, the Bon Ami Mine is lit up with ultraviolet lamps and shortly after dark, visitors are able to see it bathed in eerie, nearly magical, color.

Here’s more of what you can expect to see at Emerald Village:

  • The Discovery Mill Building
    Designed to look like an old mill, this is certainly one of the most quaint sites in Emerald Village. It is made up of 10 floors, so plan to take your time exploring rooms. On the first floor you’ll find an information center, restrooms, souvenir and gift shop, and  deli. There’s even an indoor picnic area upstairs if you prefer it over an outdoor area. Each of the other floors house shops and exhibits, covering a wide range of mining-related collections. The payoff for climbing those stairs is that every level offers its own unique view of the Big Deal Mine.
  • The Gemstone Mine
    is located in the Big Deal Mine, an old underground spot that generated a large number of minerals and gems through the years. Although The underground mine is now closed, it still makes a great backdrop for the “mining” experience just outside its doors. The best part is that you get to keep whatever you find, and you’re sure to find something. You can mine up to 25 different kinds of gems, including aquamarine, emerald, fluorite, garnet, moonstone, opal, red jasper, rose quartz, sapphire, ruby, and topaz.  Trained professionals will walk you through the process and are even available to cut and polish anything you want made into jewelry.
  • Gold Panning
    Most people don’t realize that North Carolina was once the leading producer of gold in the U.S. Today, you can pan for gold at Emerald Village where ore sand from a North Carolina gold mine is brought in. Although it is possible that your sand will contain real gold, employees add gold nuggets or flakes to make sure that everyone who pans ends up with a bit of treasure.

The fun of Emerald Village lies in the fact that you can easily pretend you’ve stepped back in time and into a small mining town. From the cleverly designed new buildings to the remnants of old mines, everything works together to give you a sense of what life must have like when they were all operational. Having the opportunity to leave with gems and minerals is an added bonus.

Insider Tips:

  • Dress comfortably and in layers in order to control your body temperature. Mining continues no matter what’s going on with the weather.