Rockhounding for Star Garnets in North Idaho

6-point Idaho Star GarnetThe Star Garnet is a beautiful stone found primarily in Idaho. The only other known location to find star garnets is in India, but Idaho has much richer deposits of the gem and is the only place to find the rare six point star garnet (pictured). The Star Garnet has been Idaho's state gemstone since 1967.

Garnets are hard stones that have been used as gemstones and abrasives since the Bronze Age. The name comes from genet, a 14th century Middle English word meaning dark red, derived from the latin word granatus which was a reference to the pomegranate with fruit that is similar in size, shape, and color to many garnets.

There are many historical and mythological references to garnet use. It is said that Noah used a garnet lantern to help him steer the biblical ark through the night. Garnets have been found in jewelry from early Egyptian times, as well as throughout the Greek and Roman eras. In medieval times garnets were worn under the belief that they had healing or other beneficial properties. Various colors were used to enhance strength and endurance, relieve skin conditions, and cure heart, blood, and lung diseases. Certain colors of garnets are also said to cure depression or even enhance business and personal success.

Garnets range in color from red and orange to green, blue, purple, brown, black, pink, and colorless. The rarest color is blue, and the rarest variant is the star garnet. Star garnets typically have 4-point stars, however in Idaho it is possible to find garnets with six-point stars. The star pattern is caused by a unique inclusion of rutile, a mineral with one of the highest refractive indices of any known mineral.

The United States Forest Service operates a star garnet gemstone collection at Emerald Creek in the Saint Joe National Forest, about a 2 1/2 hour drive south of Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. The parking lot for the garnet harvesting area is on Emerald Creek Rd. GPS coordinates for the parking lot are Latitude: 46° 59' 49" Longitude: -116° 21' 54" and the collection area is at Latitude: 46° 59' 59" Longitude: -116° 22' 02".

You can view these points on a Forest Service Map here A Google Map marking the parking lot's location is available here.

Anyone seeking to hunt for garnets can pay a fee of $10 for the day. This allows you to remove up to five pounds of gemstones from the location! Screen boxes, buckets, and shovels are provided by the Forest Service, but you should take along drinking water, snacks, gloves, and appropriate clothes for the weather.

In the mining area you will fill your bucket with dirt and rocks, then take it to the screening area to sift out the dirt and sand to leave only rocks. You take the rocks to one of the sluice voices provided and wash them to look for garnets. Any of your rocks that appear to have a plastic-like shine could be a garnet.

The garnets at Emerald Creek are nearly opaque and tend to be a dark red or purple. Many of your stones will not be suitable for cutting or polishing, but most will be four-ray star garnets, and if you are really lucky you might even find one of the rare six-point stars! Four-ray garnets can sell for around $40/carat, and a six-ray stone can sell for over $140/carat.

The Emerald Creek Star Garnet Area is open from the Friday before Memorial Day through Labor Day Weekend. It is closed on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Friday thru Tuesday hours are 9:00a to 5:00p. The Forest Service recommends calling ahead to their St. Maries Office at 208.245.2531 to make sure the site is open before you make the trip.

Permits are available on-site at a cost of $10/adult and $5/child age 6-12. The permit is valid for the entire day and includes equipment. If you want to remove more than five pounds of garnets from the site in the same day you may purchase a second permit. There is a limit of six permits or 30 pounds of garnet per year.

The area includes handicapped access for those who are unable to make the walk to the area. If you need this access, call the Clarkia office at 208.245.1134 to make arrangements. You must have a handicap placard, license plate, or other proof of disability for this service.

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