My husband is an aspiring rockhound, so when we learned that there was an opportunity to hunt for garnets just outside of Ely, Garnet Hill hit the top of his wish list.
My family found ten small garnets here in under an hour – both loose on the trail and embedded in rocks. It was a fun, short adventure that kicked off our long weekend in Ely, Nevada.
Garnet Hill is managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. There is no cost to visit and hunt for garnets.
Here are my top tips to help your family make your first trip to Garnet Hill a success.
What are Garnets?
Garnets are semi-precious gemstones that are often red in color, but not always. The garnets we found at Garnet Hill were deep red – almost black. Garnet is the January birthstone.
Most garnets that you will find at Garnet Hill are not high quality or worth much money. You could have your finds made into jewelry, which would be a fun souvenir. But you will probably not find anything that you could sell.
Related: 10 Fun Things to Do in Ely, Nevada
How to Find Garnets
Treasure hunters are welcome to break open rocks and take home what they find at Garnet Hill. Garnets are both loose on the trail and embedded in rocks.
There is a sign near the parking area that shows you what to look for. We started a conversation with other Garnet Hill rockhounds and found that they were happy to share their knowledge with newcomers.
We successfully found a couple of garnets inside of rocks that we broke open. My kids (ages 16 and 13) found most of our garnets loose on the trail. My son was especially good at spotting the dark stones on the lighter-colored dirt.
We spent about an hour on Garnet Hill and found ten small garnets.
Related: Tips for a Trip on Nevada Northern Railway
Directions to Garnet Hill
From the Travel Nevada official website:
- “Garnet Hill is located in White Pine County, just 10 miles northwest of Ely along Highway 50.
- From Ely, drive westbound about 6.4 miles until you’ll see a “Garnet Hill” BLM marker on the right-hand side of the road.
- Turn east 1.7 miles to a signed road junction [stay right at the fork] and travel southwest 1.4 miles to the parking area.”
The last three miles are uphill on a winding dirt road. The road is maintained, and most passenger vehicles should be able to drive it in dry weather. Our minivan had no trouble.
Beware of using Google Maps and other map apps to find Garnet Hill. For us, Google Maps got the general location right but the driving directions were not very helpful. Google caused us to turn off too early, into a ghost town.
There is a sign at the Garnet Hill turnoff – soon after the turnoff to Ruth. If you don't see it, you're probably not there yet.
Related: One Day in Great Basin National Park
When to Go
The site is open all year, but most visitors will want to go when the weather is warmer. Expect snow in winter months.
If your vehicle can handle a wet dirt road, the best time to go is just after a rainstorm or snowmelt. These events often wash away sediment and expose the garnets. Be sure to check the gullies on the side of the road and trail well.
We were there in late July. It was warm, but there were trees and shade. We could have stayed comfortable for as long as needed with adequate sun protection and water.
We found a parking area, picnic tables, and a primitive bathroom at Garnet Hill. There is no running water here. Hiking and biking trails are in development.
The bathroom was pretty bad, but better than nothing. Bring your own hand wipes and sanitizer.
There is first come, first served camping for a couple of small tents or campers. Large trailers or RVs are not recommended.
There are several affordable hotels and campgrounds in Ely. We stayed in the newer, non-gaming Holiday Inn Express and would recommend it.
Disclosure: Our trip was sponsored by the Ely visitor's bureau and our stay at the Holiday Inn Express was complimentary, for the purpose of review.
What to Bring
You'll want some basic rockhounding tools, water, food, clothing for the weather, and hygiene supplies – even for a short trip to Garnet Hill. You don't need to spend a lot of time or pack a lot of stuff to find garnets and call it a success, but it will be a better experience if you go prepared.
For a successful trip, I would pack:
- sun hat
- water (for drinking and pouring over rocks)
- bucket for carrying stones and garnets
- rock hammer
- work gloves
- protective glasses (rock chips fly when you use the hammer)
- hand sanitizer/wipes
We bought our Estwing rock hammer at a hardware store in Ely after I was unable to find one at three big hardware stores in my hometown. You can buy rock hammers and other rockhounding tools at Amazon.com.
More Things to Do
Your trip to Garnet Hill can be as long or short as you want, depending on how much you enjoy rockhounding. However, leave time for a little spontaneity on this outing.
As I mentioned earlier, we accidentally found ourselves in a ghost town on our way to Garnet Hill. I don't know what it's called, and it's just a few abandoned structures on the side of Highway 50, but it's the sort of place that you may want to save time to explore. There are dozens of ghost towns in this area.
Another interesting stop that we missed is the US-50 sign, only a mile or so past the Garnet Hill turnoff on Highway 50. This highway is known as “America's Loneliest Road,” and you can get that photo op near Garnet Hill.
My family had fun at Garnet Hill near Ely, Nevada and my we would definitely go again. This is a great destination for first-time rockhounds because it's so close to Ely and it's easy to find garnets here.
Learn more at the official BLM website: https://www.blm.gov/visit/garnet-hill
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