Kids love dirt. Kids love rocks. Why not embrace it? Hidden in the Ouachita Mountains in Arkansas is Mount Ida which is known as the Quartz Crystal Capital of the World. During this coronavirus time, many traditional tourist activities don’t allow much social distancing, so rockhounding seemed like a good choice for our family roadtrip. We hadn’t been to this middle area of Arkansas before, and it was truly lovely with the small two-lane highway weaving in and out of the forested hills and small towns.
Where: Mt Ida, Arkansas; mid-west Arkansas 45 minutes west from Hot Springs
Cost: $18 per two hour dig per person
Time: 3-4 hours
Change what you think of when you think of Arkansas mines. This won’t be walking deep into the mountain with lanterns. This is surface mining in the dirt. A pit mine. Plenty of crystals to treasure and buckets to fill. Still a mine, just a different kind.
Why Should I Pick This Mine?
The Crystal Forest Mine
Shopping at the Rock Shop
What If I Arrive at the Wrong Time for a Tour?
Are There Any Physical Limitations in Going out to the Mine?
What Do I Need to Bring?
When is the Best Time to Go?
Nerd Mom Facts
Where Should We Go Nearby?
There are quite a few quartz mines in the area west of Hot Springs in the mountains. However, not many of them allow in-site digging. Many of the others will be dirt from another site dumped out at another site. There is fresh dirt full of quartz, but it isn’t at the source and digging in the hills.
Although this was the only quartz mine we experienced in this area, there were several other families on our truck who had gone to the others and were choosing to return to this one. They said this one consistently had bigger quartz crystals to find and was their favorite mine in the area. To me, that means this is a good one even if we don’t have anything to personally compare it to.
We chose Wegner Crystal Mine because my son wanted to be in the original dirt digging and covered in it. Dirt. Lots of dirt. He didn’t want to just dig through the load brought in from a dump truck. At this site, we were up under tree roots digging at the source. Additionally, this mine offers tools to rent and transportation to the site. Not to mention they are open and several others are closed during this time of coronavirus.
Additionally, look at their website and read the story of the Wegner family. This isn’t a dig and destroy operation. They work to preserve the land and be as responsible as possible. I didn’t know that at the time of our visit. Given this plus our experience, I have nothing but the highest regard and recommendation for this lovely place.
This 2.5-3 hour tour is first come, first served and the price includes every stone you want to take home. You will find more crystals than you have room to keep. The guide leaves you and the rest of your group out at the site, returning to pick you up when they bring the next group. Make sure you ask them for some tips and any other questions you have before they leave.
Although our group filled up the back of a pick-up truck fitted with benches and walls, there were two trucks to take if needed. The price of the tour includes the fifteen minute ride to the 40-acre surface pit, and you get to keep everything you find. There are several tours available to this favorite site daily – 9:30 AM, 11:30 AM, and 1:30 PM. My kids thought the ride alone was a fun part of the trip as they had to duck for overhead branches several times and hold on to the truck over bumps.
At the mining site, there will be plenty of crystals to find just by walking along and looking down; however, there are intact veins in the hard rock for kids who really want to dig! The kids will want to keep everything they find, and the longer they search, the more you will have to help them learn to be selective. Some of the people on our tour were there specifically to find very large garden rocks. You will want to take some home too!
It would be possible to stay out at the dig site longer than your two-hour time if you want. I was worried that the kids would want to stay longer. However, given how quickly they found quartz, the temperature, and their attention spans, they were actually ready to go before the truck had arrived.
When you pull up into the parking lot, you will see the tables and ground covered with giant rocks for sale. Not tiny little rocks. The kind that you can see from your car across the parking lot! There are also rocks for sale inside including some for wholesale shops. Inside you can see the large crystal specimens as well as the more polished, finished stones from around the world. The best part is that they are cheaper than anywhere else you will find. They also have many rough geodes which you can break open at the site as well.
There are still other activities available for you! In addition to the shopping at the rock shop, there is a sluice (aka running water in a trough) nearby which you can use to sort through a bucket pre-filled with treasures. This would be good for small kids who want to be guaranteed an assortment of stones. There is also a tailings area near the shop which is dirt which has been brought in from the mining site. At a cheaper price than the mine, the kids can still get in the dirt and search for treasures. Your kids still get to keep everything they find.
Even though the open-air ride out to the site was relatively short, it was very bumpy and crowded if a lot of groups are present. If you have back problems, call the business ahead of time. They are family owned and family friendly. I believe they would accommodate you as much as possible. There were a few seats inside the cab of the truck which might be an option, but I would call ahead of time and make sure.
Additionally, out at the site, it’s a rock field. Take along a folding chair to sit and watch the rest of your group. Maybe bring an umbrella to block the hot sun and be the supervisor. It’s doable. Just need to prepare yourself a little.
- Old clothes and shoes – This site is dirt. You will sit on dirt. Don’t wear your good stuff. If it’s slightly wet, you will be muddy. Old sandals would work for the most par, but the kids may be scrambling up some steep areas which might work better with closed shoes. For safety reasons though, think about chisels and hammers swinging toward little toes.
- A bucket or two – Take something to bring all your treasures home! You might also consider bringing some smaller containers for each kid to use at the site, or they will spend all their time running over to your bucket. Take into consideration that they will want to keep “theirs” separate from everyone else’s.
- Tools – While you can bring some, they are also available with a deposit. Amazon provided ours, but also took up a lot of tight car space on our road trip! If you have room, go to Dollar Tree and get some cheap garden tools, a hammer, and something pointy – a chisel or screwdriver for scraping out some stones.
- Gloves – Take some at least for the grown-ups. The kids will probably want to put their hands in the dirt! This is also not the best time to test out the new manicure.
- Blanket – Grab something to sit on as you will be in an uncovered dirt pit – you and your stuff will get dirty. If not planning insetting, a picnic blanket to place on the ground to dump your stuff on. A gardening pad or knee pads would work amazingly to squat down. Some of our groups had even brought a folding chair for older people needing a rest.
- Water – Grab plenty of water both for drinking and cleaning. They do offer bottled water for a cheap price at the site out of a cooler – we just took some in our backpack without problem. Make sure you bring enough for the kids who want to use some to clean off their treasures.
- Snacks – Think of these as just in case for when they are done or the littles need a distraction. My kids were too busy to stop and take a break.
- Protection – Sunscreen, big hats, and lots of deodorant… Enough said. There will not be any shade.
Check the weather.
We were there for the first shift of the morning in June, and even while it was a bit overcast and with a drizzle of rain, we were quickly hot and tired. Go as early as you can, and try to avoid the hottest days.
If it does happen to sprinkle while you are there, consider it a blessing. However, a downpour would be a muddy pit. If you can go the day after it rains, the top surface of dirt will have been washed off to reveal the crystals on the surface waiting for you making your treasure hunting easier.
Potty Break – A nice bathroom is available at the gift shop. We also used this bathroom to put on clean clothes after the digging adventure. Don’t plan on rinsing off or showering though – the sign in the bathroom specifically says not to do this. At the dig site, there is a clean port-a-potty, but you might want to take some hand sanitizer for afterward.
Food – Picnic tables are available at the parking lot for a meal after digging. Also, some people took coolers with them on the trip so they would have snacks and drinks available. Honestly, your kids will probably be so busy digging that eating won’t be on their radar until they are done.
Extra clothes and shoes – Have an extra set of clothes and wet wipes easily accessible from the rest of your suitcase for everyone. You will want to change into new stuff for the rest of your driving time. You will stink, and the kids will be filthy. Make sure you have some trash bags keep all the dirty stuff separate.
Crater of Diamonds Park– There is a state park in Arkansas less than an hour away that is one of the only places where you can actually dig for native diamonds. This was originally on our agenda, but given the time constraints, I knew we didn’t have all day to search and probably not find anything. This is on the future plans though!
Hot Springs National Park – We actually spent the night in Hot Springs, but because of Covid, much of the park was closed off. It’s so frustrating to be so close and not able to go.