Frequently Asked Questions

Where are you?
Gem Mountain and Philipsburg, Montana are located in beautiful southwestern Montana, USA, about half way between Glacier National Park and Yellowstone National Park. Philipsburg is off the beaten path on a good two-lane highway, Montana HWY 1, between Butte and Missoula. Montana HWY 1 is the “Pintler Scenic Route” for a reason. It offers spectacular mountain views as it passes meandering creeks, Silver Lake, and Georgetown Lake. Philipsburg is a historic mining town with many of the original buildings beautifully restored. You don’t need to worry about getting lost or big crowds; we’re a small town of 800 people with one four way stop and four blocks in the “downtown” shopping district. A few years ago, we were named as America’s Prettiest Painted Place. In addition to the year-round location of Gem Mountain, the town features one of the world’s finest candy stores (The Sweet Palace), an old-fashioned soda fountain (Doe Brothers), fine dining (Silver Mill), a brewery (Philipsburg Brewing), fishing information and gear (Flint Creek Outdoors), two antique stores, Montana’s oldest theatre (Opera House Theatre), and a handful of gift shops offering a unique mix of gemstones, jewelry, clothing and home decor. Take the extra hour and make the drive down HWY 1 to visit historic Philipsburg and experience Western Hospitality at its best. We look forward to seeing you!
What do people do at Gem Mountain?
Simply Put: you are going to spend your hard-earned money to purchase a bucket of dirt. We call the dirt “Sapphire Gravel”. We are going to supply all the tools and equipment needed at no additional charge, so you can belly up to the wash trough and wash your sapphire gravel. Our fun loving helpful staff is going to make sure you find the rough sapphires hiding in the gravel. When you get done washing your gravel we will “weigh and bag” your rough sapphires at no charge, so you can take them home to show off. We will examine your rough sapphires to determine which ones are gem quality for a complimentary $5 fee. Heat Treating and faceting will turn your rough sapphires into beautiful gemstones suitable for jewelry. If you place a heat treating and faceting order, we waive the $5 gemstone evaluation fee. The finished gemstones are almost always worth significantly more than the cost of heat treating and faceting, and when you build a piece of jewelry with a gemstone you found, you have a lifetime treasure and memory of your day at Gem Mountain. You won’t believe how fun and addictive it is to hunt for the rough sapphires!

Of course, you are more than welcome to just come visit and take a look around. More than likely our Philipsburg store has something you have never seen before, and the wildlife and people watching at the mine is always interesting.

How do we find you?
Philipsburg is located in Southwest Montana about an hour drive from Butte or Missoula. The mine is located 22 miles west of Philipsburg on Skalkaho Pass Road, MT Hwy 38. It is a beautiful drive that takes an additional 30 minutes from Philipsburg. Skalkaho Pass Road offers spectacular views of the Pintler Mountains and excellent opportunities for wildlife viewing, including: bald eagles, red tail hawks, deer, elk, big horn sheep and moose.

If you are coming from the West or Northwest — Missoula, Spokane, Kalispell, Glacier Park, Flathead Lake, etc:

To Philipsburg: From Missoula travel east on I-90 approximately 45 miles to Drummond. Exit at Drummond, Exit #153, and proceed south on MT Hwy 1, the Pintler Scenic Route, 30 miles to Philipsburg. Philipsburg is located just off the highway with good signage to the Historic Downtown District. Turn Left off HWY 1 and proceed uphill about one mile. We are the first large brick building on the left. There is ample street parking with an RV parking lot directly across the street. Remember to do your U-turns at the end of the street where marked.

To the Sapphire Mine: The Sapphire Mine is located 22 miles west of Philipsburg. Continue south on HWY 1 six miles past Philipsburg to the green highway signs that say “Hamilton” and “Skalkaho Pass Road” and turn right. Travel 16 miles west to our driveway and turn right at the Gem Mountain sign. (You can’t miss it, we’re the only ones out there, and a picture of the sign is at the top center of every web page). Large RVs and towing units can ignore the big yellow warning signs about narrow winding roadways. The road is paved and suitable for all vehicles the entire way to our driveway. We have plenty of RV parking. Stop for gas and groceries in Philipsburg!

If you are coming from the North, East or South — Butte, Helena, Great Falls, Bozeman, Yellowstone National Park, northbound on I-15, etc:

From Butte, or the Junction of I-90 and I-15: Take I-90 westbound (towards Missoula) approximately 18 miles to the Anaconda / Philipsburg exit, #208. Exit at Anaconda and travel west six miles into Anaconda. Stop for gas and groceries in Anaconda. The Town Pump at the edge of Anaconda always has the lowest gas price in the area and an RV dump station. Albertsons is on your left as you enter town. Stokes is on your left most of the way through town.

To Philipsburg: From Anaconda continue west on MT Hwy 1 approximately 24 miles to the “Philipsburg” exit at the “Wye”. Continue another 1.5 miles (past the Forest Service Office) directly to the Historic Downtown District. Turn left at the stop sign. Our Philipsburg store at 201 west Broadway is located on your right one block “downhill” from the stop sign. There is ample street parking with an RV parking lot directly across the street. Remember to do your U-turns at the end of town where marked.

To the Sapphire Mine: From Anaconda travel approximately 18 miles to Skalkaho Pass Road, MT Hwy 38 (six miles south of, and before, you get to Philipsburg). After you pass Georgetown Lake and come down the “grade”, take it easy across the flat. Slow down as soon as you see the green “Skalkaho Pass Road” and “Hamilton” highway signs. You will be turning LEFT while the highway is making a right-hand curve. This is a DANGEROUS CORNER, and it is easy to miss the LEFT TURN. Travel 16 miles west to our driveway and turn right at the Gem Mountain sign. (You can’t miss it, we’re the only ones out there and a picture of the sign is at the top center of every web page). Large RVs and towing units can ignore the big yellow warning signs about narrow winding roadways. The road is paved and suitable for all vehicles the entire way to our driveway. We have plenty of RV parking. If you end up in Philipsburg, you’ve traveled six miles too far. Stop in our store and look around. We look forward to seeing you.

If you are in the Bitterroot Valley; US 93 south of Missoula, Victor, Stevensville, Hamilton, Darby, Triple Creek Ranch, Salmon Idaho, etc:

If you are comfortable driving narrow (we mean really narrow, like two cars can’t pass each other in many places), winding (so narrow and winding trailers over 20 feet might not make it), gravel (the washboards can get bad during the summer) road with huge drop offs and no guard rails…. Skalkaho Pass Road is a huge time saver and beautiful drive. From US 93 one mile South of Hamilton turn east on MT Hwy 38, “Skalkaho Highway”. Travel east 38.4 miles to our driveway. Plan on spending a few minutes at Skalkaho Falls (18 miles from our driveway), and a short hike out the Boardwalk at Mudd Lake (there is nothing muddy about it, it’s beautiful). This route is NOT suitable for RVs, towing units, big road bikes (Harley, Goldwing, etc.) because it is narrow, winding and dirt/gravel. This route is not for the faint of heart and those afraid of heights and drop offs. Skalkaho Pass Road is one of the last “dirt” State Highways. It is well maintained during the summer but offers its own challenges for the faint of heart. If you’re up for it, take Skalkaho Pass Road for the spectacular views, opportunities to see wildlife, Skalkaho Falls, Mudd Lake, Sand Basin and the Gem Mountain Sapphire Mine (where the pavement ends on the east side). Philipsburg is an additional 22 miles east on paved roads.

Click here to see the Google Maps Location of our Philipsburg “Town” Store

Click here to see the Google Maps Location of the Gem Mountain Sapphire Mine

If you are using a Navigation system, Tom Tom, Garmin, etc., to find the Sapphire Mine: USE CAUTION!

If your system it is not fully updated, you WILL NOT FIND US. If the directions it gives do not match those given above…DO NOT FOLLOW THEM. YOU WILL GET LOST. It will route you around Georgetown Lake and you will find yourself in the middle of nowhere on a dead end road heading into the Pintler Wilderness Area. Yes, we’re in the middle of nowhere and hard to find, but at least we know where we are. If you know where you are, you can call us (if you have cell coverage) at 406-859-GEMS (4367), and we’d be happy to give you directions.

What should we bring?
If you are visiting the Sapphire Mine, please check the weather. The gravel wash trough is outdoors with only a few covered areas. Pack appropriate clothing for any kind of weather. A cool morning can quickly turn into a hot afternoon, which can just as quickly cool off 15 degrees with an afternoon thunderstorm. Snow is common in June and September. Bring appropriate clothing, bug spray, sun screen, a hat and a camera. Pack a picnic lunch if you want. We have cold drinks (bottled water is still only 50 cents) and a limited selection of frozen microwave food. P.S. If you’re “of that age”, bring your “readers” or a child. It makes finding the sapphires a lot easier.
Are dogs allowed?
Yes. Please keep your dog on a leash. If it is very well behaved and we aren’t very busy, you can let it off the leash. If your dog exhibits aggressive behavior (lunging at other dogs or people) or is barking and whining, we will ask you to place your dog back in your vehicle.
Do you have camping?
Yes, the Sapphire Mine has a small campground. It is free and available on a first come, first served basis. The road to the campground is located about half way up the parking lot on the right hand side. There are six sites. Four of the six are large enough for two trailers/RV’s. Please save the first long pull through for large RVs and trailers. The second site is a short pull through. The third site is a combination suitable for two units. The top three sites are back in. Two of the three are large enough for two units. Each site has a fire pit and picnic table. You’re on your own for firewood. The porta potties are located at the corner of the parking lot by the wash trough. Well water is available from the kitchen sink and garden hose located by the flagpole. You are more than welcome to camp in the parking lot. Please pull well to one side.
What should I do with my sapphires?

If you find gem quality rough sapphires we encourage you to make the investment in heat treating and faceting to create a beautiful gemstone suitable for jewelry. Nothing breaks our hearts more than seeing nice sized gem quality sapphires walk out the door. It’s amazing how many people find very nice rough sapphires and don’t respect the incredible beauty and value of the finished gemstone. I know, it all costs money, but please, if you find nice stones, make the investment in heat treating and faceting, so you have a sapphire gemstone that you found. It is very rare that the value of the finished gemstones we return isn’t significantly greater than the investment required to heat treat and facet the stones. Your sapphire gemstones are a lifetime treasure and memory of your day at Gem Mountain.

As to what you do with your small and fractured stones, that is up to you. We’ve seen many creative uses, from displaying in a clear container, to decorating an acrylic lamp shade, scrap booking or making wire wrapped “sapphire trees”. Some people have posted pictures and ideas on our Facebook page. Get creative and post your idea.

Still Have Questions?

(406) 859-GEMS (4367)

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Mine Location

21 Sapphire Gulch Lane
at mile marker 38.4 of Montana Highway 38, Skalkaho Pass Road, between Hamilton and Philipsburg.

Year-Round Phone: (406) 859-GEMS (4367)

Mine Phone: (406) 859-MINE (6463)