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Expert gold miners help tourists with the digging, sluicing, and panning for gold in California. ((Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press))

Making money while on a vacation isn’t a common occurrence — unless you get lucky on the slots. But if Vegas isn’t your style, don’t worry, you can still come home from a trip with your purse a little fatter.

There are legends of buried pirates’ treasure that was never found, gold that has still been seen in California rivers, and caves in the Midwest that abound with jewels and gems of all kinds. Although treasure hunting vacations may not make you millions, there is a good possibility of finding diamonds or gold — and even if you don’t, looking is half the fun.

Chances are you won’t be disappointed at the Crater of Diamonds State Park in Arkansas, an extremely rare diamond site where you get to keep what you find. Last year alone 946 diamonds were found, 27 of which were over one carat in weight. Most diamonds found are less then one carat and not big enough to be cut, but many visitors take their winnings home as souvenirs or have them made into jewelry. Though there is the occasional large find: In 1975, a whopping 16.37-carat rock was found. Finding bling of this size is rare, but it depends on how hard and deep you look.



Besides mining for diamonds, lots of other gems like emeralds, aquamarines, garnets, rubies, amethysts, and sapphires are still buried deep in the mountains. At Gem Mountain in North Carolina, gems of all shapes and sizes have been found, some even large enough to be cut and set in jewelry. Visitors can dig through real gemstone flumes with the help of mining experts while comparing their findings with friends and family to see who has the biggest and best.

Kay Buchanan owner of Gem Mountain says, "People love the idea of treasure hunting because it’s like gambling. You’re always hoping for the 'big' find. It’s something that everyone can do, young or old." A real aquamarine mine is also open for tours and guests can watch miners search through the rocks for precious gems.

'[The Money Pit mystery] ticks all the boxes in terms of those exciting stories which captured our imagination, and in a world where everything is so certain, it's compelling to ponder one of the very few remaining mysteries.'—Jo Atherton, Oak Island Treasure

With the price of gold skyrocketing these days, panning for gold like the 49ers did during the California Gold Rush may be best way to strike it rich. Gold mining trips available through the California Gold Company take willing participants to Woods Creek, one of the richest creeks in California that still yields a good amount of gold.

The chances of finding gold are very likely and you can even keep what you find (up to a half ounce). Rob Goreham, founder of the California Gold Company thinks the reason why people like mining so much is the thrill of finding gold. He says, "It doesn’t matter the size of what is found, people are just excited to be out there searching." Expert gold miners lead the trips to help with the digging, sluicing, and panning for gold.

The areas surrounding California Gold Country offer all different aspects of a gold miner's life like real working mines which are open for tours and gold and silver mining towns that can be explored. And after a long day in the mines or at the river, you can end it all off at a saloon with a sarsaparilla.

Nova Scotia's Money Pit mystery

Speaking of gold, you might be able to find a lost buried treasure among some old pirate islands. One in particular—Oak Island in Nova Scotia, Canada—has many legends surrounding what’s buried deep in its caves. The mysterious Treasure Pit (also known as the Money Pit), reportedly houses booty from the 18th century. No one knows for sure where it may have come from, a few theories have been suggested.

Even though this treasure hunt has been going on for more than 300 years without a single cent being recovered, excavations are conducted by determined groups who hold a Treasure Trove License in hopes of recovering an unforeseen amount of money.

And while tourists can’t explore its treasure sites by themselves on any given day, each year a festival, Explore Oak Island Days, is held where everyone can join in on the fun and legend of the Oak Island treasure. Hundreds of people attend Explore Oak Island Days each year because "the Money Pit mystery appeals to our childhood instincts. It ticks all the boxes in terms of those exciting stories which captured our imagination, and in a world where everything is so certain, it's compelling to ponder one of the very few remaining mysteries," says Jo Atherton, founder of Oak Island Treasure.

So whether you love the legends or the jewels, a treasure hunt is the type of "working" vacation even homebodies can get behind.