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The double dashed line on United States Forest Service maps denotes an “Unimproved Road.” On the ground and particularly on the map they can be faint and hard to pick out from the background, but they almost always lead some place interesting, an eventful drive, or just a nice place to have lunch. Lightning Dragon and I were on our way home from a bike race a few years ago following just such a road through Dog Valley, California on the east slope of Crystal Peak. We weren’t looking for anything in particular more than better scenery than the shoulder of Interstate 80.

That’s when we found a sign for the Crystal Mine. We’d come out from one of the numerous unimproved roads onto Dog Valley Road at Lookout Campground. We parked and headed up the hill to the mine.

Lookout Campground

Lookout Campground is labeled on the map and located just below The Crystal Mine at 6700 feet elevation. It has vault toilets and 22 campsites. We haven’t ever camped there, though we would like to at some point. It would be a good basecamp for several adventures to be had in Dog Valley, so look for a video and blog post about that come spring.

The Crystal Mine

The Dog Valley Quartz Crystal mine is a great place for a family outing.

It’s a short hike up the hill to the Crystal Mine from the camp ground, though the first time we visited, Rocket was not mobile so I had to cary him the whole way. No matter, because we soon found that a few hundred meters past the campground is an access road up to the tailings pile with plenty of parking.

Awesome views from the summit of the Dog Valley Quartz Crystal Mine in Dog Valley, CA.

When it’s warm the place is pretty busy with casual tourists and trail riders poking around for the small crystals and shards of quartz that can be found there.

Kids love to dig. And here you can actually find treasure!

The mine was blasted during World War 2 to expose quartz crystals for use in radios. My brother-in-law David says he has found large crystals there in the past. The small ones are fairly easy to find if you scrape away the loose material and sift through the debris. Large crystals can be found with some persistence and we’ve seen zealous rockhounds digging deep pits with heavy overhangs in search of treasure.

Rockhounding at The Verdi Crystal Mine
Bring a rock hammer as well as some eye protection when you go digging at the crystal mine. Cloves are a good idea too.

You’re allowed to take one bucket-load of material per week. If you find actual crystals, that’s quite a lot of material and it might take you that long to recover that much. Still, the kids like to dig, and don’t really need anything more than permission to enjoy the activity for a good long while. Long enough to work up an appetite for lunch at least.

Directions to The Crystal Mine

From interstate 80 take the Verdi Exit, either the west or the east exits, then proceed to Bridge Street and head North. After the second bridge turn onto Dog Valley Road. DVR heads up a drainage before it heads back down into Dog Valley at a large OHV parking area. BE CAREFUL WHEN IT’S WET OR ICY. This is a GNARLY section of road under those conditions with devastating consequences for sliding off. If you go up at this fork you are on Henness Pass Road which is the long way to Nevada City. Check out the Full Size Adventure video on the first part of this route below:

From that intersection it’s about 5 miles to the campground and crystal mine. It’s well signed and well traveled and easily passable in any vehicle most of the year.

From the North you can get off US HWY 395 at Bordertown (In the video I say Boomtown, which is on I80. Never trust some talking head in a video. Blog posts are much more reliable.)

Turn south off Exit 83 and proceed to the stop sign. Turn right (northwest) at the stop sign and continue past the Bordertown parking lot to the next stop sign. After stopping, follow the paved road. You will cross over railroad tracks. Continue following the paved road south for about 0.4 miles. Here, the road turns to gravel and then starts to curve to the south paralleling the railroad tracks. You should see a Forest sign where the road forks. Stay to the right and follow the road the Forest boundary in about two miles.  – USFS


Enjoy The Crystal Mine and I hope you find something cool! The area is quite nice and clean today, so please help keep it so. Thanks for reading and happy trails!


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