What it is: The Castle McCulloch is located a little under an hour and a half away in Greensboro. It is a bit of a drive, but it was such a unique experience that we had to check it out. While the castle is primarily an event venue and is interesting to look at an wander around if you get a chance, the real draw is that they offer panning for gemstones at designated times during the summer.
We picked one of those times and headed on over. We pulled into the gem panning area which is a separate turn located just before the turn for the castle and followed the signs down some dirt roads. Then, we parked the car and walked a little way down a dirt trail through the woods. We arrived at a tin roofed shelter set up with a gem panning station. They did have admission charges, but you can simply print a coupon off of their website and avoid that charge. Then, you just have to pay for the bucket of dirt that you will be searching through for your gemstones. The smaller buckets are $10 and they go up from there. One bucket was plenty for my two boys to have some fun.
Once you get your bucket, you dig out some sand/dirt with a shovel and put it into a strainer box. Then, you lower the box into a stream of water that they have pumped through a trough in the shelter area. With some shaking, the water removes all of the small pieces of dirt and reveals any gemstones. The dirt had obviously been packed with quite a few treasures which we could then put in a baggy that they provided and identify using the identification chart that they gave us. My boys both found large stones of rose quartz, gold pyrite, amazonite, and plenty of smaller ones of emerald, amethyst, and garnet. They had a ball!
They even "found" a coin that could be redeemed for $1 at the gift shop located up by the street. For a really nice touch, the gift shop had a whole display set up at the front of the store for things that could be purchased for that $1 token. The other nice touch was a sandy pile area behind the panning stations where there were a couple of toddler bikes set up so that the little ones could play once their attention gave out. There were also picnic tables located up by the entrance.
What we liked: We loved how the kids got to find lots of treasures (which my son called "beauties") while they were panning. This made it really exciting and fun for them. Plus, they had a lot of little touches by which you could tell that they were really thinking of how to make this enjoyable for parents and kids-the dollar coins and subsequent dollar (93 cents+tax) display at the gift shop, the sand pile with kids toys, the free admission coupons, etc.
What we would change: It is a bit of a drive, but we thought the gem panning experience alone was worth the drive. However, if you want another activity for your trip to Greensboro, our fabulous reader Sarah recommended Creekside Park in Archdale which is only about 10 minutes away from the castle (http://www.visitnc.
In addition, the bench where you sit while you pan is a bit far from the actual trough for the panning. So, if you have really little ones, make sure you are right there to help keep them from falling during the panning process.
Website and other important information:
Address: 6328 old Kivett loop, Jamestown NC 27282
Hours: Gem panning is only available on Sundays from 1-5pm Memorial Day through Labor Day and on Monday-Wednesday 2-4pm June-August. This means you don't have much longer to check this great place out this summer!
(The panning shelter)
(the boxes and water for rinsing)
(our bucket, box, and bag of loot)
(The actual castle)