Sterling Hill Mining Museum: New Jersey’s Hidden Gem


When I told my kids we were going on an adventure, I truly meant it—it’s not every day you go underground to see a former zinc mine, but at the Sterling Hill Mining Museum in Ogdensburg, stepping into the tunnel like the miners did years ago, gives you a peek into New Jersey’s mineral mining history. The former mine, which closed almost 40 years ago, is one of the most unusual attractions in NJ, boasting the unique fluorescent Rainbow Tunnel, Museum of Fluorescence, and a collection of fluorescent minerals you won’t find anywhere else in the world. Through our three-part tour of the Zobel Hall Museum, the mine, and our Warren Museum of Fluorescence, we learned everything from how they discovered that the rocks glowed (sparks from a flickering electric lamp first showed the neon colors) to what TV shows and movies were filmed in the mine (hint: everything from Cake Boss to Zoolander). Scroll down to learn why Ogdensburg is the “Fluorescent Mineral Capital of the World” and what we did on our mining adventure. (featured photo credit: NJ MOM)

Sterling Hill Mining Museum Zobel

In the Zobel Hall Museum, notice the wire baskets hanging overhead. Each miner had a locker with a chain attached to a pulley on the ceiling and then down to a basket. At the end of the day, a miner would remove his clothing and boots and then pull the chain to hoist the basket close to the ceiling, where the air would be warmer, and everything would dry faster. Photo Credit: NJ MOM

See minerals, fossils, and dinos at the Zobel Hall Museum

The Zobel Hall Museum was the first stop on the tour and gave us an idea of how the miners prepared before they went down to the mine. Originally used as the miners’ changing house, you can still see some of the lockers, shower heads, drying boot baskets, and hangers that the miners used. This eclectic museum houses a multi-million dollar mineral display with minerals from around the world, everything from barite to quartz, and my kids were happy to point out their favorites. We also saw an interactive, 10-foot-long Periodic Table of the Elements with 112 cubbyholes containing a sample of each element. For dinosaur enthusiasts, check out the reproduction of the T-Rex skull and fossils, including Hadrosaur eggs. The kids participated in a scavenger hunt, which included finding a magnetic rock and identifying real gold versus fool’s gold. But one of the most fascinating displays was the Titusville meteorite, which hit a home in May 2023 and is now on display at the Zobel Hall Museum.


Mineralogists worldwide have traveled many miles to see the unique fluorescent rocks at Sterling Hill Mining Museum. Photo Credit: NJ MOM

Head underground

After the museum, we started our tour, which eventually went underground. Our tour guide gave us ample background before heading through the tunnel. We learned that the Sterling Hill Mine operated for over a hundred years until 1986, making it the last working underground mine in the Garden State. At one point, the mine reached 2,675 feet below the surface with 35 miles of tunnels, but now only the upper level remains since everything below it flooded. The mine is a National Historic Site with the most extensive collection of fluorescent minerals in the world. Another fun fact? International mineralogists worldwide have visited the mine just to see the fluorescent rock in the Rainbow Tunnel, where the fluorescent zinc ore is exposed. The shortwave ultraviolet light showcases the bright greens (willemite) and reds (calcite), some of the main zinc ore minerals mined here.

Sterling Hill Mining Museum slabs

The other half of this fluorescent slab is in The American Museum of Natural History in New York. Photo Credit: NJ MOM

Tour the tunnels

As we entered the tunnel, you could sense what the miners felt heading underneath every day. We could only stay at the top, though, because the water was underneath us (you could see in sections throughout the tunnel). Touring the mine took a little over an hour, and thankfully, we came prepared with jackets since it’s always a cool 56 degrees underground. The mine was well-lit, and besides the fluorescent rocks, we also saw stalactites over our heads, which sometimes drip rainwater overhead (although it’s said to be good luck if you get dripped on). We learned how the miner’s headlamps changed over time from candles to the Edison Safety Mining Lamp and about the dangers and challenges of mining. Our tour guide was very knowledgeable, and he was able to answer all of our questions. I was also impressed with how he made a point to make sure anyone with special needs or small children was given information about any loud sounds or dark sections of the tour to prepare or step away from the presentation until that section was over.  

uranium glass

Depleted uranium was often added in small batches to produce a vibrant yellow-green color in daylight, which you can see here in the Uranium Glass (Vaseline Glass). Photo Credit: NJ MOM

Get glowing at the Warren Museum of Fluorescence

After the tunnel, we reached my kids’ favorite part of the tour—the Warren Museum of Fluorescence, where over 700 fluorescent minerals and objects glowed in the dark. It took about 10 minutes to walk through this museum, which started with the Color Wall, filled with a 16-ft-wide, floor-to-ceiling display of 100 fluorescent mineral specimens. Some are as big as 3 feet and weigh over 100 pounds. We also explored the fluorescent minerals piled on open ore cars, which were touch-friendly, and as we reached for the mine rails, my kids were delighted to see us all getting a “glow-up” under the longwave ultra-violet lights. Other highlights included the gleaming lime-colored uranium glass and a tank where water flowed and glowed simultaneously. 

Sterling Hill Mining Museum slucing

Mine sluicing is a fun activity to do while waiting to start the tour. Photo Credit: NJ MOM

Find your own treasures at Sterling Hill Mining Museum

After the museum, the kids were excited to do some of our own mining.  They enjoyed sluice mining, where they could choose a bag from the gift shop and then sift through its contents in the water feature setup outside the museum. If your kids are there with a scout group, on a school trip, or at a birthday party, they can search for and collect a variety of rocks in The Rock Discovery Center. Ages 18 and up can participate in the Mine Run Dump, where they can search through local and international piles of mine and rails, and then, before they leave, they can check if they glow.

Sterling Mine globe

Add a tour of the Sterling Hill Mining Museum to your bucket list. Photo Credit: NJ MOM

What to know before you go

You can bring a stroller along the tour, but the terrain is not even in some spots and can get bumpy; a baby carrier is an easier option. It can also get wet on the mine floor, and water can also drip from the stalactites, so they recommend older closed-toe shoes and a jacket. The tour is very interesting, but it is long for younger children who may have trouble standing for periods of time. There are bathroom stops in the museums, but there are no facilities once you enter the mine.

Sterling Hill Mining Museum red

Add a tour of the Sterling Hill Mining Museum to your bucket list. Photo Credit: NJ MOM

There are ways to exit the mine tour early if needed, but the best part of the tour is at the end, so you won’t want to leave, so plan ahead if you have to use the bathroom or traveling with small children. The tour and museums are only open on weekends at 1 PM. The cost for guided tours is $15 for adults, seniors (65+) are $14, ages 4-12 are $13, and children under 4 are free. You should also arrive at least 15 to 30 minutes early to get your tickets. Special events like a Paranormal Tour happen throughout the year, so check their calendar for dates. 

The Sterling Hill Mining Museum
30 Plant Street
Ogdensburg, NJ 07439

For more information about the Sterling Hill Mining Museum, check out their websiteFacebook and Instagram

Become an NJMOM Insider! For all the best things to do with your family around New Jersey, sign up for our weekly newsletter, delivered right to your inbox. Don’t forget to tag your photos #NJMOM and @njmom for a chance to be featured on our social media.

About Author

Erika is a yogi, writer, coffee enthusiast, and world traveler. If she's not at the beach or chasing the sunset, she's looking for the best iced coffee she can find and planning her next adventure. Her favorite NJ spots include The Saint, Island Heights, and Lava Java House.