Before you can find any gold you have to have a place to prospect. Three ways of locating gold areas are discussed on this page. Be an independent prospector and research areas yourself, join a club that already has gold claims, and utilizing areas that have been withdrawn from mineral entry and set aside for recreational prospecting.
The best areas to find gold are where gold has been found previously. This is easy since there are many books on the subject, some covering specific states. For example see the Publications section in the references below. However this information can cover a huge area which you have to narrow down to reasonable sized chunks for further research. Once you have selected an area of interest you have to determine if the area is already covered by current claims. This will require a visit to the nearest BLM office since the BLM overseas mining claims and the County Recorder’s office. These will have the most current records. The best areas will probably be well covered with valid claims. This procedure can consume a large amount of time not devoted to actually finding gold. This is only rewarding for experienced prospectors who know the area and how to find gold.
However for those who wish to do some research on-line, a list of helpful online resources are listed here. Some of these have links to additional online maps that might be of interest. The list is slanted toward Arizona but each state probably has similar information and some of these are national.
- Using the USGS : Mineral Resources On-Line Spatial Data you can construct maps with layers for such things as streams and lakes, roads, mining claim density, mineral resources, and mineral availability to get an overview of gold areas.
- The Arizona State Cartographer’s Office has several links to Arizona internet map services. The Arizona State Land Department Online Maps show Arizona Surface Management Responsibility. The Yavapai County maps also show surface management as well as patented mining claims.
- TerraServer USA contains 3.3 TB of high resolution USGS aerial imagery and USGS topographic maps. Select Aerial or Topo, map size and resolution. A great way to look over an area of interest.
- For more in-depth research, see the following resources.
- To research information on mining, see the BLM Land and Mineral Records-LR2000 system. This requires a browser plug-in that can be downloaded. This is not easy to use so be prepared to spend some time learning.
- For Master Title Plats and Historical Index Sheets in Arizona, see the Arizona BLM. Select “Maps, Plats & GPS Data” from the “Quick Links” menu and then “Land Status Maps”.
- See Table of Public Land Orders, 1942 – 2003 and the Federal Register: Main Page for information on land withdrawals. This can be used to research some of the designations on the Master Title Plats.
This is where clubs like the Desert Gold Diggers are invaluable. There are local gold clubs all over the U.S., especially in gold producing areas, that have good gold claims in the local area. For those without a nearby local club, the G.P.A.A. is a national club with chapters and claims throughout the U.S. Many DGD members belong to multiple clubs. For a list of clubs with claims in Arizona, see the AZ Gold Clubs page. For additional club listings see the US Gold Clubs page. Visit 2002 Arizona Prospecting Trip for one person’s perspective on joining a club.
The Desert Gold Diggers has several gold claims in the Tucson area. These have been researched and tested for gold. Since these claims are owned by the club, you don’t have to spend time researching a place to prospect and then hoping that it is open for claiming as this has already been done. The club’s claims cover hundreds of acres so there is plenty of area to work and since all claims have been tested for gold, you are assured of gold being there.
Most clubs have regularly scheduled outings to gold claims. The Desert Gold Diggers has a monthly day outing. Each month a different claim is selected according to the time of year and possible fire restrictions. In the desert, higher elevations are usually selected in the summer and lower ones in the winter to take advantage of the weather, ours being ideal for year round prospecting. The meeting place for each outing is selected at a well-known and easily found location. Then all vehicles are led to the claim by a member who knows the area well. This helps all new members find the claims. Even though all members are given claim maps, these outings are definitely the easiest way to find the claims. Club members at these outings can also answer questions about the claims.
Recreational Prospecting in Mineral Withdrawal Areas
A third method of locating gold areas in which to prospect are Mineral withdrawal areas that have been set aside for recreational prospecting. These are areas that cannot be claimed but are open to anyone looking for gold. Most have some restrictions as to what equipment that can be used. These range from panning only to practically any equipment including dredges. There are many of these areas but they aren’t widely publicized. Below is a partial list that includes those that have information on-line or that I have checked into personally. For additional areas see the Online Resources section in the references below. Note that there may be old grandfathered claims within these areas that are not open to the public.
- Alaska General. Public Gold Mining Areas in Alaska lists 5 public areas.
- Kenai Peninsula. Gold panning on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula lists gold panning areas open to the public on the Kenai Peninsula portion of the Chugach National Forest. These sites are all within two hour’s driving time from Anchorage via the Seward and Sterling Highways.
- Fairbanks Area. Interior Stream’s run gold: Near Fairbanks several public land areas in the nearby hills and river valleys provide opportunities for a fun and sometimes profitable hobby.
- Dalton Highway: Much of the land along the pipeline was closed to “mineral entry” or claim staking, but is open for casual mining.
- Prescott National Forest – Recreation: Recreational Prospecting in the Lynx Creek Mineral Withdrawal Area. A large public prospecting area in a good known gold area. Restricted to panning and metal detecting. All other methods, including sluice boxes and any mechanized methods, are not allowed. Please leave the area as you found it so that this area remains open to public prospecting.
- Lake Pleasant Park. The Arizona Dept. of Mines and Mineral Resources, on their Arizona Rock hound and Tourist Information page, mentions in regard to Lake Pleasant Park: “Gold panning is allowed in the park, but not metal detecting or rock hounding. There is a nominal entrance fee. Twenty miles northwest of Phoenix on Castle Hot Springs Road.” However Maricopa County manages the 24,000-acre regional park and the rules seem to be different. According to a call to the Lake Pleasant Contact Station (928-501-1710) on 2/13/04, metal detecting is allowed in the park (don’t leave holes) but other types of recreational prospecting must be cleared through the Operations Center (602-372-7460).
- The 11,400-acre La Posa Long-Term Visitor Area (LTVA) lies approximately two miles south of Interstate 10 and the town of Quartzsite off of U.S. Highway 95. This was mentioned on another web page as a recreational prospecting site but a call to the BLM Yuma Field Office (928-317-3200) on 2/13/04 indicated that recreational prospecting, including metal detecting was not allowed in the LTVA.
- Big Flat Free Use Permit Area. ”The Forest Service maintains a site for recreational dredging and mining known as the Big Flat Free Use Permit Area. This area is open to anyone possessing a valid dredging permit (not required for panning). Use of the Big Flat Area is limited to seven recreational miners at a time and is available for up to 14 days in one year. Suction dredge hose intake diameter is limited to 4 inches or less. All camping and fire restrictions apply to this area.” Taken from the PDF document Mining Information, Weaverville & Big Bar Ranger Stations, Shasta – Trinity National Forest.
- Folsom Resource Area. See Recreational Dredging in the Folsom Resource Area:
- Folsom Resource Area. El Dorado National Forest mentions gold panning at Capps Crossing.
- Keyesville Recreational Mining Area. The recreational mining area is about two miles northwest of the community of Lake Isabella, about one-quarter mile below State Route 155. See Recreational Mining Bakersfield
- Auburn State Recreation Area. This 30,000-acre state park is a popular spot for fishing, hiking, mountain biking, camping, white-water rafting and recreational gold panning. See Auburn State Recreation Area and Auburn State Recreation Area
- The Gold Prospectors of Colorado PUBLIC ACCESS PANNING AREAS mentions POINT BAR (ABOUT 8 MILES DOWNSTREAM FROM SALIDA ON HWY 50) as a BLM public access area. Other public areas mentioned.
- Libby Creek Recreational Gold Panning Area. See Kootenai National Forest and Kootenai National Forest.
- Oregon General. HOW TO PAN FOR GOLD from the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries. Four areas have been set aside on Federal land in Oregon for recreational gold panning.
- Eugene District BLM Sharp’s Creek Campground. We permit recreational gold panning from June 1 through September 15. We permit sluicing and suction dredging within the stream bed from July 1 through September 1, provided the mining activity does not interfere with other recreational activities.
- Cow Creek Recreation Area A 1,300 foot segment along the lower stem of Cow Creek is withdrawn from private mining claims to offer recreational gold panning opportunities to the public. Also see the Roseburg District Office Recreation Page.
- Sixes River Recreation Site This site is predominantly used for camping and recreational gold mining (dredging, sluicing and panning) from late spring to early fall. Recreational dredging is administered by the State of Oregon and has been authorized since 1970. Currently dredging is authorized only during the “In-stream Work Period”: July 15 through September 30. Panning and sluicing is allowed year-round. Commercial mining is prohibited.
- Umpqua National Forest.
- Cedar Creek Campground The area is withdrawn from mineral location although recreational gold panning is allowed.
- Hobo Camp The Hobo Camp area is withdrawn from mineral location although recreational gold panning is allowed.
- Lund Park Campground The park area is withdrawn from mineral location although recreational gold panning is permitted.
- Rogue River National Forest.
- Rogue River National Forest Several recreational gold panning areas are maintained, free of claim, in the Applegate Ranger District.
- Rogue River National Forest, Beaver – Sulphur Campground Activities and points of interest include hunting and recreational gold panning (by permit, available at the ranger station).
- Wallowa – Whitman National Forest
- Baker Ranger District Recreational gold panning and dredging are allowed in several locations in the District.
- Black Hills National Forest – Recreational Activities: Recreational gold panning is allowed in some locations. Contact the closest Forest Service office for more information on locations and rules. Metal detectors are allowed, as long as you don’t dig holes. (No specifics given)
- American Fork Management Area. Draft Forest Plan – Uinta National Forest Land and Resource Management Plan: The American Fork Management Area is immediately adjacent to rapidly growing urban areas in Utah Valley, and is just south of the Salt Lake Valley. Recreational activities include developed and dispersed camping, picnicking, fishing, hiking, rock climbing, mountain biking, bike touring, hunting, horseback riding, recreational gold panning, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, scenic driving, and photography. The American Fork Mining District, established in 1870, is within the management area. Developed recreation sites, and the South Fork Administrative Site have been withdrawn from mineral entry.
- Mike Higbee’s Prospectors Cache Gold Location Information lists many gold locations by state. Some of these are recreational prospecting sites that have been withdrawn from mineral entry. A very extensive list covering many states. Great resource. (formerly Tom Ashworth’s site)
- Mining Gold The Recreational Gold Prospecting and Mining Page by Bill Westcott is another great resource. His Where to find it page offers some good information.
- How to Mine and Prospect for Placer Gold by J.M. West. This Bureau of Mines publication, Information Circular 8517, was released in 1971 and contains information on all aspects of prospecting.
- USGS Publications
- GOLD Discusses the nature of gold, its origins, and the geologic environments in which it is commonly found. Provides information about the uses of gold and a brief historical account of production in the United States.
- PROSPECTING FOR GOLD IN THE UNITED STATES Describes various kinds of gold deposits and their locations. Offers a brief review of the problems faced by present-day prospectors and lists available maps and services.
- Placer Gold Deposits of Arizona, Geological Survey Bulletin 1355, by Maureen G. Johnson (reprinted by Gem Guides) has an extensive list of Arizona gold placers. These are listed by county and then by gold district. Some areas are of unknown location, some are general, some are large and some are even specific. A very good reference for Arizona gold placers.
- Gold Placers and Placering in Arizona, Arizona Bureau of Mines Bulletin 168, is another good reference and companion to the previous USGS Bulletin. It lists locations by county and then by the placer name. Same note as to area locations.
- Placer Gold Deposits of Nevada, Geological Survey Bulletin 1356, by Maureen G. Johnson (reprinted by Gem Guides) has an extensive list of Nevada gold placers. Similar to Arizona guide above.
- Maureen G. Johnson also has books on the placer deposits of New Mexico and Utah.
- Gold Placers of Colorado, Quarterly of the Colorado School of Mines, Book 1 (Volume 69, Number 3) and Book 2 (Volume 69, Number 4) by Dr. Ben H. Parker, Jr. is a a very extensive list of Colorado gold placers with very good location information.
- Arizona’s Golden Secret by Ronald S. Wielgus discusses gold bearing areas throughout Arizona, many of which he has personally tested. For those areas discussed he presents more detailed information than the books mentioned above.
- Yours for the Taking and Arizona’s Little-Known Gold Placers by Ronald S. Wielgus continue with more gold areas.