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Gold panning is among the most popular hobby in the U.S., and if you are also passionate about rockhounding, you can combine the two to hop on an adventure that will last you a lifetime. But where exactly can you pan for gold?
The best U.S. states for gold panning include California, Colorado, Alaska, Nevada, Idaho, Oregon, New Mexico, Montana, Arizona, and Wyoming. Some states have many locations, while others have few but abundant ones worth exploring, but there is something else to consider.
In some U.S. states, there are some particular gold panning laws that you must follow, while others are more carefree. Let’s dive into some of the best states for gold panning in the U.S.
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What States Are Best for Panning for Gold?
Various U.S. states have seen a gold rush or two, which naturally increased their appeal for gold enthusiasts, especially those that later went on gold panning trips. Even though those states might seem like a safe bet, that isn’t necessarily true for all of them.
Some were depleted eventually, or the laws changed. Yet, the best thirteen U.S. states for gold panning when it comes to the number of gold panning areas, laws, and relative gold abundance include states such as California, Colorado, Alaska, Nevada, Arizona, Idaho, Oregon, New Mexico, Montana, Wyoming, Utah, or Wisconsin.
Let’s explore these best thirteen U.S. gold-panning states and see precisely where and why you should hunt for gold!
Since the gold rush in 1848, California has been among the best states for gold seekers around the globe, not just the U.S. Some gold mines are still operational, but many have stopped producing gold.
However, there are many rivers in California where you can try panning for gold, but don’t use equipment other than a pan because anything else is prohibited by law.
You can join in the hunt with local expert prospectors to maximize your chances or try obtaining a permit to access some of the best gold panning spots.
Some popular gold panning spots in California include:
- Auburn State Recreation Area,
- Butte Recreation Area,
- Columbia State Historic Park,
- Kern River,
- Humbug Creek,
- the northeastern banks of the American River,
- Mother Lode County,
- the Merced River,
- South Yuba River,
- Swasey Recreation Area,
- Trinity River.
No matter where you go gold panning in California or anywhere else, always familiarize yourself with the local terrain, the history of the location, and the regulations regarding the prospecting sites.
TIP: Check out this article for a complete guide to gold prospecting in California.
The state of Colorado saw its first significant gold rush in 1858. However, even if it took ten years more than California to gain some attention regarding gold prospects, today, gold is among the main contributors to the state’s economy.
Even better, gold panning in national forests is legal in Colorado. If you are ready for an adventure, pack your bags with the proper equipment, and don’t forget to bring in some water, as Colorado’s dry and arid climate will test your limits.
Some of Colorado’s best gold panning sites include locations such as:
- Frisco District,
- South Platte River,
- Summit County,
- Blue River,
- Swan River,
- Clear Creeks,
- Gilpin County,
- Park County,
- Fairplay Prospecting Park,
- Breckenridge District.
TIP: Find out my recommended products if you are looking for the best tools you need to find gold (Amazon link):
- Gold Metal Detector: Bounty Hunter TK4 Tracker
- Gold Pan: Stansport Deluxe Gold Pan
- Sluice Box: Stansport Aluminum Sluice Box
- Shovel: Radius Garden Carbon Steel Shovel
- Snuffer Bottle: Stansport Snuffer Bottle
TIP: Check out this article for a complete guide to gold prospecting in Colorado.
If Colorado’s climate leaves you too thirsty to fulfill your gold panning dreams, then perhaps Alaska’s gold prospects will warm you despite its cold weather. The gold rush in Alaska first occurred in 1896 in the Yukon territory, now part of Canada.
Since then, the state’s gold history got richer and richer as more of Alaska’s unspoiled wilderness gave way to several prospecting sites, and even more remain undiscovered. Most cities that have rivers or creeks in their surrounding areas have gold.
However, even though gold is present and the laws favor prospectors hoping to pan for gold, you have to consider the Alaskan tundra and the limited road access to many promising locations.
If you want to have some fun and a great adventure while gold panning in the Alaskan rivers, head to areas such as:
- Nome Creek,
- Caribou Creek,
- Bachelor Creek,
TIP: Check out this article for a complete guide to gold prospecting in Alaska.
Nevada has seen several minor golds rushes since 1849. However, today it is the leading gold producer in the U.S. Naturally, the state has plenty of gold panning locations and gold-bearing areas accessible to all kinds of prospectors.
Regarding permits, you won’t need as many as in other countries, which is another factor that makes Nevada among the best states for gold panning in the U.S.
Don’t be surprised to see many prospectors use metal detectors here, as they work just as if not better than other methods to find the precious yellow mineral.
If you want to pan for gold in Nevada, you should have a keen eye and refined skills, as most of it can be panned in its fine form, making it a bit difficult to track.
Some of the best gold panning spots in Nevada include:
- Rebel Creek,
- Dutch Flats,
- Bruneau River,
- Aura or Alder Districts,
- Mountain City,
- Charleston District,
- Nye County,
- Van Duzer District.
TIP: Check out this article for a complete guide to gold prospecting in Nevada.
Arizona is also among the most abundant gold-bearing states in the U.S. and one of the best gold-panning states, for that matter. Like Colorado, Arizona has an arid climate, making it difficult to find and use water in the panning process.
Arizona’s first gold rush began in 1858. However, since gold prices are rising, many prospectors are now filling claims for specific areas, and the rush comes again. Still, that shouldn’t discourage you from giving this gold abundant state a shot.
Some of the best gold panning areas in Arizona include:
- Agua Fria River,
- Yavapai County,
- Cochise County,
- Hassayampa River,
- Mohave County,
- Yuma County,
- Wickenburg Mountains,
- Bighorn Mountains,
- Cave Creek,
- Maricopa County.
When it comes to Idaho, it is a gold paradise for enthusiasts since more than half of its lands are public, which means no need for permits or permission. Still, it would be best always to research your gold panning area beforehand.
Gold was first discovered in Idaho in 1862, and many promising prospects continue to be discovered from time to time since the state has many untouched creeks and rivers.
Some gold-bearing districts worth mentioning are Owyhee County, Silver City, Elmore County, and the Silver Valley Mining District, among many others.
Make sure to gather supplies before searching for gold in Idaho. You may have a long journey ahead of you!
TIP: Check out this article for a complete guide to gold prospecting in Idaho.
Oregon isn’t just an excellent state for gold-panning enthusiasts but rockhounds. The first time gold was discovered in Oregon was in 1851, around Josephine Creek, its creeks, tributaries, and streams.
Still, what is interesting about this state is that gold was discovered among its many beaches. One such beach is even named Gold Beach. Generally, Eastern Oregon and Southwest Oregon are where you should go gold-panning.
Douglas County is also worth checking out, especially around Cow Creek or Myrtle Creek. The Applegate River, Elk Creek, and many other rivers and creeks in this area are also worth exploring.
TIP: Check out this article for a complete guide to gold prospecting in Oregon.
New Mexico isn’t as abundant in gold as the other states. However, it is still among the best states to pan for gold.
Its beautiful scenery will also make your trip worthwhile and remembering for years to come if you choose to adventure yourself in these parts.
What’s also great about New Mexico is that there is always a new gold panning area discovered from time to time, so you will always have somewhere to gold or refine your skills while you at it.
Just remember that New Mexico also has an arid climate, and you may not find water sources so readily available when you venture off into the wild, which might hinder your gold-panning process.
Nonetheless, there are several areas worth exploring here. Some of these include:
- Pecos River,
- Mora River,
- Rio Chama River,
- Santa Fe River,
- Rio Hondo River,
- Rio Grande River,
- Cimarron River,
- San Pedro Mountains.
Always make sure to check the creeks in this state as well.
Montana is also a less popular state when it comes to others. However, gold-panning enthusiasts should not skip it! In fact, this state has several areas worth exploring, and the best part is you can keep what you find.
For example, if you head to the Libby Creek Recreational Gold Panning Area, south of Libby, in the Kootenai National Forest, what you find is what you keep. Generally, the western parts of the state are the richest in gold, with many gold-panning sites available.
If you find yourself here, visit Virginia City, Anaconda, Philipsburg, or Butte and venture into the general areas of these towns to explore their rivers and creeks.
TIP: You need to know how gold deposits occur to understand which rocks to look for when gold prospecting. Check out common rocks you need to look for when looking for gold in the article below:
5 Rocks You Need To Look For When Gold Prospecting (+ Why)
The state of Wyoming had a brief gold rush starting in the mid-1800s. However, this doesn’t mean that this state lacks gold; quite the opposite! In Wyoming, there are several areas where you can pan for gold legally, enjoy the beautiful scenery, and relax.
Among the most popular gold-panning areas in Wyoming are its many rivers. Some of the best ones you can pan for gold include:
- Wind River,
- Little Ramarie River,
- Sweetwater River,
- Snake River,
- Gros Ventre River,
- Hoback River,
- Wood River,
- Laramie River.
Utah is another fantastic state for gold panning. Generally, its northern waterways contain gold, but you shouldn’t focus only on them.
In history, Utah’s first gold rush began in its southeastern territories in 1883 at the Glenn Canyon on the Colorado River.
So basically, you shouldn’t ignore any part of this state if you were to visit it. If we look at some of the best rivers to pan for gold in Utah, we will always find the San Juan River, Green River, Raft River, or Colorado River among the top places to visit.
What is interesting about Utah is that you can also find gold in its deserts. However, you need to dry-pan for it, a complex skill to master. Still, if you find someone willing to teach you, you never know what you might find!
Wisconsin is another state that many underestimate. However, it may surprise you if you visit and give its gold-panning spots a shot!
Wisconsin had a gold rush in 1887 which focused around the Plum Creek area, which is even to this day among the best spots to pan for gold.
Since then, various other locations have been discovered, and gold panning has become a popular hobby among enthusiasts. Some of the best locations in Wisconsin for gold panning include:
- Black Earth Creek,
- Rock Elm Creek,
- Poplar River,
- Lake Superior,
- Rush River.
Lastly, the final state on this list is Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania is another underestimated state when it comes to gold; however, when it comes to gold panning, it is actually among the best states you can visit.
Pennsylvania didn’t have a significant gold rush as the other states mentioned above. Yet, the counties of York and Lancaster are some locations where gold is constantly unearthed.
Wellsville, Rossville, Winterstown, Shrewsbury, Dillsburg, and Grantham are among the best for gold panning in York County. Or you can visit Peter’s Creek or Susquehanna River for even better panning locations.
TIP: Finding gold in your backyard is rare but not impossible. The most important tip is knowledge of gold-rich rock and soil types. Find out more in the article below:
Guide: PRO Tips On How to Find MORE Gold in Your Backyard
What State is Easiest to Find Gold?
Although California, Nevada, Alaska, and Arizona are the top states for gold panning in the U.S., there is one more state just as abundant and where you can find gold even easier, Nevada.
Nevada produces large amounts of gold, and among the largest gold nuggets are found here. In fact, this state played a significant role and continues to do so in placing the U.S. as a whole among the world’s top gold producers.
There are countless gold-panning locations here, easy to access, and the laws are also favorable for those wishing to try their luck.
Gold Panning Laws
No matter which of the best thirteen states for gold panning in the U.S. you wish to visit, it would be best if you constantly abode by the gold panning laws to make your trip enjoyable and free of trouble. Each state has different gold-panning laws.
For example, in California, there is a 15 pounds per day limit when gathering mineral materials, and you cannot sell what you find to make a profit. In other states, the laws may be more flexible.
However, you should generally see if you need a permit or if you are allowed to pan for gold in any area.
Gold panning is among the most beautiful hobbies out there, and it is also advantageous as well. Finding that precious yellow mineral will always bring immense satisfaction if you know where to go to.
Consider the thirteen best gold-panning states mentioned above to find gold in nature. Happy hunting!
TIP: The gold sluice box is a time-saving alternative to the traditional panning for gold. Check out tips on using a sluice box properly in the article below:
Find More Gold: Tips On How To Use Sluice Box Properly