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Gold Prospecting in Arizona: 7 Best Locations & Laws

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Gold mining in Arizona is a dream for many, but it’s a skill that requires time, practice, and luck. It’s similar to the Wild West, where persistence and determination are just as important as a trusty gold pan.

The best gold prospecting locations in Arizona are:

  1. Lynx Creek
  2. Gila Mountain
  3. Wickenburg
  4. Gold Basin
  5. Greenville
  6. Bisbee
  7. Quartzsite

As you read this complete guide, we went into detail about the art of gold panning in Arizona. We showed you seven of the best places to look for this valuable metal and discussed the laws governing gold prospecting to ensure your treasure hunt is fun and legal.

Gold Prospecting in Arizona
Gold Prospecting in Arizona

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The Legality of Gold Prospecting in Arizona

Let’s get one thing straight: gold prospecting in Arizona is legal. Your search location is important. Not all land is open to exploration. But it’s prohibited unless you have the owner’s direct approval.

You intended to obtain a mineral exploration permit from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) or the United States Forest Service. Unclaimed BLM or USFS lands are your playground. So, before you set your heart on something, check the BLM’s LR2000 database to ensure it hasn’t been claimed already.

To prospect legally in Arizona, you must first determine who owns the property you are interested in. Land ownership in the Grand Canyon State is like a patchwork quilt; it can be federal, state, tribal, or private. Every category has its own set of rules, regulations, and permit requirements.

Federal lands are overseen by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the United States Forest Service. These agencies generally permit prospecting, but some areas are prohibited due to environmental concerns or other reasons.

Mineral exploration on state lands managed by the Arizona State Land Department requires a permit. Tribal or private lands? Things get trickier here: you’ll need the owners’ explicit permission.

7 Best Places to Find Gold in Arizona

Arizona provides numerous opportunities for gold prospectors. From rivers and creeks to historical mines. Here are the seven best places to find gold in Arizona:

Lynx Creek

Lynx Creek is said to be one of the wealthiest gold-bearing creeks in Arizona. A significant contributor to this feat is the gold-rich Lynx River area.

If you’re a prospector, you’d be thrilled that one of the most frequented prospecting regions lies within the Prescott National Forest. The best part? You can pan for gold here without any fees.

There’s no need to worry about losing your way since maps are at your disposal to guide you to the most promising panning locations. 

However, remember that amenities are quite basic, with only toilet facilities available. There aren’t any trash cans, so remember to take your waste back with you. Fancy camping? It’s permitted for up to two weeks in the forest’s campgrounds.

But don’t forget to explore other lucrative spots in Yavapai County, such as Weaver/Rich Hill District, the Black Canyon City area, and the headwaters of the Agua Fria River.

So go ahead, test the legend. But remember, always respect the rules of prospecting!

Gila Mountain

Located within Yuma County, the Gila Mountains are surrounded by numerous mining operations, making it essential for rockhounds to be aware of private property boundaries.

Gold extraction in the northern end of these mountains dates back over a century and a half, making it an ideal prospecting spot during winter, given the intense summer heat.

Some sites might have been depleted of gold, while others still possess a considerable amount. The desert washes here are gold-rich, and a metal detector could prove instrumental in unveiling buried nuggets.

Other sites of interest in Yuma County include the Castle Dome District, the Plomosa District, and the Laguna District.

TIP: Find out my recommended products if you are looking for the best tools you need to find gold (Amazon link):


The Wickenburg is historically renowned for its gold mines; this place has stories that would baffle many prospectors. 

These lands are dotted with gold, from the Vulture Mine to the numerous streams surrounding the Hassayampa River. Take a day, grab your gold pans, and begin your journey here! Wickenburg, located just west of Phoenix, is a quaint town.

This place screams gold, literally! Wickenburg resembles a gold prospector’s theme park, with its historic Vulture Mine and numerous placer sites along the Hassayampa River.

TIP: Arizona is one of the best states in the United States for finding gemstones in the wild, meaning there are plenty of great places to rockhound there. Find out more in the article below:
Where to Rockhound in Arizona (and What You Can Find)

Gold Basin

The Gold Basin is Situated approximately 50 miles north of Kingman; Mohave County hosts the Gold Basin District. The gold in this district is mainly in lode form, and the rugged, dry hills surrounding abandoned mines and claims are where the natural treasures lie. 

Competition is minimal as the area doesn’t see much foot traffic. Brace yourself for the terrain and weather conditions, but remember that patience is key here. 

There’s a multitude of scattered nuggets just waiting to be discovered. Mohave County’s other noteworthy gold prospecting sites include Oatman, the Colorado River, and the Maynard Mining District in the Hualapai Mountains.


Let’s not forget Greenville, nestled in the southern mountains of Arizona. What’s unique here is the occurrence of coarse gold. It’s rough, it’s rugged, but it’s oh-so-satisfying when you find it! 

With its rich placer mining history, this southern Arizona town has been a source of many a gold prospector’s fortune. Be sure to hit up the washes in this area; you might just hit the jackpot!


The Bisbee is regarded as the primary gold producer in Cochise County, and the Bisbee District is indeed a gold mine. The placer gold found in the vicinity is primarily a byproduct of mining for copper and lead. The hotspot is about 4 miles southeast of Bisbee, nudging the Mexican border.

The gulches in this region are abundant in placer specimens, and if you’d like a sneak peek of the underground lodes, the Queen Mine offers tours. Be cautious and avoid trespassing on private properties, especially those near towns. 

You should also explore the Dos Cabezas District, the Huachuca District, and the Tombstone Mining District in Cochise County.


The Quartzsite is a town that truly lives up to its name. This place is a gold seeker’s paradise, with quartz veins often leading to gold. During winter, Quartzsite becomes a bustling hub for rock hounds and gold panners, all searching for their golden fortune. 

Here, you’ll find the famed La Paz placer deposit, once a bustling hotspot for gold rushers. Gold panning, dry washing, metal detecting, you name it, Quartzsite got it!

TIP: Simple gold panning is among the most allowed gold prospecting techniques you can use almost anywhere. Check out other effective methods in the article below:
The 7 Most Effective Gold Prospecting Techniques Explained

Active, Old & Abandoned Mines

Let’s explore notable mines throughout the state and identify their current status.

Morenci Mine (Active}

The Morenci Mine is a vibrant testament to Arizona’s legacy as a copper titan. Nestled in the northeastern region of Greenlee County, Morenci is the largest copper mine in North America and one of the most significant globally. 

This massive mine, currently operated by Freeport-McMoRan, produced an incredible 737 million pounds of copper in 2022 alone! Morenci’s full-throttle open-pit operations represent a pounding heartbeat in Arizona’s mining sector.

The Morenci Copper Mine is Arizona’s reigning champion mine. It is North America’s largest copper mine, located in eastern Arizona. Morenci has contributed significantly to Arizona’s economy since its inception in the late nineteenth century.

Bisbee Mine (Old) 

The Copper Queen Mine in Bisbee is an intriguing part of Arizona’s mining history. It was once one of the world’s most productive copper mines, but operations ceased in 1975.

Today, it is a popular tourist destination where visitors can take underground mine tours to get a feel for mining life at the peak of its operations.

The charming town of Bisbee, where copper, gold, and silver were once abundant. Unlike the bustling Morenci, the mines here are a tribute to the past. The Lavender Pit, for example, was once an active copper mine but is now a massive scar on the landscape, lying dormant.

Bagdad Copper Mine (Active)

The Bagdad Mine, another Freeport-McMoRan operation, paints a lively picture. As a prolific copper mine, Bagdad carries the mantle of Arizona’s copper mining prowess into the present day. The mine, churning with activity, produced over 200 million pounds of copper in 2022. 

To appreciate Bagdad’s mine fully, imagine a city buzzing with the constant hum of extraction and production, the heartbeat of a community dedicated to the copper cause. Bagdad has been functioning since 1882, and over the years, it’s been through its share of transformations. 

It’s not just a significant copper deposit; it also houses considerable molybdenum resources. Currently, Bagdad remains operational, with future mining plans in progress.

Ray Mine (Active)

The Ray Mine is another goliath in Arizona’s mining sector in Pinal County. Operational since 1911, this open-pit mine has also been controlled by Freeport-McMoRan. The mine’s rich deposits consist primarily of copper and molybdenum, a mineral often used to produce steel alloys. 

Like Morenci, the Ray Mine is still active and contributes significantly to Arizona’s economy and copper production. It is known as the Mineral Creek Mining District in central Arizona. 

This open-pit copper mine is among the most productive mines in the state. Its copper reserves are still being tapped, even after over a century of mining activity. ASARCO currently operates the mine, which remains in full swing.

TIP: Starting your gold prospecting journey depends on your seriousness and knowledge. Check out the ultimate guide on starting gold prospecting in the article below:
Ultimate Beginner’s Guide: How To Start Gold Prospecting

Gold Prospecting Clubs in Arizona

Gold Prospecting Clubs & Tours in Arizona
Gold Prospecting Clubs & Tours in Arizona

Joining a gold prospecting club can be an excellent way to learn more about gold panning, network with other enthusiasts, and gain access to exclusive prospecting areas. Here are some prominent gold prospecting clubs in Arizona:

Gold Prospectors Association of Phoenix (GPAP)

The Gold Prospectors Association of Phoenix is a full-fledged family of prospectors with a shared passion. What sets GPAP apart? Their monthly meetings treasure insider tips and techniques, while field trips offer hands-on experience. 

Plus, the perk of access to gold-bearing claims is exclusively available to members. Newcomers get a warm welcome, with experts always ready to show the ropes to greenhorns. 

GPAP is not just about finding gold. Oh, no! It’s also about learning the art of prospecting, sharing experiences, and bonding over the shared quest for the precious metal. 

They offer field trips, workshops, and regular meetings that foster a sense of camaraderie while educating members on the best prospecting methods.

Arizona Association of Gold Prospectors (AAGP)

The Arizona Association of Gold Prospecting, “The Premier Recreational GOLD Prospecting and Mining Club in Arizona, home of the Grand Canyon,” AAGP does not mince words about its stature. With access to numerous claims across the state and numerous events and outings, members are in for an adventure. 

Whether you’re a prospector with a lifetime of experience or a curious newbie looking to pan your first nuggets, AAGP provides the tools and the opportunity to strike gold. 

AAGP is known for its comprehensive prospecting courses, offering the knowledge needed to help maximize your chances of unearthing that gold nugget.

Roadrunner Prospectors’ Club (RPC)

The Roadrunner Prospectors’ Club With over 90 mining claims throughout Arizona, the Roadrunner Prospectors’ Club offers a gold-digging playground for its members. RPC organizes common digs where the chances of finding gold are high, and camaraderie among fellow prospectors is guaranteed. 

You might start the day as strangers, but you’ll be trading gold stories like old pals around the campfire by the end. It’s one of the largest clubs in the state and for a good reason. 

It offers over 25 gold-bearing claims, spanning an impressive 100 square miles! RPC also provides members access to a well-equipped clubhouse with comforts that can make prospecting feel like a vacation.

TIP: Nothing in this world is impossible, and finding gold in your backyard is rare but can never be ruled out. Find out helpful tips in the article below:
Guide: PRO Tips On How to Find MORE Gold in Your Backyard

Gold Panning Tours in Arizona

These tours typically provide the necessary equipment and guidance from experienced prospectors, ensuring a fun and educational experience. Here are some gold panning tours available in Arizona:

Goldfield Ghost Town

The Goldfield Ghost Town is a town that boomed in the late 1800s with the rush of gold fever and then, quite literally, turned into a ghost town. 

Reconstructed in the 1980s, Goldfield now offers guided gold panning tours where you can try your luck in the same place where fortune hunters toiled more than a century ago. 

The Goldfield Ghost Town, nestled in the heart of the Apache Junction, promises an experience packed with rich history and golden opportunities. This spot lets you learn gold panning from the experts and lets you keep what you find!

Arizona Gold Prospecting Adventures

The Arizona Gold Prospecting Adventures tailors each expedition to your prospecting experience and interest level.

Whether you want to enjoy a quiet day by the creek or undertake a more adventurous journey into the wilder corners of Arizona, their professional guides have you covered. Arizona Gold Prospecting Adventures is your go-to if you want more hands-on experience. 

Prospector’s Choice

Prospector’s Choice, located in Morristown, offers day and overnight tours. They pride themselves in their authentic, hands-on experience in the Rich Hill and Stanton goldfields. 

With an experienced guide leading the way, guests learn about gold panning and Arizona’s unique geology and rich mining history. Offering hands-on gold prospecting tours in several locations around Arizona, they truly cater to the serious hobbyist. 

They provide all the necessary equipment and expertise. Prospector’s Choice even offers classes on desert survival, making it a holistic adventure tour.

TIP: The gold sluice box is a time-saving alternative to the traditional panning for gold. Check out helpful tips on using the sluice box correctly in the article below:
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Gold Prospecting Law: ls Gold Panning Legal In Arizona?

Gold Prospecting Law in Arizona
Gold Prospecting Law in Arizona

These laws are in place to ensure that gold prospecting activities are carried out responsibly and do not harm the environment or violate the rights of private property owners.

Prospectors can legally pan for gold if they follow the proper rules and regulations. Here’s everything you should know about gold prospecting laws:

Mining Law Basics

Gold prospecting and mining laws vary from state to state, even county to county, and let me tell you, they can be as puzzling as an unsolved riddle. The core legislation that governs mineral rights in the U.S. is the Mining Act of 1872

It allows open mineral exploration and claims to stake on federal public lands, but there’s a twist! It doesn’t apply to every square inch of land. 

Arizona’s Stance on Gold Panning

Arizona is gold panning friendly, with rich placer deposits scattered across the state. But it’s not as simple as just staking your claim. Some rules and regulations are as important as your trusty shovel and pan.

Claim Staking and Permits

In Arizona, you are free to prospect on federally managed public lands without a permit for casual use. This includes non-mechanized activities like gold panning and metal detecting that require icing.

You can stake a claim on vacant public lands, but that involves paperwork, fees, and the commitment to develop the claim with annual work or improvements.

Navigating the Gold Prospecting Restrictions

There are some places where even your pan is not allowed. It’s prohibited on tribal lands, national parks, state parks, and military bases.

There is also the issue of private land. Unless you enjoy courtrooms, I recommend getting permission from the landowner before you begin prospecting.

TIP: Gold panning is legal in the U.S.; however, you must remember that every state has gold panning laws. Find out the complete guide on gold panning law in the article below:
Complete Guide: Is Gold Panning Legal & Where Can You Pan?

Tips On Getting a Gold Claim in Arizona

Staying a claim requires some research and preparation, but with the right approach, you can successfully establish a claim in Arizona. Here are some tips to help you get started:

Familiarize Yourself with the Basics

It’s crucial to understand what a gold claim is before anything else. Think of it as a property right to extract gold from a specific parcel of federal public land. 

There are two types: placer and lode. Placer claims are for minerals found loose in sand or gravel, while lode claims are for veins of gold trapped in rock.

Understanding Arizona’s Gold Geography

Arizona is a gold country. From the Colorado Plateau in the north, the desert basins in the south, to the mountain ranges – each region has distinct gold occurrences. 

Yavapai County, for instance, has yielded vast amounts of lode gold. Placer gold is widespread across the state, with La Paz County being a hotspot.

Scouting for Gold

Okay, you’re all set, but where do you look for gold? Rivers, streams, and dry washes are good starting points. Pay attention to changes in the landscape, color contrasts in soil or gravel, and rock types. What is your best tool? A good old-fashioned gold pan. It’s simple, inexpensive, and effective.

TIP: Although Arizona is brimming with unique rocks and minerals, it’s a challenging place to go rockhounding unless you know what you are looking for and where to find it.
10 Common Rocks & Minerals You Can Find in Arizona

The Legal Hoopla: Staking Your Claim

Here comes the paperwork. After discovering a promising spot, you need to stake your claim. This involves placing markers at the corners of your claim and filling out a “Notice of Location” form. Then, file this with the county recorder’s office and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

A word of Caution

Before you embark on this golden adventure, remember to respect private property rights, environmental regulations, and Native American lands. It’s not just about finding the gold but also about preserving the beauty and integrity of Arizona’s wild spaces.

Don’t Forget the Community

Join a prospecting club like the Gold Prospectors Association of America (GPAA). Not only will you get access to claims, but you’ll also learn from experienced prospectors and be part of a like-minded community.

TIP: Find out my recommended products if you are looking for the best tools you need to find gold (Amazon link):


Gold prospecting in Arizona provides an exciting opportunity for both experienced prospectors and newcomers.

Remember that finding gold requires patience, determination, and a bit of luck. But don’t forget that the true value is in the journey, the connection to the land, and the stories you’ll share.

Ultimately, it all comes down to one basic principle: respect.

Respect the land, the law, and the rights of others. So, get ready, do your homework, and may your pans always shine with the sparkle of found gold. Happy prospecting!

TIP: You need to know how gold deposits occur to understand which rocks to look for when prospecting. Find out more in the article below:
5 Rocks You Need To Look For When Gold Prospecting (+ Why)