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Complete Guide: Is Gold Panning Legal & Where Can You Pan?

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Gold panning is among the best activities you can do in nature. The joy of finding gold through your skills while exploring beautiful landscapes and sceneries is gratifying and relaxing. But is gold panning legal?

Gold panning is legal in the U.S. however, you must keep in mind that every state has its gold panning laws that you must abide by. Apart from this, in certain areas, you are only allowed to collect a certain amount daily, or you need a special permit or permission from the landowner.

If you want to start your gold-panning adventure, let’s see exactly where you can pan for gold in the U.S. and what you should expect!

Where Can You Legally Pan for Gold?
Where Can You Legally Pan for Gold?

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Where Can You Legally Pan for Gold?

Many U.S. states have various areas for recreational activities, and this includes rockhounding or gold panning. 

If you want to pan for gold legally, search for recreational areas in your state that allow gold panning. Some examples are Queen Mine in Arizona, Eldorado Canyon in Nevada, Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park in California, Pike’s Peak in Colorado, Rogue River in Oregon, Black Hills in South Dakota, and Dahlonega in Georgia.

These are just a few names, but there are countless others regions in all the states where you can legally pan for gold.

Can Gold be Panned Anywhere?

Regardless of how rich a state’s history is when it comes to gold, it doesn’t necessarily mean you will find it in every river or creek. You might want first to study the state’s gold rush history and understand its geology.

Usually, gold rushes occurred in areas filled with gold that is still scavenged even today. These areas are often among the best places to start gold panning, but you should also consider regions where gold mines are or were located. If there are any creeks or rivers nearby, you should give it a shot and try gold panning in the area.

However, constantly research the local law and check whether the land is publicly or privately owned and how the laws apply.

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

Is Panning for Gold Legal? Laws in Different States

Gold panning laws might seem like a bummer, but when you think about it, they are in place for a good reason. 

It’s easy to assume that you can grab a pan and go gold panning in every river or creek you find along the way. However, certain regions are privately owned, and you need permission to do gold panning. Apart from this, other laws might prevent you from using specific machines or devices.

You can also face a gold collection limit, or, in some cases, you might even need to be part of a gold prospecting club to gain access to certain areas.

Nonetheless, here are some great states for gold panning and a couple of examples of how gold panning laws differ from state to state:

Washington State

Washington is an excellent place for gold panning, no matter how much experience you have. There are many recreational localities open for gold panning. Still, there are some rules in place that enthusiasts must follow. 

First, we must mention that placer gold plays a role in streams where plant and animal communities thrive. Because of this, the Hydraulics Code (RCW 72.20.100) was implemented by the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife.

This code states that anyone that disrupts wildlife through sluicing or dredging needs a Hydraulic Project Approval (HPA).

Recreational gold panning doesn’t require an HPA as long as you use a gold pan, non-motorized small sluice box, or mini-rocker box.

Enthusiasts should get a hold of the DFW’s Gold and Fish booklet and carry it when they want to pan for gold. These booklets contain beneficial information about the laws in place, seasonal restrictions, and more. You can contact the DFW directly to learn more.

TIP: If you are new to gold prospecting, it would be beneficial to read the article below that will help you get a good start on your journey:
Ultimate Beginner’s Guide: How To Start Gold Prospecting

South Carolina

The laws are a little more permissive if you plan to go gold panning in South Carolina. This state has plenty of beautiful gold panning locations where enthusiasts can enjoy their favorite hobbies, but they should always abide by the state’s laws.

You can pan for gold in particular national forests, but you will need a permit. Fortunately, these permits are usually free, but in any case, you aren’t allowed to use mechanized equipment in such areas. 

In South Carolina, you can carry more gold than in most other states; however, if your area footprint exceeds the size mentioned by the law, it will be considered a mining activity, and you will need a DHEC permit. 

You can pan for gold on private land even with mechanized equipment; however, you should avoid disturbing your neighbors if it is your land or ask for permission if it isn’t.

Regarding disturbing wildlife and causing turbidity effects, contact the DHEC office to learn more about what you should consider.


Michigan is an excellent state for gold panning if you are inexperienced and want to do it the traditional way, only with your hands and a pan.

According to the gold panning laws, it is strictly forbidden to use portable dredges or sluices for gold panning purposes as they aren’t considered tools for casual or recreational panning.

Now here is the good news! You can pan on public lands, even national forests, without a permit. When it comes to private land, always have permission from the landowners.

Michigan’s gold panning laws might seem restrictive at first, but if you think about it since no one uses these devices, you have higher chances of finding gold in the end because everyone pans for it the old way.


Georgia, just like Michigan, is a fantastic place to pan for gold, and their laws are similar to gold panning. You don’t need a permit for recreational gold panning activities in Georgia, or at least not for most creek beds, as long as you don’t disturb the watercourses. 

You can use trowels or pouches, but other mechanical equipment is prohibited, such as suction dredges.

If someone owns the streams you visit, the best thing to do is ask for written permission. Other than that, if you have any other questions, contact the DNR’s Wildlife Resources Division.

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:
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North Carolina

North Carolina is also an excellent state for gold panning, but there is a catch, you can’t carry gold, or for that fact, any rocks or minerals from recreation areas or state parks. Like the states mentioned above, you cannot pan for gold on private property without permission. 

The thing is, it may sometimes be challenging to know how far away the private property extends. So always make sure to ask rather than be sorry later.

You generally don’t need a permit to pan for gold on public land as long as it is a recreational activity and not with the intent of making a profit.

On federally owned land, you can take small amounts of gold through panning but always ask the authorities to know precisely how much.

North Carolina also has a couple of Congressionally-designated wilderness areas and similar regions. Unfortunately, you can’t pan here even if it is recreational.

South Dakota

South Dakota gives gold enthusiasts a little more freedom when trying out new things, and it’s also a good state for gold panning.

For example, you can use motorized equipment or suction dredging for gold panning, but you will need to get permits and bonds beforehand.

Other than that, you don’t need a permit for gold panning or hand sluicing. You should be good to go if you don’t cause surface or wildlife disturbance.

Make sure you research the area you plan on visiting beforehand to see if any other regulations apply or if you need special permission.


Tennessee is among the best gold-panning states in the U.S. However, that doesn’t mean it will be easy to find gold in this state because you will need a general permit from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.

These permits permit you to pan for gold in certain areas, but each area may have additional restrictions. With the general permit, you can pan for gold with both motorized and non-motorized equipment. 

Mechanical tools such as motorized sluice boxes or suction dredges are allowed. However, the permit restricts you to water-based prospecting only, and if you want to try out land-based prospects, you will need additional permits. 

Apart from this, even if you are allowed suction dredges, you can’t use them anywhere. The most state forbids it, and only a few sites allow it.

If you are a Gold Prospector’s Association of America (GPAA) member, consider yourself lucky! They own some areas where suction dredging can be used for gold panning.

Apart from these rules, it would be best to permanently dispose of any waste you create while gold panning in Tennessee. Otherwise, you may face hefty fines, even if it is your first offense.

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)


In Utah, you will need a permit for recreational dredging on any streams from the Utah Division of Water Rights.

When it comes to gold panning on BLM or Forest Service land, you won’t need a permit to pan, but you will need to follow the regulations that may differ from location to location. 

Like most states, if you want to pan on private property, you will need permission from the land owner. You have the right to seek out gold as long as there aren’t any other claimants before you.


When it comes to the state of Virginia, gold prospectors will be delighted to find out that you can pan or use a metal detector in public access areas. The only area where gold was often found is in the Appomatox State Forest, Buckingham.

Even though you won’t need a permit to pan for gold in Virginia, you should consider that the state laws regarding gold panning aren’t all that clear. The best thing to do is to contact the local governing agencies to find out more information.


Wisconsin is among the best states in the U.S. for gold panning, and you don’t need a license to pan for gold here. However, mechanical equipment isn’t allowed. You cannot disrupt river banks or pan for gold on state land.

You will need permission to pan for gold on private lands, but other than that, Wisconsin has among the most relaxed gold panning laws.


Due to restrictions and regulations, many of Wyoming’s gold prospects were left untouched for a long time.

However, now you can pan for gold as long as it is recreational without a permit. If you plan to use suction dredging, you will need a permit from the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality.

With over 30,000 active mining claims, you should always be careful not to trespass on many properties. The best thing to do is consult the BLM’s records and see which locations have active mining claims before you go.

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

Is Gold Panning Allowed in National Parks?

Is Gold Panning Allowed in National Parks?
Is Gold Panning Allowed in National Parks?

National parks often host some significant gold panning areas. In most instances, you aren’t allowed to take any items from these parks.

However, some parks allow gold panning and even the use of metal detectors. It all depends on the state panning laws and additional rules that national parks may further imply. Always make sure to do your research beforehand because you might need permits as well.

Can I Keep Gold I Find?

You can keep the gold you find on your property or most public lands if someone else has a better claim to it.

Generally, if you can prospect in an area and find gold, it’s yours to keep. However, in certain states, collecting above a certain amount is illegal. 

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


Some laws might make gold panning less enjoyable for some, but at the end of the day, we also have to keep in mind our environment.

If you love nature and want to pan for gold, remember to respect it and make as little a mess as possible. Always stay informed about the panning laws in your state and the other rules that might apply to certain areas. Happy hunting!

TIP: Gold panning is among the most hobby activity in the U.S., but where exactly can you pan for gold? Check out the best states for gold prospecting in the US in the article below:
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