The gold rushes of the 19th century have long since ended, but there are still plenty of places you can hunt for the precious metal using a shovel, pan, metal detector and more. In fact, recreational gold mining is a pastime these days for many people, and for good reason: the largest nugget ever found in California was discovered by an amateur. Here are some key locations worldwide that you can still prospect for the yellow metal – you never know, you may get lucky and strike it rich.
Reed Gold Mine, Charlotte, USA
In 1799, Conrad Reed was walking along Little Meadow Creek when he noticed a shiny, gold substance in the water. It turned out to be a 17 pound gold nugget, and was the first documented authentic gold claim in the US. You can still pull gold out of the water to this day with panning at $3 per person. Visitors to the area can also learn about other ways of finding gold from the land.
Crow Creek, Alaska, USA
If you are in Alaska and want to look for more than just incredible scenery and wildlife, you might want to try your hand at panning for gold in Crow Creek. The first claims of gold are said to have been made in 1897 near the mouth of the stream.
Amateur gold hunters can get private excursions and a practice bag of rocks mixed with gold to make sure that they are panning correctly, before heading half a mile downstream to test their gold hunting skills.
Black Hills Forest, South Dakota, USA
In 1876 the gold rush swept across the Black Hills of South Dakota after gold deposits were found in Deadwood Creek, with people panning for gold ever since.
Much of the Black Hills are encompassed by public land and panning is available to whoever fancies wading through the waters.
American River, California, USA
Out of all the states, California boasts the richest deposits. Rules and regulations differ slightly from state to state, but recreational gold prospecting tends to be permitted in the USA in designated public areas and on private land as long as the permission of the landowner is forthcoming.
The California Gold Rush began in 1848 when gold was discovered on the banks of the American River in Coloma, and surrounding area are still rich in gold deposits. Recreational panning is permitted these days at the south fork of the river in Coloma and at two forks in the Auburn State Recreational Area.
The Cosumnes River that flows through California’s Eldorado National Forest is also known for its deposits of the yellow stuff. A great place to prospect, several camping grounds within the forest allow for gold panning.
Cosumnes River, California, USA
The most popular gold panning sites include the areas around Cache Rock and the Pi Pi Campground, which is located along the middle fork of the Cosumnes, as well as the area around Capps Crossing.
Rye Patch, Nevada, USA
This swathe of land near near the Majuba Mountains is renowned for its chunky chevron-shaped gold nuggets, which are much sought after by collectors. The gold deposits are situated in soils to the west of the reservoir, so you’ll have to dry pan or search with a metal detector here.
As long as you discover gold on federal land in Nevada that hasn’t been claimed by someone else, you can stake a mining claim and keep or sell your booty. Similar rules apply in 18 other U.S. states, including California, Colorado and Alaska.
Clear Creek, Colorado, USA
A gold-hunter’s paradise, this river in Colorado is hands-down the best place in the state for recreational prospecting. Panning and sluicing for gold is permitted on the river bed at Arapahoe Bar in west Denver, and digging is allowed on the north side of the river there.
There’s also a large stretch of river about 10 miles (16 kilometres) upstream from Arapahoe Bar at Clear Creek Canyon where gold panning, sluicing and even suction dredging are permitted. You may even have better luck here given the location is up-river.
Chena River, Alaska, USA
The discovery of gold near the Chena River in Fairbanks set off the Fairbanks Gold Rush of the early 1900s and the yellow metal is still found in relatively impressive quantities in Alaska’s ice-cold watercourses.
Klondike River, Yukon, Canada
The Klondike Gold Rush kicked off in 1896 when gold was found in Bonanza Creek (then called Rabbit Creek), a tributary of the Klondike River, attracting hundreds of thousands of prospectors to this remote part of Canada.
Gold panning and sluicing are permitted on the Klondike River and other watercourses in Canada with some exceptions. If the land is federal-owned or belongs to First Nation people, you’ll have to obtain permission before you prospect.
Fraser River, British Columbia, Canada
This river in British Columbia is noted for its reserves of gold and attracts many a recreational prospector. Tranquille Creek in Thompson county is one of the best spots to pan for gold on the river. Fraser River is awash with gold left behind by prospectors over decades, and there’s a good chance you’ll find small nuggets here rather than tiny specks or grains of gold among the rich alluvial deposits.
Warrego, Northern Territory, Australia
Australia is a fantastic place to prospect for gold if you’re an amateur. Fossicking, as the activity is called Down Under, is permissible in a number of declared sites in the mineral-rich Northern Territory. The Warrego area is one of the richest fossicking sites in the whole of Australia. The gold is scattered in the surface soils of the area, so you’ll need a metal detector and good dry panning skills to find it.
Arrow River, Otago, New Zealand
Fossicking is almost as popular in New Zealand. The country is blessed with generous reserves of gold and there are plenty of sites in which to prospect for the yellow metal, including the Arrow River in Otago on the South Island. The shallow part of the river near Arrowtown is the best place to prospect for gold. Panning is allowed and even encouraged here and several local gold prospecting firms hire out pans to rookie prospectors.
Elvo River, Piedmont, Italy
The Elvo River in Piedmont, Italy is enjoying something of a gold rush right now, and amateur prospectors regularly report finding nuggets the size of breadcrumbs in its mineral-rich alluvial deposits. Recreational prospecting is permitted on public land in Italy and the rules are fairly relaxed. According to Italian law, prospectors are even allowed to keep up to five grams of gold per day without declaring their discovery to the authorities.
Suisgill Estate, Sutherland, Scotland
In most cases, gold reserves in the UK are classed as ‘Mines Royal’ and belong to Her Majesty. The Crown Estate has stopped issuing licenses for recreational gold panning and is reluctant to authorize mining operations due to the environmental damage they may cause. Amateur gold prospectors in the UK have few options if they don’t want to break the law and risk prosecution. The Suisgill Estate in northern Scotland is one of them. Recreational gold panning is permitted free of charge, within strict guidelines, in two rivers on the estate.
Wanlockhead, Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland
Dubbed ‘God’s Treasure House in Scotland’, the area around the village of Wanlockhead in the Lowther Hills is prized for its gold reserves, even more so than the Suisgill Estate, and prospectors have been mining and panning there for centuries.
The Lowther and Buccleuch Estates issue gold panning licences for the area. Alternatively, the Wanlockhead Lead Mining Museum offers panning courses for amateurs – a Canadian tourist found a 20-carat nugget worth $12,800 during a course in 2014.
Dolgellau, Gwynedd, Wales
The discovery of the Dolgellau Gold Belt in Snowdonia back in 1843 triggered the Welsh Gold Rush of the 1860s but gold is no longer mined on a commercial basis in the area. Still, the belt has yielded four tonnes of gold over the years. Amateur prospectors can pan for gold in the area if they have permission from the relevant landowner and adhere to strict environmental guidelines. An easier option is to visit the ancient Dolaucothi Gold Mines in Carmarthenshire, where you can try your hand at gold panning without the legal worries.
Gold Mine River, County Wicklow, Ireland
Gold hunters may have more luck in Ireland. Recreational gold panning using handheld, non-motorised equipment is permitted, but you’ll need to declare any find in excess of 20 grains (just over a gram) and must obtain a license to sell any gold you discover.
The appropriately-named Gold Mine River in the Wicklow Mountains, which got its moniker in 1796 following the discovery of a nugget of the precious metal, boasts relatively high quantities of gold and is a magnet for amateur prospectors.