Top Gold Panning Places in The U.S.

Location is arguably the single most important factor when it comes to determining the success of your gold panning experience. You can have the most expensive equipment and tools in the world, but unless there's actual gold in the water and land, you simply aren't going to come out with any. Thankfully, the U.S. is filled with hotspots from the east to west coast that are perfect for hopeful panners. As long as you're willing to make the trip, you'll find these locations are well worth the extra time it takes to reach them. Here we'll take a look at some of the top gold panning places in the U.S. and reveal some of the unique features that make them so popular.

Before we go over where the best places in the U.S. are for gold panning, it's important to note that some of these ares may already be claimed, so you'll need to do your research before setting out on an adventure. If you see a small post sticking a couple inches of the gorund with some reflective tape on it, chances are the area is already claimed. When in doubt, check with the park or agency who owns the land to make sure panning is legal and you aren't breaking any laws in the process.

California MapCalifornia

As most people already know, California is one of the best states for finding gold. Back in the mid 1850s, when gold was first discovered at the now-famous Sutter's Mill, people by the tens of thousands swarmed the state in search of gold. This event was known as the California Gold Rush, and it made many people rich overnight from the huge amounts of gold they were found. In today's value, the amount of gold that was uncovered during the California Gold Rush is believed to be in the tens of billions; however, this was still only 20% of California's gold, and geologists believe there's still 80% of the gold left, so keep panning!

Auburn State Receation Area - This 40-mile park located in El Dorado county remains one of California's best gold panning locations. It features two large forks of the American River where amateur and professional panners can go to test their luck in the same river waters that the forty-niners did. In addition to gold panning, some of the other activities offered by Auburn State Park include hiking, whitewater rafting, fishing, boating, camping, mountain biking, hunting, horseback riding and dirt biking.

El Dorado National Forest - Located on both the eastern side of California and a small portion on the western side of Nevada, El Dorado National Forest is 677,255 acres of breathtaking mountains, forests, rivers, streams and more. Because it's so large and open, many people find it difficult to choose a location to pan for gold here. With that said, Pi Pi campground and Cache Rock are two of the more popular areas where gold can easily be found, so give them a try if you find yourself around the area.

Tahoe National Forest - Another great place in California for gold panning is the Tahoe National Forest. It features over 850,000 acres of public land covering snow-capped mountains, rivers, streams, forests and foothills, some of which is ideal for gold panning and prospecting.

Hangtown's Gold Bug Park & Mine - Located in none other than than Placerville, California, Hangtown's Gold Bug Park & Mine features a preserved gold mine that was once used by early forty-niners during the 1800s. You can take a self-guided tour through the mine for a first-hand look at what conditions were like for miners back then. Of course you can also pan for gold and gems in a trough located directly outside the mine.

Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park - We really can't cover California gold panning locations without talking about the Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park. This is the area where James W. Marshall first discovered gold working for his boss, James Sutter, at on the south fork of the American River at Sutter's Mill, which then led to the Gold Rush. Today, this area has been turned into a state park where visitors can come to marvel at the iconic Sutter's Mill and even test their luck in the stretch of river where Marshall found gold. As of 2012, the current cost of entry to the Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park is $8 per car with no other fees or costs.

Columbia State Historic Park - Upon entering Columbia State Historic Park, you'll immediately be taken back to a historic time in California's history, as it's arguably the best preserved gold town in the state. There are dozens of shops and businesses including ranchers, restaurants, ice cream shops, saloons, churches, banks, inns, wineries, blacksmiths and of course mining operations. While you're here, you can participate in gold panning lessons taught by professionals who show you exactly how to uncover gold from a stream or river. Best of all, entry to Columbia State Historic Park is completely free.

Bodie State Historic Park - Named after Waterman S. Body, who discovered gold in the the hills of Mono Lake, Bodie State Historic Park is now a ghost town where visitors can come to enjoy a wide range of activities, such as camping, hiking and gold panning. Admission to the park is $7 per adult and $5 per child (under 16).

Georgia MapGeorgia

Many people are unaware of the fact that Georgia had its own "Gold Rush" long before the one that occurred in California. In 1829, hopeful miners and prospectors rushed to the southeastern state in search of gold; therefore, spawning numerous gold mining towns throughout northern Georgia overnight. Although this was good for the state, a lot of these prospectors were encroaching on land owned by the Native Americans, forcing them to move farther west. The most famous gold mining city in Georgia is Dahlonega, which is located in the path of the Georgia Gold Belt. Here, amateur and professional gold prospectors come to test their luck in the gold-filled streams and mines.

Crisson Gold Mine - Established in 1847, the Crisson Gold Mine is the oldest gold mining establishment in North Georgia. They are open 7 days a week, rain or shine, and are only closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas. Here you can purchase their valuable crushed ore by the bucket and either take it home or pan it while you're there. Plus, you can use their trommel at no additional cost when you purchase at least 6 buckets of ore.

Consolidated Gold Mine - Another great place in Georgia for gold panning is the Consolidated Gold Mine. They have guided tours that take you through one of Georgia's oldest gold mines where you can see what the "twenty-niners" had to go endure. In addition, the Consolidated Gold Mine also offers gold panning and gemstone mining for as little as $7 per person.

Etowah River - Running through much of North Georgia, including Dahlonega, the Etowah River has proven to be a valuable place for gold panning, dredging and sluicing. The fresh cool water running from the North Georgia mountains is almost guaranteed to carry some amount of gold, so give it a try the next time your in the southeast. However, you'll need to do your homework and find a place on the river that's legal for you to pan. If you're having trouble finding one, don't be afraid to join one of the many Georgia mineral and prospecting groups, as they typically have their own claims open to members.

Chattahoochee River - It's said that Georgia gold was first discovered in the waters of the Chattahoochee river in the early 1800s, and as a result, this sparked the nation's second largest Gold Rush. Still today, this 430-mile long river carries large amounts of gold that prospectors and panners test their luck with. There are a number of National Forests located on the Chattahoochee that allow individuals to come and pan for gold as long as they don't use dredging or other forms of heavy equipment.

Alaska MapAlaska

Like many other states, Alaska saw its very own Gold Rush during the mid 1800s; therefore, opening the floodgates to prospectors and panners from across the world. While it wasn't as large or influential as the California Gold Rush, it was still a pivotal part of Alaska's history. It all started when Russian explorers discovered placer gold in the Kenai river back in 1848. Because Russia legally owned Alaska at this time, they felt that once the word got out about the gold it would be nearly impossible for them to regulate. As a result, Russia sold the Alaska territory to the U.S. in 1867.

Cow Creek Gold Mine - Established back in 1896, the Cow Creek Gold Mine brought in an estimated 700 ounces of gold per month, making it one of the state's largest and most profitable gold mines. For only $20 per day, you can pan in the same Cow Creek that's made many people rich overnight. In addition to gold panning, the Cow Creek Gold Mine also offers prospecting lessons, guided tours, dredging, sluice box rentals and RV camping.

Caribou Creek Recreational Mining (CCRM) - located near the Caribou Creek and the Matanuska River, CCRM was created by the Alaska State legislature in 1991 to provide a recreational gold panning and prospecting area for the general public to use free of cost. You can find CCRM at mile marker 104 off Glenn Highway next to the Lion’s Head rock formation. There's a big sign right before the turnoff onto a dirt road.