Panning for Gold (Part 3a) Where to look for gold

This is the most significant part of all. You’ve got your equipment, you read some books or saw some videos, you have even been practicing to master the skill of panning, and now you feel ready to take ‘real action’… So, where do we start looking for our gold? Since we are talking about panning, you’ll need a stream to pan in. :-)  Dictionary defines “placer” as “A deposit of sand, gravel or earth in the bed of a stream containing particles of gold or other valuable mineral.”  There are several different types of gold deposits that a prospector should know about, because they have different characteristics and are dealt with in different ways.

The main factor causing gold to become deposited in the locations where it does, is its heavier weight over the majority of other materials-minerals which end up in a stream-bed.  As gold is eroded from its original lode, gravity, wind, water, chemical reactions and the other forces of nature, may move it away and downwards until it eventually arrives in a stream-bed.

Placer gold deposits 1Gold erodes from its natural lode and eventually
is washed into an active waterway.

It is advised to pick a stream that has a history of producing placer gold. You can strike out on your own and prospect streams that haven’t been mined in the past, but odds are you won’t find any undiscovered gold deposits. At one time or another, every stream, river, creek, and beach in North America has been test panned by prospectors. So odds are, you won’t find anything new. Going where gold has been found in the past is your best bet. Besides, over time, more gold weathers out of the bedrock and gets carried down into the same creeks and streams that have been mined in the past. Every rainstorm deposits more gold in the stream beds. So don’t worry that all the gold has been mined out. Of course, this article series has “international” interest, which means that any references in areas or places which may be thousands of miles from your location, should not discourage you. You should do you own research for local potential placer gold deposits in your area.

gold placement - streambed 1Stream-beds are composed of sediments which lie on top of bedrock.


The best season for panning (for most areas) is the late Spring. The floods from Winter storms and the early Spring snow melt wash fresh gold into the stream every year. By late Spring the water level is down and it has warmed up enough that the water is ice free (but still really cold). By Summer though, many streams are usually dried. You can’t pan without water… A large storm in mountainous country will cause the streams and rivers within the area to run deeper and faster than they normally do. This additional volume of water increases the amount of force and turbulence that flows over the top of the streambeds lying at the bottom of these waterways. Sometimes, in a very large storm, the increased force of water is enough to sweep the entire streambed down the surface of its underlying bedrock foundation. It is this action which causes a streambed to cut deeper into the earth over an extended period of time. A storm of this magnitude can also erode a significant amount of new gold into the streambeds where it will mix with the other materials. Gold, being heavier than the other materials which are being swept downstream during a large storm, will work its way quickly to the bottom of these materials.

Gold placemen - rough bedrockSome bedrock surfaces are very rough and irregular–which allows for many gold traps.

The gold is either embedded in rock, known as lode gold, or is moved by water and deposited in sand, crevasses, rock, and stream beds. Gold is heavy and so tends to get lodged in cracks and crevices. It will settle out where the flow slows, and work its way down to the bottom of deposited sediments which are then known as concentrates. Being aware of this, means it is a bit easier to work out where in a stream to pan for gold. Even dry streambeds can contain placers of gold which have been laid down by flows of water long ago. The best time, however, to work a stream for placer gold is just after a heavy rainfall, The streams are fuller and faster moving and will tend to bring more gold down from higher up.

gold placements - bedrock cracksHairline cracks can hold plenty of gold, and sometimes open up into small pockets.

Gold also occurs naturally in rock. This is called Lode Gold. This usually needs a gold metal detector to locate. Naturally occurring gold can be found in almost all fifty states.
Gold is found in all major States of the US. So it is easy to find close to where you live. There will be Government records, in the form of geological reports and maps, which will tell you where and in what quantity gold has been recovered in the past. Another useful tip is, visit a (local) library and make a relevant research on their records. If you don’t want to spend endless hours wondering from place to place to get only frustrated and disappointed, make a proper research before you start anything

Gold placements - sudden drop-offAny sudden drop-off into a deeper and larger volume of water is a likely spot to look for a sizable deposit of gold.

Keep in mind that as gold is washed down into placers on a regular basis, over time, areas where a lot of gold has been found by earlier miners will still likely have more deposits. More gold is continually being washed down, particularly after heavy rain falls.

Gold placements - streambed 2The area just below where a streambed’s slope lessens often contains a good-sized gold deposit.

Of course gravity is the reason gold collects in placers. Gold, being six to seven times heavier than the sediments you find at the bottom of streams, tends to get lodged in crevices and by the usual irregularities you find in stream beds. It takes a lot of force for water to move gold downstream so rapid streams are not the best place to prospect for gold. Slow moving streams where gold is more likely to become lodged, will provide a better option.

gold placements - streambed 3A boulder at rest in a streambed during a large storm might trap gold wherever it slows down the water force.

gold placements - streambed 4Anywhere that a streambed suddenly widens enough to slow the force of the stream during high water periods is a likely place to find a deposit of gold.

Sometimes a metal detector can find gold … a bit quicker than using a gold pan.

If the stream isn’t on public land, get permission from the owner first, or move on. Nobody likes trespassers. If the stream is on public land, make sure there isn’t an active mining claim in the area where you want to do your panning. Also check with the agency that manages the land the stream is on. They may have restrictions on what sorts of activities are allowed there. If it is a designated wilderness area, then you probably aren’t allowed to do any prospecting there. Even if prospecting and recreational mining activities are allowed on the land, there may be restrictions on where you can do it and what sort of equipment is allowed.

gold placements - stream curvesGold tends to follow the shortest route possible between any major changes in the direction of the stream or river.


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To be continued … (stay glued)

Coming up next:

Where to look for gold (Part b) in America

Sell your gold

Info, Links, Sources

Previous Articles

Gold Panning – The Basics

Gold Panning – Equipment Usage


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