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Gold Panning in Oregon

Recreational Gold Panning

Because gold is heavier than most sediments and gravel in a stream, it and other heavy minerals called "black sands" (including pyrite, magnetite, ilmenite, chromite, and garnet) can be collected in a gold pan when the right panning techniques are used.

First, get a gold pan from a hardware or department store or a store that specialized in mining equipment. Gold pans are flat bottomed, usually about 2 or 3 inches deep, with the sides sloping at an angle of about 45, and should be at least 15 inches in diameter.

Take your pan to a likely-looking location along a stream in a known gold-bearing area. You are looking for a gold trap-a place along the stream where the current slows down enough for the gold to settle out. Good possibilities are the insides of curves of streams (called point bars), areas where streams have overflowed, and on the downstream sides of boulders or other obstructions in the water.





Panning for Gold -- Step-by-Step

Once you find a good place, follow these steps to pan for gold:

  • Fill the pan about half or two-thirds full of soil, gravel, and small rocks from the stream channel.
  • Put the pan under water, break up lumps of clay, and discard the stones.
    Still holding the pan level under water with your hands on opposite sides of it, rotate it halfway back and forth rapidly to wash out the clay and concentrate the heavy material at the bottom of the pan.
  • Still holding the pan under water, tilt the pan forward, away from your body, and down slightly. Rotate and shake it to let the light gravel and sand dribble out the front. Push top material and large chunks of rock out with your thumbs. Repeat Steps 3 and 4 several times until a deposit of fine-grained dark material overlain by a smaller layer of light material remains at the bottom of the pan.
  • Take the pan with the residue and some water out of the stream. Rotate the pan in a circular motion, and watch carefully what is happening. The water is separating lighter from heavier material-and gold, if it is present and you are doing the panning properly, is lagging behind the other material at the bottom of the pan.
  • Stop the rotation. If you are lucky, you will see a few flecks of gold in the dark material that remains in the bottom of the pan. Carefully drain out water and let the black sand and gold dry. Lift out most of the black sand with a magnet, and separate that gold from the remainder of the sediment with tweezers.

Where to Pan on Federal Land

Gold panning is permitted on nearly all streams and rivers running through campgrounds on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and USDA Forest Service (USFS) land in Oregon. Maps showing locations of campgrounds may be obtained from:

  • Local BLM and USFS offices
  • Nature of the Northwest Information Center
  • Nature of the Northwest online store
  • BLM Oregon State Office
    PO Box 2965, 333 SW First
    Portland, OR 97208
    (503) 808-6002.

Where to pan for gold on Oregon federal lands:
To find gold, you should go where gold has been found beforein northeast Oregon, southwest Oregon, and the Western Cascades. These areas have many streams and rivers that can be successfully panned for gold.

Mining claims on Federal land are not open for gold panning unless permission has been granted by the owner. However, four areas have been set aside on Federal land in Oregon for recreational gold panning:

Area 1. Quartzville Recreational Corridor:
Located in the Western Cascades, Salem District, Bureau of Land Management (free site).
Salem District Office
1717 Fabry Road SE
Salem, OR 97306
(503) 375-5646.

Area 2. Butte Falls Recreational Area:
Located in southwestern Oregon, Medford District, Bureau of Land Management (free site).
3040 Biddle Road
Medford, OR 97504
(541) 618-2200.

Area 3. Applegate Ranger District:
Located in southwestern Oregon, Rogue River National Forest (four fee sites where there is a charge of a dollar a day for panning in areas adjacent to campgrounds).
Applegate Ranger District
6941 Upper Applegate Road
Jacksonville, OR 97530
(541) 899-3800.

Panning on State Lands

In Oregon, areas below the vegetation line on navigable rivers and streams and ocean beaches belong to the State of Oregon and are therefore open for recreational gold panning.

Gold Viewing

A large collection of gold is on display in the lobby of the Baker City Branch, US Bank, in Baker City in eastern Oregon. Included in the collection is the famous Armstrong nugget, weighing 80.4 ounces.

All that Glitters is not Gold

All the shiny gold-colored material in you gold pan may not be gold. Pyrite, known as "fools gold," has fooled many before you. On close examination, however, pyrite does not really look like gold. Pyrite has a brassy color, is sometimes tarnished, and, because it occurs as crystals, changes shades as you rotate it in the sun. Gold is always gold colored, soft, and malleable or bendable. If you see gold-colored flecks that either float on the water or are so light in weight that they easily wash out of the pan, you probably have small pieces or "books" of mica, a mineral that because it is transparent and heat resistant was once used in doors of stoves so the fire could be seen. Mica has a tendency to break apart into flat sheets. It comes in several colors, and the the gold-colored variety is sometimes mistaken for gold by inexperienced gold panners.

If you are lucky enough to find gold in your pan, it can come in many shapes: small lumps or nuggets, wires, feather-shaped crystals, or flat flecks. Pieces can range in size from almost microscopic "colors" (very small pieces) up to fist-sized nuggets, but your chances of finding the latter are pretty remote. However, gold panners are optimistic, and you never know what the next pan will produce.

Golden Rules for Recreational Gold Panners

  • If you are unsure about land status, check with the nearest appropriate State, BLM, or USFS authorities.
  • If you open a gate, close it.
  • If you must cross private land, get permission first.
  • If you make trash, take it home
  • If you drive, stay on established roads.
  • If it is growing, let it grow
  • If you make trash, take it home
  • If you drive, stay on established roads.
  • If it is growing, let it grow

Information source: Nature of the Northwest


Cracker Creek Museum of Mining
2465 18th Street, Baker City, Oregon 97814, phone: (541) 523-3381, email: [email protected]


Cracker Creek Mining Camp
Cracker Creek Road, Sumpter, Oregon 97877, phone: (480) 834-7454, email: [email protected]

Oregon Gold Trips, LLC.
P.O. Box 285, Grants Pass, OR 97528, toll free: (877) 672-8877, email: [email protected]



Beaverstate Coinshooters
P.O. Box 1711 Albany, OR 97321, phone: 541-791-1164, email: [email protected]

Bohemia Mine Owners Association
Cottage, Grove, OR, phone: 541-942-0870 or 541-942-7134, email: [email protected]

Coil & Diggers Club of Lane Count
P.O. Box 87, Dexter, OR 97431, email: [email protected]

Eastern Oregon Mining Association
P.O. Box 932, Baker City, Oregon 97814

High Desert Treasure Club
P.O. Box 832, Bend, OR 97709, phone: 541-548-5566  email: [email protected]

Northwest Mineral Prospectors Club
Milwaukie, OR, email: [email protected]

Pacific Northwest Treasure Hunters
80014 Riker Lane, Hermiston, OR 97838, phone: 541-567-5863, email: [email protected]

Rogue Valley Coinshooters
Grants Pass, OR, phone: 541-476-2371, email: [email protected]

Willamette Valley Miners   
PO Box 13044, Salem, OR 97309-1004




Accurate Locators Inc.
1383 2nd Ave. Gold Hill, Oregon 97525, phone: (541) 855-1590, toll free: (877) 808-6200, email: [email protected]

Armadillo Mining Shop
2041 N.W. Vine Street, Grants Pass, Oregon 97526, phone: 541-476-6316

60442 Zuni Road, Bend, OR 97702, phone: 541-389-8552, toll free: 866-301-8552, email: [email protected]

Black Cat Mining 
PO Box 129, Halsey, OR 97348, phone: 541-255-3391, email: [email protected]

Blue Bucket Mining Company
61230 S. Hwy 97, Bend, OR 97702, phone: 541-318-1131, email: [email protected]

Boulder Patch Mines
P.O. BOX 54, Sumpter, Oregon 97877, phone: 541-894-2544, email: [email protected]

D & K Detector & Prospecting Sales Inc.
13809 SE Division Street, Portland, Oregon 97236, phone: 503-761-1521, email: [email protected]

Fitzgerald's Professional Precision Locators
585 South 22nd Street, Reedsport, OR 97467, phone: 541-271-5630, email: [email protected]

Gold Rush Trading Post
PO Box 751, Dallas, Oregon 97338, email: [email protected]

J.E. Metal - Gold Cradle
P.O. Box 237, Banks, OR 97106, phone: 503-357-3697, email: [email protected]

Jobe Wholesale
1618 SW Veterans Way, Redmond, OR 97756, toll free: 866-838-5623, email: [email protected]

Lucky Dog Supply
Oregon City, OR, phone: 503-656-6778, email: [email protected]

NorthWest Detector Sales
7905 SW Elmwood St., Tigard, Oregon 97223, phone: (503) 936-1443, email: [email protected]

Oregon Prospecting / Rita's Relics
1045 Main Street, Sweet Home, Oregon  97386, phone: 541-367-2237, toll free: 866-367-4061, email: [email protected]

White's Electronics, Inc.    
1011 Pleasant Valley Road, Sweet Home, Oregon 97386, phone: 541-367-6121, toll free: 800-547-6911, email: [email protected]

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