California Parks


Recreational Gold Panning in California

Gold Panning Opportunities Abound

Note: This information was written several years ago. Regulations and fees have changed in many places since it was published.

California Gold Country is a region of the State where gold was discovered in the mid-1800's. That gold discovery was largely responsible for California's rapid growth and influx of immigrants from around the world. It should be called the International State because of the variety of people and languages you'll find in California, thanks to the Gold Rush.

Much of the public land administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Mother Lode Field Office is open for the filing of mining claims under the Mining Law of 1872. Under the Mining Law, the claim holder has exclusive rights to valuable minerals which may be found on the claim. Currently there are roughly 5,000 mining claims on the public lands administered by the Mother Lode Field Office. Persons who wish to stake a mining claim should contact the BLM State Office in Sacramento to find out if a site is already claimed or not. The BLM must be notified prior to the use of mechanized equipment on a claim. Mining claims may not be filed for the purpose of living on public land.

The State of California has passed SB 670 which prohibits the use of vacuum or other suction dredging equipment for instream mining in any California river, stream or lake effective August 6, 2009. This moratorium will remain in effect until the Department of Fish and Game completes an environmental review of its dredging permitting program and revises its regulations. BLM will not issue recreational use permits for suction dredging until this moratorium is lifted. Additional information can be found at .

Butte Recreation: No permit is required for low-impact gold panning.

Twenty five miles Northeast of Chico, the beautiful Forks of Butte Recreation Area has trails through steep pine and fir covered canyons. This area offers free low-impact gold panning. If you are interested in camping there are sites to reserve along the creek that offer great panning access. Trails follow steep canyon walls; vegetation is primarily mixed Ponderosa Pine, Douglas Fir and Madrone.

Directions: Travel northeast on State Highway 32 from Chico, 20 miles to Forest Ranch, then southeast on Doe Mill Road (graded dirt road), three and one-half miles to Butte Creek trailhead.

Camping: If you would like to reserve one of the creekside camping sites please call the BLM Redding field office for more information at (530) 224-2100.

Keyesville - Panning, dredging, sluicing, suction dredging and dry washing are allowed. All activities are subject to any other applicable Federal, State, or County laws or regulations.

Small scale placer mining has been conducted in the Keyesville Mining District from the first discovery of gold until present. 400 acres remain withdrawn from the mining law, and is managed for recreational mining. The 400 acre Keyesville Recreational Mining Area is located within the Keyesville Special Management Area. The recreational mining area is one-half mile wide and encompasses one and one-quarter miles of the Kern River. A popular location in the spring of the year, and also within the recreational mining area, is lower Hogeye Gulch. The recreational mining area is about two miles northwest of the community of Lake Isabella, about one-quarter mile below State Route 155. The west side of the river is accessed via paved Keyesville Road, and on the east by the dirt road that leads to the Slippery Rock picnic area.

Recreational gold mining on lands withdrawn from mineral entry is not a mining activity--it is a privilege. Be aware that panning, sluicing, and suction dredging can adversely impact water quality, vegetation, fish, wildlife, and ultimately people. During the process of separating gold from the sand and gravel, silt may be washed into streams, creating turbid water. Fish and aquatic insects have difficulty surviving in heavily silted water because of its reduced oxygen supply. In order to control illegal occupancy of mining claims within the Keyesville area, the BLM withdrew several hundred acres of land in the Keyesville area from the mining law.

Rules which apply include:

You must have a valid permit from the California Department of Fish and Game to operate a suction dredge.
Camp fires require a current fire permit. Camping is permitted up to 14 days within any 30 day period and up 28 days in a year.
Only hand tools may be used, motorized equipment including pumps (except dredges), chain saws and mechanized earth moving equipment (backhoes, bulldozers) are prohibited.
Dredges working Hogeye Gulch must have an intake nozzle diameter of 3 inches or less.
When working in the Kern River, dredges must be at least 100 feet apart. Cables may not cross the river, and must not create hazards for boaters.
Water may not be pumped from water courses for any purpose.
High banking, hydraulic mining and ground sluicing are not permitted.
Sluices / riffle boxes / dry washers must have collecting surfaces of no greater than 6 square feet.
Explosives, mercury or other hazardous chemicals may not be used.

Mining near Redding / Gold Panning

No permit is required for low-impact gold panning, however respect the rights of existing mining claims. There are many areas within the BLM Redding Resource Area that are popular for panning including areas along Butte Creek, Clear Creek and the Trinity River.

Dredging and Sluicing Permits in the Forks of Butte Area

Permits are required for mineral collecting (dredging, sluicing, and other collective techniques) in the Butte Creek Recreation Area. Fill out a Special Recreation Permit Application to reserve a site along Butte Creek. The fee for this permit is $5 per day.

Any subsurface archaeological, historical, or paleontological remains discovered during mining activities must be left intact; all work in the area should stop and the Bakersfield Field Office Manager should be notified immediately. Resumption of work may be allowed upon clearance by the Field

Dredging, Mining & Gold Panning

Opportunities exist for recreational dredging on lands administered by the Mother Lode Field Office which are excluded from mining claims. This type of gold hunting is usually done by people without mining claims, who dredge for the sheer enjoyment of it. This is more of a recreational activity rather than a commercial enterprise. The Mother Lode Field Office's concept is to provide areas to dredge, set some reasonable rules, and minimize conflicts with other resource users and mining claimants.

Those who wish to use a suction dredge need to contact the Mother Lode Field Office before they go out on the rivers. Permits are required by both the State of California and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The State Department of Fish and Game (DFG) issues the state permits. BLM permits are issued out of the Mother Lode Field Office. BLM permits are not issued by mail, they must be picked up in person by the individual who will be doing the actual dredging. Permits will be issued starting May 15th for the Yuba and after June 15th or spring runoff for the Merced River.

Gold Panning in the Mother Lode

Because of the Mother Lode Region's history as a gold-producing area, there is high public interest in casually looking for a gold nugget or two. Unfortunately, the most promising public lands are already under claim, and cannot be worked without the claim holder's permission. Several areas within the jurisdiction of the Mother Lode Field Office, however, are available for casual prospecting: the South Fork of the Yuba River and the lower Merced River. Gold seekers who use the traditional shovel and pan can try their luck in these areas without having to get permission.

South Yuba River

Along the South Yuba River, there is one segment of the river designated for recreational dredging. Large tracts provide a wide range of different types of dredging conditions. The area above Edwards Crossing Bridge, up to the boundary with the USFS, is approximately 1.5 miles above Humbug Creek (trail miles). This area is remote and access is limited to the South Yuba foot trail. This can require packing in dredges for miles.

Merced River

Permits are required for the Merced River, open to limited recreational dredging in the Briceburg area off of Highway 140. Permits are issued for a two week period. Please contact the BLM Mother Lode Field Office for permit information.

Merced River is open to dredges up to 6" in diameter. All areas are posted. It is up to dredgers to make sure they are in "designated dredging areas." Merced River Dredging permits are not issued until river flow falls below 700cfs.


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