Recreational Gold Panning in California

Visitors at themed attractions such as Knotts Berry Farm in Buena Park (shown in photo) or Roaring Camp Railroad near Santa Cruz can try their hand at gold panning to see what it's all about. However, recreational gold panning normally requires bending over or squatting next to river beds where the gold flows in the water. It's hard work, but fun for those who get caught by the Gold Bug.

While our U.S. Government is contemplating raising the debt ceiling and allowing U.S. dollars to tumble even more, gold prices continue to rise. Every company and country with money to spend is purchasing gold. Gold is one of those commodities that has value as long as humans determine that it is worth something. For hundreds (if not thousands) of years, they've decided it does.

California's economy and population grew out of the California Gold Rush that was short-lived, but during its heyday around 1849-1851, turned the West Coast into the ultimate tourist attraction. When you visit mines or hear about the Gold Rush in places such as Columbia State Historic Park, it's a great lesson in California history. Some people like it so much that they move to the Gold Country and become docents, dressing like miners and playing the parts of those who discovered gold. Most go home and think it was an interesting vacation, but some actually follow through and begin panning for recreation.

A few mines continue to operate in California, and there's a system in place that allows you to stake a claim on an area and look for gold and other minerals. My uncle used to drive across the country from Illinois to California to pan for gold in a club that had one of these claims. He never told us how much he made, but he returned annually for several months to pan, so it's likely he found something.

There's a system in place that allows anyone without a license to pan for gold. You, your friends and family can pan for gold free in lands set aside for recreational gold panning. The Bureau of Land Management oversees most areas where the public is invited to pan. Here are in depth descriptions of the gold panning areas.

Here are public Gold Panning Areas in California:

Butte Creek - 25 miles north of Chico

Keyesville Recreational Mining Area - on the Kern River

Hogey Gulch 2 miles northwest of Lake Isabella

Redding Resource Area - Clear Creek, Trinity River and Butte Creek (Butte Creek charges $5 / day)

Mother Lode Area - South Fork of Yuba River & Merced River at Briceburg area off of Highway 140

As you may surmise, gold panning in California isn't located near popular theme parks in metropolitan areas, and it's not an activity everyone will enjoy. Bugs, water, dirt, sweat, work-and fun for those who find gold make it a recreational activity that may pay off-or may cost the price of your trip and panning equipment. Companies online such as Miners, Inc. (, sell supplies.


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