California Gold Panning Can Be
Rewarding in Many Ways

Finding the cooler gold panning adventures for you...

California Gold Panning

No, the '49ers didn't take it all. There's still plenty of bling sitting around in them thar California foothills and streams.

How much? Well, it's estimated that only 20 percent of the gold in the Mother Lode was extracted during the Gold Rush. Converted to today's money, that's about $50 billion between 1848 and 1855!

Not to discourage you, but much of the remaining gold is buried in the earth and therefore is inaccessible to the casual searcher. But some gold can still be found on the surface in the area's streams and rivers. That's where California gold panning can be mighty rewarding!

California gold panning, popularized during the Gold Rush, is a great inexpensive activity for all ages. Not only can it be relaxing and thrilling at the same time, but if you learn the proper technique (or are just darn lucky), you might strike it rich -- or at least be able to take home a few small shiny souvenirs.

Gold panning offers a wide range of experiences for every level of gold seeker. Got young tots? They'll enjoy sifting through the fleck-infused gold-panning stations at various historic parks throughout California's Gold Country. If you'd like to become a seasoned prospector, there are classes to get you started, plus opportunities to hunt for gold on your own.

Whether you're looking for a cool way to spend a couple of hours on the way to Yosemite or want to make a multi-day adventure of it, we're sure you'll find your ideal California gold panning experience right here.

One more thing: Before we share with you our favorite California gold panning spots, you might want to brush up on a few common gold-panning terms. Once you’ve added these to your vocabulary, you’ll be sounding like a ‘49er in no time!

Panning To wash (gravel, sand, etc.) in a pan to separate the gold from other minerals and materials.

Sluicing Long wood boxes built to run water with gravel over a series of sieves to separate the gold from other minerals and materials.

Dredging To vacuum sand and gravel from pockets on the river bottom. The gold is then separated in a sluice box.

Hydraulic Mining Though extremely productive, hydraulic mining was banned from use in 1884. Entire hillsides were washed away with highly pressurized water sending tons of mud into the rivers below.

Read on for our top suggestions on where to go for the gold.


Try California gold panning at the site where miners set up camp in 1848 at Woods Creek in Tuolumne County.

Jamestown Gold Panning

Two hours of gold panning and sluicing with a seasoned instructor costs $120 for a family of four (reservations required). Or try the two-day Mining Bonanza. By the time you leave, you'll have the confidence to prospect on your own.

Looking to make a mini vacation of it? The Lazy Z Resort in Twain Harte, the Christmas Tree Inn (Highway 108 just uphill from Sonora), the Victorian Gold Bed and Breakfast in Jamestown, and the Gunn House in Sonora are all great places to stay.

17712 Harvard Mine Road, Jamestown, CA 95327; (209) 984-4038;


Guides in period costume ensure an authentic and comprehensive California gold panning experience for everybody at this Jamestown hot spot.

Old Prospecting Adventures

Whether you're a family seeking a unique diversion on the way to Yosemite or a die-hard adventurer looking to unlock the secrets of successful prospecting, this place is for you!

Why? The name of the game is options, options, options! Choose from California gold panning, sluice box and gold panning, a highbanking adventure (they move the sluice box to your site and pump the water to you, which is likely to result in more gold), the Humdinger (dredging on bedrock) or electronic prospecting, a three-day trip with a metal detector.

If you're serious about finding some serious bling, consider taking a gold prospecting course here. You'll learn a ton, including how to acquire exclusive mineral rights in California.

18170 Main St., P.O. Box 1040, Jamestown, CA 95327-1040; (209) 984-4653;


Old Prospecting Adventures

This California gold panning company offers gold-mining trips on Woods Creek in Tuolumne County, said to be one of the richest creeks in the state.

To set up a five-hour trip (including panning, sluicing, and digging), call Nancy Roberts at (559) 681-5144. During the trip, you'll have time to enjoy a picnic and a beautiful waterfall.


This restored Gold Rush town, located 3 miles north of Sonora off Highway 49, is as close as it gets to the real thing! California gold panning is just part of the fun.

Columbia State Historic Park

The Matelot Gulch Mine Supply Store, located at Main and Washington streets in the park, rents gold pans and provides instruction.

While you're here, take in some live theater, stop at the ice cream parlor, hear street musicians, and watch a real blacksmith at work. Don't miss Gold Rush Days, held the second Saturday of each month from 1-4 p.m.

(209) 532-9693


Jensen's Pick & Shovel Ranch

You get to keep up to an ounce of the gold you find at this California gold panning destination. After that, you split.

Located in Vallecito (approximately 7 1/2 miles north of Columbia), this gold panning site teaches you how to pan, sluice, and (with a permit) how to dredge. They provide the equipment.

4977 Parrotts Ferry Road, Vallecito; (209) 736-0287


Get-Gold Adventures

The name says it all! Bring the whole family for some real California gold panning fun.

Equipment and instruction are provided at this gold panning venue in Sonora.

1400 Shaws Flat Road, Sonora, CA 95370; (209) 588-1523


Back in the day, this remote old mining camp at Clinton Bar in the Mokelumne River Canyon was accessible only by horseback. Because it was so hard to get to, a lot of gold is still there!

Roaring Camp Mining CO.

You can't get bored here. There's so much to do! See an operating gold mine, or hunt for gold yourself by panning, sluicing, dredging, or dry washing. (Don't worry, you'll get a lesson.)

Besides all this, there's fabulous fishing and swimming, mini golf, a playground, and a Saturday Night Cookout featuring New York steak and Roaring Camp's famous fried bread.

Try the five-hour trip into the canyon (from 5-10 p.m.).

P.O. Box 278, Pine Grove, CA 95665; (209) 296-4100; e-mail


Malakoff Diggins State Park

This park, located near the ghost town of North Bloomfield, is a hydraulic gold mining site dating from the 1850s.

Try your hand at California gold panning on Humbug Creek. Stay the weekend in one of three company cabins or at the campground.

(916) 265-2740


South Yuba River State Park

California gold panning PLUS a first-rate swimming hole? Winning!

Rangers lead free gold-panning trips on the South Yuba River near the Bridgeport Covered Bridge State Historic Landmark near Grass Valley. Don't forget your camera -- this bridge is amazing!


Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park

Why not try California gold panning at the place where it all started?

Gold pans are available at the park's museum. Lessons are an option.

Highway 49, Coloma; (916) 622-3470


Gold Country Prospecting

This Placerville operation offers California gold panning trips daily by reservation.

Prospector Paul Bailey gives three-hour lessons in gold panning on local streams.

3119 Turner St., Placerville, CA 95667; (916) 622-2484


Gem panning is a fun alternative to traditional California gold panning at this must-visit Placerville destination.

Hangtown's Gold bug Park & Mine

Ask about gem panning at Hattie's Gift Shop after you tour the mine. Gem panning may be more fun for younger kids because the gems are easier to see than gold.

2635 Gold Bug Lane, Placerville, CA 95667; (530) 642-5207 (general information) or (530) 642-5238 (for guided tours)

Want to Prospect on Your Own? Check Out
These Resources

California gold panning on your own does require some know-how. The following resources can hook you up with equipment, maps, and tried-and-true gold panning tips.

California Gold Panning Outfitters Offer
Gear and Training

Think you're ready to strike out on your own California gold panning excursion? Visit or chat with one of these experts before you go. They can supply you with all the right equipment, and they're a "gold mine" of information on techniques and prime prospecting locations.

  • Gold Pan California, 1021 Detroit Ave., #D, Concord, CA 94518; (925) 825-4653
  • The New '49ers, 27 Davis Road, Happy Camp, CA 96039; (530) 493-2062
  • Columbia Mining & Equipment, Main Street, Jamestown; (209) 984-3893
  • Stories in Stone, Main Street, Murphys; (209) 728-2404
  • Books & More, Highway 49, Altaville; (209) 728-8845
  • River Prospecting, Arnold; (888) 726-4386

How Not to Infringe on Someone Else's
Mineral Rights

When you're panning solo, you need to be sure you're not trespassing on property that's under claim. And make no mistake, with the price of gold these days, more and more public land is being swallowed up by people filing claims to mineral rights in California's Sierra Nevada foothills.

Basically, you may not work a claim without the owner's permission.

Good places to try California gold panning without a permit are the South Fork of the Yuba River and the lower Merced River, as well as all lakes and reservoirs in Calaveras and Tuolumne counties.

When in doubt, contact the Mother Lode Field Office of the U.S. Department of the Interior's Bureau of Land Management at (916) 941-3101.

Return to California Gold Country

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