Go Back to the Land with a Gold Pan: How to Pan for Gold

Go back to the land and make the most of your next family camping trip by learning how to pan for gold.


| July/August 1979



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Panning for placer gold in a rushing mountain stream.


PHOTO: DONALD HASLAM

It would be hard to imagine a more exciting, pleasurable, and often lucrative occupation than gold panning. You won't have to spend hundreds of dollars to get yourself started in this pastime, either ... and there's plenty of the famous yellow metal still waiting to be found!

Back around 1849, gold panning was the major source of income for thousands of prospectors, and the average daily find was about half an ounce per person. If you could do as well today (and there's no reason why you can't! ), such a seemingly small amount of metal — which is, at the time this article is being written, priced at over $200 an ounce — would provide you with a pretty impressive day's wages!

Gather Your Gold Panning Equipment

When you start out learning how to pan for gold, your most important piece of "mining" equipment is simply a good gold pan. Such a utensil can be as large as 18 inches across, but it's probably best to start with a 12-incher ... which will cost between three and four dollars and should be available at a nearby sporting goods store. When you buy a new steel pan, be sure to wash it to remove the protective coating, then heat it over a campfire or burner (but don't let the metal get red hot) to darken the color and make gold easier to spot. Remember to let the "gold finder" cool gradually — because you can warp a hot pan by dipping it in water — and always keep this vital tool free from grease and oil.

There's also a new plastic pan on the market that simplifies the art of gold panning a bit. In addition to being lightweight, the modern device has built-in ridges, which help to trap the gold. 

You'll also need a small shovel and/or a pickaxe, a crowbar (this tool is optional but would be good for cracking open crevices and probing for bedrock), a trowel and/or spoon (to clean out crannies), a whisk broom, a large container with a wide mouth and a tight lid, glass or plastic vials with caps, a big sturdy pocketknife, tweezers or a camel's-hair brush or Q-tip, a magnifying glass, some nitric or hydrochloric acid, and a small amount of mercury.

Where to Find Gold

Gold can be found in large quantities all over the western United States. Lesser known, however, are the gold fields of the eastern U.S. including some particularly rich deposits that have been reported in Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Vermont, and Pennsylvania.





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