Living in the West we have grown up with colorful stories of pioneers and wagon-trains, but no story sticks out quite as much as the story of the Gold Rush. People risking everything they had to try and strike it rich! Southern Oregon is one of the most prevalent areas for gold panning in the state and Travel Oregon has some great recommendations about where to go and who to go with (if you are looking for a guide). We are heading to the Rogue River soon and after doing some fun gold panning at AgFest of Oregon and during a trip to California, I thought it would be fun to get a gold panning kit and try our hand at panning for gold on our camping trips! I am not expecting to strike it rich monetarily, but want to create some “rich” memories for my family!
In Oregon we are allowed to pan for gold on our rivers without a permit any time of year, unless the salmon or steelhead are spawning (if you plan to sluice or dredge, you will need permits and you will have to follow some pretty strict rules which you can read about here). The one rule that applies to everyone is that you can NOT disturb known salmon habitats and spawning grounds, and you will need to research the area you are heading to in order to find out if you are allowed to disturb the water there. I called to two different departments that cover “mining for minerals” and both informed me (after telling me to check with the other) that I was good to go and to have fun.
We bought a panning kit off Amazon that is made by Garrett and had everything we needed for a fair price. It comes with a large (prospector) pan, small (backpacker) pan, a classifier, a squeeze bottle, tweezers with a magnifying glass and little vials along with a book on how to pan. I will admit it was tough to find something locally to buy and so we ordered online.
We were taught by the Northwest Minerals Prospecting Club at AgFest the best techniques on how to use the pan that gives us our best chance at finding the “shiny stuff”. All I need to add to the kit is a magnet since fools gold will be attracted, but real gold isn’t.
It is fairly easily to start out. Once you are at the river or creek look for an eddy. Fill your pan up 2/3 of the way and start gently shaking and swirling the pan washing lighter gravel out and letting the gold sink to the bottom. Gold is heavier than most other things, so it will follow it’s natural tendency. We also have our other pan below to make sure we catch anything that falls out to have a quick second look. From there continue the process. Use your tweezers or squeeze bottle to pull out the gold and put it in a vial! That’s it!
I was given a quick warning that there is mercury in the water due to other activities up stream and that can sometimes make it into your pans. They suggested keeping an eye out and using a suction of some sort to pull any mercury out and dispose of it in a garbage bin (or somewhere safe, but please don’t put it back in the water). Please keep this away from your kids too.
Now you are good to go! Have fun!