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Gold Panning In Southern and Northern California

The heavy runoff from last winter's snowpack means potential good news for modern California gold seekers and those eager to try their hands at gold panning and gold prospecting.

Calfornia Gold Panning

Try a little bit of the California gold panning experience right from your own home with our proven paydirt gold concentrates. Material is straight from the Motherlode in California and is loaded with real gold.


Boys, I believe I have found a gold mine," James Marshall shouted when he spotted a glimmer in the American River. Nearly 150 years later, geologists estimate that California's Gold Country still contains as much as 70 percent of the gold it did in 1849. And experienced miners think this will be an unusually good season to find it. Placerville prospector Paul A. Bailey credits last winter's heavy rains: "All the water dislodged boulders and trees, and released pockets of gold." Of course, even in this very good year, the odds of striking it rich with a pan at water's edge are slim. (One Sunset writer spent 3 hours panning a small stream near Placerville and came up with...one tiny gold flake.) But spending time beside a Gold Country stream has other rewards.

START WITH A PAN (AND MAYBE A LESSON)

You're looking for placer gold - gold eroded from hard rock, then washed into Sierra foothill streambeds. Basic equipment is a vial (to put your gold in), a small shovel, waders if you don't want wet feet, and a gold pan. The process sounds simple. You load the pan with sand and stream water, and swirl the mixture around until the heavy gold settles to the bottom. In practice, though, the task requires finesse and a teacher. Bring along an experienced friend, or take a panning lesson.

Any stream crossing the Mother Lode between Downieville and Mariposa has potential. Chambers of commerce in towns such as Grass Valley, Auburn, Placerville, and Mariposa have information on favored local spots. So do mining equipment stores. Stretches of foothill rivers run through private lands and, hemmed in by barbed-wire fences, are obviously off-limits. But gold panning is legal throughout portions of national forests, BLM lands, and many state parks. Some public lands have prior mining claims on them, though, so check with these Forest Service offices before you pan: Tahoe National Forest, (916) 265-4531; Eldorado National Forest, (916) 644-6048; Stanislaus National Forest, (209) 532-3671; and Sierra National Forest, (209) 297-0706.

North to south, here are good sites and resources for beginning gold panners.

North Bloomfield. Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park. Free weekend gold panning tours, $5 entry fee per car; (916) 265-2740.

Bridgeport. Rangers from Covered Bridge State Historic Landmark lead free panning tours on the South Yuba River; (916) 432-2546.

Coloma. Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park; (916) 622-3470. Pan where it all started (pans are sold at the park museum); $5 entry fee per car.

Placerville. Gold Country Prospecting, 3119 Turner St.; (916) 622-2484. Prospector Paul Bailey gives 3-hour lessons in gold panning on local streams. Cost: $40, $20 ages 5 through 12.

Pine Grove. Roaring Camp Mining Company, Box 278, Pine Grove 95665; (209) 296-4100. Four-hour tours on the Mokelumne River cost $15, $12 ages 10 and under.

Vallecito. Jensen's Pick & Shovel Ranch, 4977 Parrotts Ferry Rd.; (209) 736-0287. One-hour ($20) to 3-hour ($40) trips.

Columbia. Columbia State Historic Park. Matelot Gulch Mine Supply Store, Main and Washington streets (209/532-96993), rents pans (with instructions) for $3 to $5 a day.

Jamestown. Gold Prospecting Expeditions, 18170 Main St.; (800) 596-0009. Ralph Shock puts gold seekers in a re-created mining camp on Woods Creek. Family trips including lessons start at $20. Gringo Express Tours, 18169 Main St.; (209) 533-3399. One-hour ($15) to 4-hour ($60) gold panning tours.

Mariposa. What? You didn't find any gold? The California State Mining and Mineral Museum at Mariposa County Fairgrounds on State Highway 49 will show you what you missed. The museum is open 10 to 6 daily except Tuesdays; (209) 742-7625.

excerpted: 1995 Sunset


In Southern California, three historic gold mining areas lie within the state parks. Park headquarters at Red Rock Canyon State Park is on the site of what was once an important community in a region that produced several million dollars in gold, primarily in the 1890s -including one 14-ounce nugget.

At Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, visitors can tour the remains of the Stonewall Mine, which produced $2 million worth of gold between 1870 and 1892.

At Picacho State Recreation Area on the lower Colorado River, visitors can view Picacho Mill, the last visible remnant of Picacho, a gold mining community that boasted a population of 2,500 in 1904.

Calfornia Gold Panning

Try a little bit of the California gold panning experience right from your own home with our proven paydirt gold concentrates. Material is straight from the Motherlode in California and is loaded with real gold.


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