Oregon gold prospecting can be a fun weekend or vacation for everyone including families with young children. It doesn't take long to learn how to pan for gold and there are plenty of places in Oregon to do it.
It didn't take long for the 49'ers in California to inch their way north and discover that there was gold in Oregon as well. Gold was first discovered in Oregon near what is now the town of Jacksonville in 1851. It was found that many of the tributaries of the Rogue River had gold. Other areas in Oregon where there were gold strikes are the Klamath River and its tributaries, streams flowing out of the Blue Mountains and Wallowa Mountains in Northeastern Oregon, the John Day River Valley, the Brice Creek area near Cottage Grove, and Quartzville near Sweet Home. Commercial gold mining in Oregon still continues today.
With gold prices over $1000 an ounce, recreational gold prospecting is becoming a serious hobby for many. Much of Oregon gold is of a very high grade and it has been estimated that only 20% of it has been mined to date.
Every year the streams and rivers rise from the winter rains and wash more soil over the rocks in the river beds. Gold is heavy. Gold sinks. In places where the water slows down or changes direction, gold lodges itself in the crevices and crannies, mixes in with the dirt and gravel, and stays there just waiting for someone to find it. In the spring and summer the water levels go down again. Along the banks where the water has been and where the gravel, dirt, and rock has collected, is where you look for gold.
I grew up in Jacksonville, Oregon. Oregon gold prospecting was just something my family did. My uncle had a mining claim up the Little Applegate River. For several years we lived in a house beside a creek. During the long summer vacations I would entertain myself sometimes by taking our gold pan down to the creek and trying to find some gold. I usually found at least some flakes but it was hard work and I seldom perservered for long. Gold was there. I knew it was there.
It was on this property that my father and uncle mined during one year of the Great Depression. They took out enough gold, and the price of gold was not that high at that time, to pay the bills during a time when they were both jobless.
You don't need much gold panning equipment to pan for gold - a shovel and a pan. The old prospectors used metal pans and you can also. Today they also come in plastic in bright colors and they have little ridges called "gold catchers" in them. I don't think you need the "gold catchers" but the plastic pans might be a little easier to handle. You can also get small gold pans which are usually used just for the last stages of flushing out tiny gold flakes. The small ones are good for children to use.
Oregon gold prospecting can be done on lots of streams and rivers. It is best to go where you know gold has been found before. That doesn't mean you couldn't find gold in a new place - a new lucky strike, but you could spend an awful lot of time looking. There are places set aside by the United States Forest Service and by the Bureau of Land Management where you can pan.
It is best to go to the USFS station in the area where you plan to prospect and get specific up-to-date information from them. I am including a list of these stations which are in gold mining areas. The places where you can prospect can change. You don't want to get into trouble for prospecting on a someone's mining claim.
|See Where to Go for Oregon Gold Panning|
You put a shovel full of dirt, rock, and gravel into your pan. Then you tip the pan towards the water and let a little water into you pan. Tip the pan back and forth just a little bit. Let the dirt and large rocks wash out of the pan. Watch to make sure one of those large rocks is not a nugget! As the soil and rocks wash out you are left with a smaller amount of sand and grit in the bottom of the pan. Slowly roll your pan and watch for "color". The gold stands out and you can see it. Carefully wash out the debris and let it slide over the edge of your pan, keeping the gold in the pan until that is mostly all you have left. Don't turn up your nose at flakes. A whole bunch of flakes can add up.
The gold found by panning is called placer gold. Another way of finding it is to clean out the crevices and crannies under or between rocks on the dry bank of the stream. Gold nuggets will get caught in these places.
My family used to go fishing on the Little Applegate River outside of Jacksonville. There was one place where we often went where there were thousands of little gold pieces all through the sand. It looked like gold. Of course, it wasn't. It was some kind of micha. So if you find a place where it looks like someone's gold bag sprung a leak, don't start thinking you've found your fortune. What you have found is called FOOL'S GOLD.
Other methods for Oregon Gold Prospecting use a sluice box or a dredge. Even a recreational gold prospector can use a small dredge. Some areas are closed to dredging and you can get this information from the U. S. Forest Service.
If you decide to become serious about Oregon gold prospecting as more than a vacation-time activity, there are clubs you can join where you can learn about methods and places to prospect.
Enjoy Oregon Gold Panning! I hope you find your fortune, if not in gold, then in the fun you had.