Hunting gold is an enjoyable hobby and a rewarding way to make some money. While it can be difficult to find gold, technical advancements in metal detector technology put you way ahead of what the 49ers had to deal with. What do you need to know about hunting gold, and what equipment do you need to get started?
When hunting for gold, you need the right equipment and a gold-producing location. Metal detectors that are purpose-built for finding gold are your primary tool. In addition, you need to add a few key accessories and follow best practices for a greater chance of success.
Finding gold can be hit or miss, but if you know how to approach things, you’re much more likely to hit paydirt.
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You need to figure out where to go for hunting gold. If you don’t do some research, chances are you’re not going to find gold anytime soon. There are specific areas in the United States that are popular for hunting gold and these places should top your list.
If you know anything about the Gold Rush of the mid-1800s, recall that much of the gold found in the U.S. is and has been in the western part of the country. While that’s true, it’s not the only place you can find gold today.
Starting in an area where gold has historically been found is a great idea, and the prospectors didn’t get it all.
Here’s where Google sees the most interest on the search term “gold hunting” – My guess is that most interest is by locals trying to figure out where to go in the local area.
So, what parts of the U.S. are best to hunt for gold?
The northwest corner of the United States is one region where gold has consistently been found. In particular, the northern half of California through Oregon and along the borders of Idaho offer locations highly likely to produce gold.
As far as metal detecting for gold in creeks and rivers, one of the most popular areas to hunt for gold in the northwest is along the rivers of Idaho. Even though you can find gold underground away from rivers, many people choose to start close to rivers because gold nuggets are carried through streams, and streams lead to rivers. As gold-laden rocks are eroded away by the wind, weather, and water, smaller pieces break off and make their way downstream by moving bodies of water.
Popular areas for gold hunting in Idaho include the Coeur d’Alene River, the Snake River, and the Boise River. This is done by panning or sluicing for gold directly in the water
Many people stick to the borders of Montana and Nevada that line Idaho, close to the rivers and streams throughout the region.
Alaska: there is plenty of gold waiting to be found in Alaska. Large gold nuggets have been found in Alaska and in fact, in 1998, the largest one found in Alaska to that date was found in Swift Creek near Ruby, Alaska.
Other well-known places in Alaska to find gold include:
- Mores Creek
- Areas around Fairbanks
- The “Fortymile District near Chicken
- Anvil Creek near Nome
- Ganes Creek
California is one of the most well-known states for finding gold. California is full of recreation areas and state parks where gold hunting is both permitted and encouraged.
No matter where you are in California, you can find places to hunt for gold that are relatively close to you. The easiest way to find the best places to hunt for gold in California is by doing research, participating in online communities, and contacting local California metal detecting clubs. Since huge amounts of gold have been found in California for a long time, your search could very likely lead to success.
The southern region of Nevada is also popular for hunting gold. Areas along the border of Nevada and California are heavily visited by those on the hunt for gold.
Colorado is probably the most popular southwestern state when it comes to hunting gold. With moving bodies of water all over the state, there’s likely to be gold flowing throughout Colorado. In fact, one of the most popular places to search for gold in all of the United States is Clear Creek Canyon.
Though hunting gold takes time, patience, and a little bit of hope, Clear Creek Canyon is a beautiful area known for its gold supply. Even if you come up short in your findings, Colorado is sure to provide you with an awesome outdoor experience.
Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah are also full of places where you can find gold, though not as much as the more northern states.
Because of the gold rush, most people tend to believe most of the gold in the U.S. is located in the western half. It comes as a surprise to hear that there are opportunities to hunt gold in the southeast part of the U.S.
Areas along the Appalachian Mountain Range in Georgia, Virginia, and the Carolinas are popular for harboring gold. Georgia is said to be the southeastern state with the most available gold.
As long as you do some research on specific areas you’re interested in, you should be able to find success hunting for gold on the east side of the United States.
Clickable Map for Finding Gold
Here’s a great map resource for you to reference about where to find gold.
You should know tow terms regarding gold. In this article I’m talking primarily about “placer gold” as opposed to “lode deposits” so there’s the difference:
- Lode deposit – traditionally these are the veins of ore embedded in rocks and minerals which usually need to be blasted loose.
- Placer gold – what remains after a lode deposit is eroded over time by weather and the environment. The heavier eroded material (like gold) eventually moves down streams, creeks, or rivers. Another heavier material that moves with the gold is black sand. This black sand becomes an important visual clue to those hunting gold.
What Metal Detector Features Are Necessary for Hunting Gold?
With the advances we’ve seen in technology over the past several decades, metal detectors have become a go-to “weapon of choice” in the quest for gold. Metal detectors can help you find even the smallest pieces of gold. The key is arming yourself with one of the best detectors.
This choice becomes a balance between capability and affordability.
Since a metal detector will locate metals besides gold, you want to get one that’s purpose-built and optimized for gold hunting if you want the best chances.
When studying a potential purchase, try to understand the specifics of each gold metal detector before deciding what to buy. Since gold hunting means you’ll often be metal detecting in streams or creeks, you’ll want a waterproof coil and a detector that can be ground balanced to account for mineralization, especially in sandy areas.
There are two types of metal detector technologies useful for gold hunting:
- VLF gold metal detectors
- PI gold metal detectors
Very Low Frequency – or VLF – metal detectors are probably the most popular for finding gold. With enhanced operating frequencies, VLF machines can be designed to better detect tiny gold nuggets. This is important since you’re probably not going to find large pieces of gold during your hunt. Even detectorists who consistently find gold will generally find small nuggets.
Pulse Induction – or PI – metal detectors incorporate the other detector technology to consider when choosing your gold detector. PI machines can detect deeper into the ground with features that allow them to separate the detection of gold from other metals. Note that PI gold detectors are significantly more expensive than VLF machines.
Opinion: Best 2 Metal Detectors For Finding Gold (And Why)
Here are arguably the two best metal detectors for finding gold. One is a VLF gold detector, one is a PI gold detector. See the details below, and then see what other detectorists are saying.
The XP DEUS metal detector is a high-end, peak-performance VLF gold detector. Using highly efficient lithium-ion batteries, this detector will give you long-lasting, effective performance.
With a water-resistant body, you can hunt for gold in popular streams and even in poor weather conditions. The XP DEUS is equipped with an LCD to provide you with clear, advanced monitoring.
This gold detector also comes with standard headphones to increase your ability to hear and identify targets like small gold nuggets.
The DEUS website also notes:
- “S TELESCOPIC “stem can be stored away instantly and is much easier to handle than a straight stem with an integral handle
- A Coil, a Remote Control and a set of Audio Headphones, which are unique in that they communicate with each other via a digital radio link
- 35 Frequencies from 3.7 to 27.7 kHz
- 10 factory programs + 8 user programs that you can save
The Garrett ATX metal detector is a PI gold detector made with military-grade equipment. While more expensive than the VLF detector, the company website states
- Highly sensitive on tiny gold. Extends depth in the most extreme mineralized soils
- No need to switch modes to enhance detection of one target while degrading another
- Wide range to ground balance from saltwater to heavily mineralized ground (ironstone) without switching to special modes
- Excellent immunity in more severe EMI environments. Has push-button automatic frequency scan and selection to provide quietest operation
One of the biggest advantages of the Garrett ATX gold detector is that it can function in 10 feet of water. This is huge for serious gold hunters, as finding your way into rivers and streams can get messy.
But… What Do Other Detectorists Think?
I took a poll on Reddit and Facebook to see what other metal detector hobbyists thought was the best metal detector to hunt gold. Based on that 88% of the vote went to Minelab, Garrett, and Fisher.
As you can see, they chose the Minelab brand in aggregate. These are expensive, top-performing models and are worth the hefty price tag.
Now it’s your turn to research and choose!
Using a gold detector on your hunt is the first part, and you’ll also need some follow-up. These accessories help you sift through sand and rock to separate the gold nuggets and flakes.
Panning for gold has been around since people began hunting gold in the 19th century. It’s a simple process that only takes a little practice. Get yourself a pan made for gold panning and get to work.
Once your pan is full of material your detector alerted on or your sluice box left behind, gently dip the gold pan into the water and begin moving it around. Whether this involves shaking, turning, or any other motion, make sure to do it gently. As the water rushes around the pan, it will begin picking up lighter particles and emptying them out. Since gold is denser than other materials in the pan, it will stick to the bottom of the pan. I’ve linked to a useful video below.
TIP: black sand is a good sign when hunting for gold. It’s said that black sand is found with gold, but gold isn’t always found with black sand. A little cerebral, but a good rule of thumb.
If there are any gold nuggets in your pan, they’ll become visible as you swish the water around. Then you can capture them in a “snuffer bottle” (aka “snifter bottle”) which is a little squeeze bottle with a clever trap inside!
Gold Sluice Boxes
Using a sluice box is similar to panning for gold, except that it does the sifting for you. It contains a grated material made for catching gold pieces. You simplyset your sluice box in a river or stream and let the water do the sifting and stirring for you.
As the water runs through the sluice box, the grated material will trap even very small gold nuggets. Sluice boxes are extremely efficient and save you from panning too long since much of the gold is captured in the sluice box before panning.
This kit has all the pieces and is worth a look to see what I’m talking about.
You can see the whole process in this video:
Magnet Fishing for Gold?
Can you pick up gold with a fishing magnet? No, because gold is quite weak magnetically. However, jewelry made from metals other than gold can still contain gold items or be plated in gold! Magnet fishing will allow you to find jewelry and likely some gold.
TIP: a popular place to go magnet fishing is swimming holes where people jump in from low rock ledges. Many times, the impact of the water will cause jewelry to fall off and sink.
Tips for finding gold with a metal detector
- In rivers, streams, or creeks, check the inside bend of the twists and turns. This is where the water slows down and deposits heavier material like gold.
- Don’t overlook obstructions like large boulders, roots, cracks, anywhere that water swirls and stops. Where the fast flow slows down is where gold is likely to collect.
- If water levels are high, check those same areas after the water drops and see if any gold was deposited there.
- Quartz, areas with reddish iron material or mineralization stains, and black-colored sand could also indicate areas where gold is found.
You may find areas posted where others have discovered and claimed gold in the area. Pay attention to those postings, as they note someone else’s claim. Many times these postings will be on trees or signposts and will contain information on the claim, claim owner, and pertinent dates.
Searching for gold takes time and research. If you only want to spend a few hours at it, you’re probably going to come up empty-handed. Look for areas that produce gold, get the right equipment, travel there, and plan to spend a bit of time in-place.
Here are some of my favorite metal detecting items:
Thanks for joining me and reading the content I create for you. Here are some of my favorite metal detecting items, all from the basic categories you’ll need. These are affiliate links, so if you do decide to use any of them, I’ll earn a commission. In all honesty, these are the basic tools I would recommend to anyone who’s interested in the hobby.
Pinpointer – Pinpointers will help you home in quickly on target materials that your big detector alerts on. It’s a no-brainer accessory for metal detecting and can be used not only on dry land but most are either partially or fully submersible.
Can’t-miss metal detector – I like this model especially because it’s good on land and at the beach, is feature-packed, from a well-known and respected brand.