Panning for Gold—An Exciting Activity for the Cabin


I’m always in the search for more fun and exciting activities to do up at the cabin or off-grid property.

One activity that brings a whole new level of excitement for children from 1 to 100 is looking for treasure!  While your cabin probably doesn’t have a buried treasure nearby with a pirate’s map hidden in the attic, there may be treasure to be had.  Which is why panning for gold is one of my favorite ways to spend a relaxing afternoon at the cabin.  The sound of running water in the stream and the careful search for pieces of gold can be both calming and exhilarating!  So let me tell you all you need to know to get started panning for gold at your cabin.

Can I Pan for Gold at my Cabin?

The first question you need to answer before getting started, is can you actually pan for gold on your property.  The answer isn’t as simple as you might think.

Just because you own a piece of land does not mean that you own mineral rights to it.  Mineral rights have been sold separately from the actual property for year in many cases.  Believe it or not, if you find an oil well under your house, you probably don’t own that oil.  Whoever owns the mineral rights does.  And those mineral right could be owned by a government or some company.

That’s why you should contact your county and find out if the deed to your property includes mineral rights, or just surface rights to your property.

Fortunately, a lot of rural properties are sold with both surface and mineral rights.  Our cabin property, for example, was originally a mining claim which included both surface and mineral rights.

If you don’t own mineral rights on your property, you most likely wouldn’t get in any trouble for panning for gold in the stream.  But if you start to find much and word gets out, you could end up end up with someone else making a claim to the gold on your property.  So if you don’t own mineral rights, but you want to do some recreational panning, it’s probably safe to do so.  Just don’t make too big a deal out of it if you find something.

How Can I Tell Where the Best Spot is for Gold Panning?

The best rock for finding gold in is quartz.  If you have quartz on your property then it’s a good sign that there may be gold.  In addition to quartz, you also need water to pan for gold.  Traditionally, panning is done in a stream or river.  So if you have a stream running through your property or nearby on public land, then that would be a good place to try it out.

But, if you don’t have a stream you’re not out of luck.  You can pan for gold even if you don’t have water flowing through your property.  Get a big bucket or tub and scoop handfuls or shovel fulls of small pieces of quartz.  If you have bigger quartz rocks, you can even use a hammer to crush them up a bit.  Dump them into the bucket or tub and then fill it partway with water.  Then use your pan to scoop up rocks and water.  This is probably not as likely to find gold but it can still be a lot of fun, especially for kids.

Now, for the best places to look in a stream for gold!

Look for places where sand and small rocks tend to build up.  These are places where water goes from moving quickly to slowly in a short space.  Here are some examples.

  • River/Stream Bends.  Whenever a stream turns, the outside edge of the bend will catch a lot of debris.  That will include small rocks and sand that has been carried downstream.  This is great material to sift through when panning for gold at your cabin.
  • Logs and Debris.  For the same reason as river bends, down logs and other debris in the water can be great places to look.  Again, you’re looking for places where water has to suddenly slow down because that’s where the water will deposit the minerals that is has been carrying downstream, including gold.
  • Sandbars.  Sandbars are other places where water has had to slow down quickly causing it to deposit any gold that it’s been carrying.  Gold is heavier than most other minerals in the river, so whenever it has to slow down, the gold will be one of the first things to drop out.  Other minerals may be carrie downstream but the gold is most likely to stay behind.

What Stuff Do I Need to Start Panning for Gold?

It doesn’t take a ton of gear to pan for gold.  At the most basic level, you need a gold pan which will cost you around $5.  But if you want everything to help you have a fun and complete gold panning experience here’s everything you might consider.

  • A gold pan.  This is just a round dish with sloping sides that has ridges in it to help keep the heavier minerals in the pan while you swirl around the water and let the clay and mud float away.  They come in a few different sizes.  It’s nice to have a few, so I just buy them in a kit with everything else.
  • Screen.  It’s nice to use a screen to get the large rocks out before filling the pan with dirt.  The kit I like comes with a couple screens that fit over a standard 5-gallon bucket, so you can shovel the sand and gravel onto the screen over the bucket and just shake it to let the smaller stuff through.
  • Gold vial.  There’s nothing too special about this, but I like having a little clear vial to store my gold flecks.  It’s just a good place to put them and it’s easy to carry in my pocket while I’m out at the stream.
  • Snuffer bottle.  This is nice to use to pick up the gold flecks and get them into your vial.  It helps you not lose any, which would be easy to do if you try to pick up the little flecks with your fingers and drop them in.
  • Magnet.  This can be helpful for separating black sand and other materials from the gold.

I honestly recommend that you just get a simple kit like this one on Amazon that contains everything you need.

How to Pan for Gold

Some people make this really complicated.  The reality is that everyone develops slightly different technique and it just takes some practice.  Here are the basic steps for how to pan for gold.

  1. Fill up you pan 2/3 of the way with sand and gravel from the stream
  2. Submerge the pan in water, and use your fingers to separate everything in the pan.  You don’t want clumps of mud, so break them up.
  3. Turn the pan so that some of the ridges are on the far side and shake it left and right while under the water.  Don’t shake it so hard that the contents go over the edge.  The purpose of this step is to work the heavier materials to the bottom and lighter materials to the top.  Gold is heavier than most other minerals that you’ll find so it’ll work its way to the bottom.
  4. As larger rocks work their way to the surface, you can push these to one side and pick them out with your fingers.  If you used a screen to separate out the big stuff before putting it in your pan, you won’t need to do this step.  You shouldn’t lose gold in doing this because the shaking action should have worked the gold toward the bottom of the pan.
  5. Lift the pan out of the water and tilt the pan forward while shaking gently back and forth.  This will move the gold toward the front of the pan, still along the bottom.  Then lower it into the water enough that the water starts to sweep away the top, lightest layers of materials from the front edge of the pan.  Use a gentle forward to back shaking motion to help the water run back and forth over the water to carry those minerals away.
  6. Now level the pan out again and submerge in water.  Begin shaking left and right again to work another layer of light materials to the surface.  5-6 seconds of this should help separate more light materials.
  7. Repeat steps 5 and 6 over and over until most of the contents of the pan are swept away.  You will be left, in the end, with small specs of black sand, other heavy materials, and flecks of gold.
  8. Let some water into the pan and swirl it around to let the remaining materials spread out a bit.  Use a snuffer bottle full of water to gently spray the black sand away from the gold flecks.  Squeeze the bottle a little and then put the nozzle right up to the gold flecks.  Release your pressure on the bottle allowing it to suck up the gold flecks.  Tip the bottle right-side-up to let the gold fall to the bottom.  After you’ve collected all of the gold flecks from the pan, take the straw out of the snuffer bottle, replace the lid, and then cover the tip of the bottle with a vial.  Turn the bottle upside down and allow the gold flecks to fall into your glass vial.

Note: This article should not be construed as legal advice.  This article is for information purposes only.

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