The history, the scenery, the prospect of finding gold – there many reason to try out this fun pastime – and it doesn’t require a huge investment to get started. It may look easy but it takes some practice to get a good “slurry”. However, be forewarned – if you do indeed end up with gold in your pan, you might just get hooked. They don’t call it “gold fever” for nothin’. 🙂

NOTE: You aren’t required to get a permit to pan for gold. Gold panning is considered a “rock hounding” activity. However, gold panning is not allowed on CDFW owned land. It is your responsibility to determine whether you are on private land or a mining claim. Please be respectful of claim markers.

Equipment List

Recreational gold recovery is a lot of fun. Here’s a quick list of items to get you started on your panning adventure.

  • Black or green plastic pan
  • Tweezers
  • Small glass vial with lid
  • Shovel or other small digging tool
  1. Fill your pan about 3/4 full of gravel – picking out the larger rocks.
  2. Place it under the water and shake it back and forth. The goal is make a “slurry”, loosen the gold from the dirt and allow it to sink to the bottom of the pan.
  3. Start swirling the pan with clean water to get the dirt out. Add a little more water as you lose dirty water from the pan. Be careful to keep the gravel in the pan.
  4. Now with the pan tilted slightly away from you and dipped in the water, slowly wash out the lighter gravel from the pan.
  5. After a few swirls, level out the pan and shake it gently back and forth. This will help the gold sink to the bottom of the pan.
  6. Repeat this process until there is only about a cup of sand in your pan.
  7. Now the fun part! Put about an inch of water in the pan and slowly swirl it around looking for nuggets. If you find any, use your tweezers to put it in the glass vial.
  8. Repeat the process until you can retire to the Bahamas.

Explore more

Sierra and Nevada counties both have extensive mining histories and state historic parks. If you’re interested in learning more check out these sites. Some of them offer free gold panning lessons!

Empire Mine State Historic Park
Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park


Interested in learning more? Check out these resources:

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