How to Get Started in Gold Panning
Looking for a new way to get the family outside? Gold panning is an excellent hobby for young children, geology enthusiasts and anyone looking to spend some peaceful time outdoors. Although there is an art and a learning curve to the activity, gold panning is relatively easy to get started in; the materials aren’t expensive, and starting out doesn’t require long hours of practice.
Remember that this activity thrives on the honor system.
Anything found in state parks is technically state property. It’s generally okay to take flakes, but if you find chunks or nuggets, please show it to park staff. Check out the Bureau of Land Management for more guidelines.
Additionally, though gold panning is a relatively low-risk sport, remember to stay safe and protect yourself from the elements. Don't wade in fast-moving or high waters, and be sure to wear sunglasses and sunscreen!
Ready to give it a try? Follow these easy steps for your chance to strike gold!
1. Find Equipment
While some parks lend out pans, it’s easiest to purchase your own panning kit. Gold panning kits range from $20 to $50 depending on included materials. You’ll also want a shovel or a scoop, and instruction books are helpful in perfecting the process! Waders come in handy, too, especially as the water gets chillier. All materials are available at most outdoor stores and online, and we estimate a maximum of about $100 total in equipment.
2. Choose Your Location
There are plenty of beautiful creeks and streams that promise lovely experiences gold panning! One of our favorites is Castlewood Canyon State Park, but we also love Point Barr at Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area, Ridgway State Park and Roxborough State Park. Choose a creek or stream with calm, slow waters to ensure your own safety. Volunteer Randy Howell recommends digging in a creek near its bank and finding sand that is dark in color, even black. Experimenting in your local parks and finding the best location is a learning process - and half the fun!
Gold panning isn't quite a year-round activity; Howell's season usually ranges from June to October. Wading in freezing water isn't enjoyable! Also be sure to check with each park regarding water level and speed, which can vary throughout the year and can pose potential dangers.
Fill your pan with sand. This is the most physically trying part - dig in!
Check for large chunks or nuggets by placing the contents of your pan through the sifter and catching it on the other side with the second pan. It’s unlikely to find anything large enough to get caught in the sifter, so don’t be discouraged if it’s all rocks! Toss them away and go back to the pan of smaller particles.
Here’s the part that requires patience! It’s nice to find a place to sit, like a rock coming out of the water; otherwise you’ll spend a fair amount of time hunched over. Place the pan of sand barely in the water so that heavier pieces (like gold) will sink to the bottom and the sand itself will lift out over the edge of the pan. Allow it to drift out little by little, watching carefully. The process should be fairly slow - you don’t want to miss anything! Once you’re down to just one layer of the heaviest particles, look carefully for shimmering gold flakes. Many kits come with snuffers, tweezers and vials to help separate the gold and transport it safely.
6. Practice and Keep Learning!
Check out books, find others in the gold panning community, and focus in on your technique! The search to strike gold is an excellent excuse to explore the various creeks and streams throughout our state.
Whether or not you head home with a vial full of gold, you’ve spent time in the beautiful Colorado outdoors and interacted with nature in an activity Coloradans have participated in for centuries! Enjoy the scenery and relish the history. The riches are not in the gold but in the experience.