How To Pan For Gold

Many years ago I caught gold fever, I needed to cure this horrible affliction. So I began to pursue gold prospecting as a hobby. I bought a metal gold pan, (that's all that was available back then), and hit the road. My gold prospecting journeys took me out west to Arizona, California and even north to Alaska to old mining towns looking for gold deposits. I bought books on how to pan for gold, old gold mining sites and lost gold mines.

I did find some gold here and there, mainly gold flakes but never had a gold nugget in the bottom of my gold pan. I always thought my best bet was to go to areas that had been mined over a century ago, hoping the first miners left some small nuggets behind. If they did I never found any, not for a lack of effort though. It turns out I wasn't as good at panning for gold as I had thought. I did however, get much better after learning the proper technique for how to pan for gold. I also got much better at locating gold!

Gold panning's principle of action seemed pretty straight forward. Gold weighs heavier than all other material that will be in your gold pan, all the other material is lighter. So gold just simply sinks to the bottom right? Well, it's not as simple as I had thought. While, all lighter material comes off the top of your gold pan with ease, some materials such as clay and black sand are very difficult to pan. I have put together this article on "how to pan for gold" so you don't make the same mistakes as I first did. Even if you are just panning our gold paydirt at home, these tips can help you recover more gold.

What is Gold Panning?

gold panning

Gold panning is a process of sorting through the sediments of rivers using a specially designed gold pan, where gold is found. Generally, it is simply called panning. The method of panning has been used since ancient Roman days. It's incredibly inexpensive and quite an easy process, at least for an independent miner.

This is the main reason that it is very popular among geologists and gold prospectors who enjoy the hobby. Technically, this is a placer mining process. The places which are capable of producing gold come from what are known as placer deposits. You begin by dumping material and dirt from the riverbed that was removed from a gold bearing site in the pan, washing off the lighter material in the moving water the title of a sedimentary deposit.

How do People Pan for Gold?

In panning for gold from streams, first you need to fill your gold pan with dirt, gravel and small rocks from places where the current is slower, such as inside bends in the stream. (this is where gold will also have settled in the stream). Then completely submerge your pan in the water, and the mixture is thoroughly wetted and agitated in a circular motion. The lighter material on top is then poured off and the process is repeated until you only have gold left in your pan.

Enter Your Prospector Era by Learning How to Pan for Gold

Pan for your own gold to get gold fever. Follow in the footsteps of the early prospectors and spend your time by a stream or river with a pan in hand, searching for your own gold flakes and chunks. If done properly, panning may prove very rewarding. Even if you don't find any gold, at least you got off of your phone or tablet and spent some time outdoors in nature. Follow these steps below to learn how to pan for that glittering ore.

Basic List of Gold Panning Supplies

gold pan

Well, this should come as no surprise but you will need a gold pan. All types of gold pans can be found on the internet as well as in hobby shops. However, nothing fancy is required to begin. Today there are many different kinds of gold pans available to purchase. There are still the old metal pans, which we love to this day (just season it over a fire) and plastic gold pans with riffles designed to catch gold. The plastic gold pans come in a variety of colors with the most popular being black, blue and green. Black plastic gold pans show the gold the best due to the contrast in colors. Gold pans can range in sizes and shapes. Everything will work, whether it is metal pans or a plastic gold pan with or without riffles. DO NOT waste your time on getting a perfect size pan, although we recommend at least a 14 inch pan.

Another item you will need to purchase is a shovel. All you will really need to get started is a small hand trowel to scoop dirt and gold bearing material into your pan. Similarly, you should use a container for the gold particles to be placed. Some panners simply use an inexpensive glass vial to achieve these, but you could use anything with the exact same shape and function. A suction & sprinkling tube is available, called snifter bottles, which is a little plastic bottle with a nozzle on the end. This is useful if gold is too small to reach with a small finger it is often possible using this bottle to suck it from your hand. These can be purchased from Amazon at comparatively cheap prices.

  • Gold pan either metal or plastic

  • Shovel or small hand trowel

  • Snifter bottle to retrieve small gold

  • Glass vial to store all of your finds

Extra Equipment, Tools and Supplies Needed for Gold Panning

You should expect some wetting with cold water while mining gold. You'll be going through streams and low tributaries in search of your favorite spots, and you're likely to get very wet. If you can bend or kneel in front of huge rocks, you can keep your legs dry. But that's not a habit for many people. You might need to bring a chair or simply get dirty if you want. Mostly plastic versions are available online quite cheaply today.

Depending on your location and time of year, panning for gold can be a little cold. Therefore, you may need to purchase more than the minimum equipment needed to become a successful panner. You should start with a warm pair of socks, preferably wool and a good pair of waterproof shoes. Gold panning can occur on the shores of lakes or ice cold rivers. The feet must stay dry! The warmth of socks can help keep your body warmer. You may want to take it a step further and get a pair of rubber boots or rubber waders as a best bet. Be sure to always keep warmth and comfort in mind as you will be out prospecting for many hours. Warm cloths are a MUST!

There are also a variety of extra products and equipment you can add to your prospecting tools over time. Today there are more gold recovery tools available than ever before. There are gold pans, shovels, snifter bottles and glass vials which we covered. But there are a variety of other products such as buckets, classifiers (big sifters, and sluice boxes, as well as mini portable gold sluice boxes. I had just bought myself another sifter recently.

  • Warm Socks
  • Rubber boots or waders
  • Warm cloths
  • Bucket
  • Classifiers (different sizes)
  • Sluice box

All of the above products are readily available and are not incredibly expensive.

 Gold Pan

plastic gold pans

Panning is a simple method of separating particles of heavier material from lighter material (gold is especially heavy) of soil or gravels by washing in a pan with water. Panning with a gold pan is one of the simplest methods used by prospectors and miners for the recovery of gold and diamonds in placer gold deposits.

The gold pan originally known as the Batea is used to pan for gold, silver, copper, other precious metals, other minerals and gemstones in mining. Most gold pans are 15 to 24 inches in diameter, and 6 to 8 inches deep although metal pans can be a lot larger. The earliest ones wer carves out of wood and were used to pan gold nuggets, gold flakes, emeralds, rubies, and diamonds from river and stream beds.


A gold classifier, also known as a sieves, sifters, or screens is a must have for the serious prospector and go together with a gold pan. A classifier screens out big rock and larger organic material before you fill your pan and wash it in the river.They are usually designed to fit over most gold pans and 5 gallon buckets that most prospectors use.


Any 5 gallon plastic bucket will suffice. These can be purchased inexpensively at Home Depot, Lowes or on Amazon. They are used to carry your material down to the stream bed or river to pan. Remember to use your classifier on top of the bucket to screen out any big rock or sticks. Some prospectors however, such as myself, are concerned that gold flakes will be stuck in dirt attached to the rocks and like to classify their material in water.


Sluicing is another method of separating placer gold from sand, gravel and dirt by using running water to do the work for you. Sluices are narrow boxes of varying length, usually made of metal that water can pass through when put in a creek, stream or river. The gold is trapped in riffles on a mat.

You need to take care however when setting up a sluice. The angle you set the sluice at matters as does the flow of water. If the current is too strong or angle too steep, small nuggets and gold flakes will be washed right out of the box. There will be little or no gold left behind. If done correctly, once "dialed in" sluices save a bunch of time and will help you to recover even more gold! Modern sluices are small and light and some even break down to fit in your bucket or put on your back. Depending how far you are hiking into your prospecting location they still can get heavy over time.

Metal Detectors

The majority of metal detectors can locate gold. Some of them will perform significantly better than others. Due to its poor conductivity, gold can be more easily detected by metal detectors that operate at higher frequencies. It's important to remember that a metal detector is NOT necessary! We advise against investing the money. They can be useful if you want to search crevices easily or if you live in a dry climate like Arizona or Australia. However, you must discover a LOT of nuggets to make them worthwhile.

Basic Steps to Gold Panning

Below we are going to discuss the basic steps to gold panning. All steps are key to maximize gold recovery. Some of the steps may need to be repeated if trying to separate fine gold from black sand, for example. With a little practice we are sure you will be an expert prospector in no time.

Caribbean Gold Paydirt® offers gold paydirt bags for every level of experience to practice your gold panning skills at home.

How to Pan For Gold Ultimate Guide (Step-by-Step)

how to pan for gold in a creek

Gold panning isn't too difficult, but the more you learn the better you will become at prospecting gold. The more you learn, the faster you will become an expert prospector! Follow this basic guide to find more gold.

Choosing a Location for Digging the Paydirt

Find a place in a river that is sufficiently deep to completely submerge your gold pan fully. It is also essential for your location to be able to move water quickly enough to get rid of the muddy water that you create. If there's an area like this with an enormous rock in front of it, take a seat on this rock. You'll be much happier over the long-term.

After you find the perfect water, you have to find the place to dig your gold bearing paydirt. The two people probably wont be very far apart. Good gold places are usually close stream bed or up on an ancient stream bed above you on a hillside. The most effective place to pan is the portion of a river where water is deep and can easily cover your pan. If the currents are too strong then you will have difficulty working your pan. All gold weighs a lot, it is incredibly heavy as the rest of the rock and minerals on that stream are very heavy. It will need to be suspended in your pan once wet to settle to the bottom.

Fill The Pan With Material

Fill a gold bowl with the discarded dirt and wash it out. Do not fill the golden pan all the way down as it may grow too heavy and require too many minutes. Place a gold bowl with a little soil under water then add gravel to your fingertips. This is how we get floating materials from a pan and begin to get heavier material to settle beneath gold.

Classify Your Paydirt to Remove Large Rocks

Once the site is identified, and paydirt can easily be found it is time to fill your pan. The photograph above is where my classifier sits above my gold pan. I filled the classifier with material that was buried beneath an enormous rock. The classifier simply removes the rock. Classification is available with various mesh sizes. Those are 1 inch mesh, so it will screen anything bigger than 1 inch. It isn't necessary that you use the classifier but it helps keep large chunky rocks from the pan.

If you don't have a classifier take away all those large rocks that are visible by hand. Try dumping the dirt from the rocks into your gold pan as well, as gold may be in the dirt. Continue mixing with fingers to remove larger stones. Make sure you do not overfill your pan and it isn't too heavy to lift. By using that technique you will help lighter material stay in place at a higher level. Do not fear shaking the gold pan with force in order to settle the materials in your pan. Just make sure you don't spill your gravel before you wash.

Wash Out Lighter Material

gold pan lighter material

Now that your pan if filled, go to the edge of the stream to begin washing your gold bearing dirt. Make sure your plastic gold pan is sitting just below the waters surface to wash your dirt.

Start gently washing by rotating the pan backward and allow lighter gravel and sand to settle into the edges. Carefully swirl the material around in the pan. Make sure the riffles are on the front of the gold pan so that they can begin to catch the gold. Pour off the lighter material on top of the pan, by tilting the pan forward as any gold at this point has settled down further. Continue to move your pan in a circular motion and pour off the lighter material on top again. Repeat this process until only a few lighter sand materials remain in place alongside heavier black sands, and hopefully gold.

At this point you may there may be visible gold in your pan. Do not attempt to remove any gold yet until you completely finish to panning process. Depending on your location, keep an eye out for silver in your pan as well.

Pan Out Your Concentrates and Recover the Gold

There are different approaches to doing this. Panning can be done only by learning and with practice but if you have gotten this far, I bet you are already starting to develop your own method. As you continue to pour of the slurry mixture, you should be getting down to just a little bit of lighter sand left in the pan. Remember a typical pan has riffles on one edge which will help trap any gold and keep it from being washed away from the surface. Gold flakes should be visible in the sand at this point, if any is present. Continue the process until nothing is left in the bottom of the pan except heavy rocks (which may be garnets) and sand.

You may to need to pan slightly longer if black sands are present.

Black Sands

Turn the pan and shake the heavy materials in one direction. Then give the black sand another shake. Now gently sweep sand and lightly remove the top layer from the surface each time, using a circular motion. You can now observe small gold flecks on black sand. Some prospectors prefer to save these gold concentrates and pan the black sand home at a later time.

You may have to further washing panning the black sand in order to eliminate all of the material left in the concentrate. It is hard to panning the black sand in the water. I put black sand into small containers to carry with us home.


Shake the pan another time and remove the powders into the bottom. Continue swirling and removing the layers until all the gold is recovered. Take the gold out of your pan and put it in your vial! Congratulations you are now a prospector.

Start the process all over clean the rest of the gravel from the amazing site you surely found.

Best Places to Pan for Gold

Reality is that practically all of the USA has places where people can do gold panning. Everything all comes down to doing research and travel. There is a a fun, recreational gold prospectors association called the Gold Prospectors Association of American. They have some good info for the prospecting amateur from the US.

A number of mining claims have also been established throughout the United Kingdom and are available for members for an annual fee! We have now reached another major point about gold prospecting in America. Not all public land can be mined for gold. Occasionally state laws are strange between the water of rivers and the minerals underneath them.

Is There Gold Panning Near Me?

Possibly. There are placer deposit types of gold in almost every state. If you want to find gold in a river then do some online research. However, be cautious – gold has an immense value – and many such places are on strict private land. Prospect all you want but without trespassing. It is possible you know that gold is near by you.

Perhaps your grandmother used to tell you about finding gold in nearby streams when she stumbled upon it. My grandfather used to pick up pieces of quartz and gold in Connecticut. Maybe a neighbor town is holding a gold resource which has been hidden for a millennium. Who knows?

Find a Place to Go Gold Panning

It would be nice if there were a stream nearby you that contains gold. It is advisable to choose a location that produces placer gold. You may go out of your way to prospect streams you've not previously discovered. All streams, rivers, creeks or beaches of North America have once been tested by prospectors. Generally speaking you'll probably find nothing new, but most locations still contain gold.

It's best to look for gold wherever you are. In addition over time more gold is loosened and transported from the rock to the same creeks and streams that used to be mined in the past. Each rainstorm deposits more gold into streams.

What to Look for When Panning for Gold?

Gold prospecting is a very easy hobby to get into. It's ok to start with just one shovel and two gold pans. Other equipment I mentioned above can also be optional but they will only make you more of an an excellent prospector! Learning to hunt gold isn't as hard as some might think. So I put together a little information below so I could give you some good advice on panning for gold.

Where to Look for Gold?

Gold panning, also called placer mining, is an essential step in obtaining gold. Despite having valuable minerals almost anywhere, gold is scarce in the most detectable concentrations around the world. It's possible for you to find gold deposits anywhere in the world. Sadly they aren't all known. Many remain secret or live on leased properties. But it is not limiting you to finding places of your own.

You want to look for signs of gold in areas you prospect, like black sands, pyrite (fools gold) and small quartz, as these are all usually good indicators of gold being in the area. Garnets may also be present. Garnets often appear in colors including orange, pink and red.

Where Can I Find Gold Once I Have Identified an Area?

You want a river where gold has been extracted from placer mining in the past. Gold is brought to riverbeds by thousands of years of erosion from gold veins. There are generally many veins of gold higher up within the mountains. As gold is eroding slowly it can end up in riverbeds far from its source.

Look for both fast and sluggish moving water when prospecting in a stream or river. Over millennia, rivers have served as enormous sluice boxes, and gold has been placed in the river's slower-moving sections. the inner curves of the river where "pay streaks" of gold can accumulate. Wherever water movement is changed and slowed down by obstructions like boulders, big rocks, and logs or by watercourse contours, like bends in rivers, gold can be discovered.

Additionally, gold can be discovered at the confluence of two waterways or streams. It is in a region known as a "confluence zone." In these locations, gold has a tendency to accumulate as a pay streak as it recedes from the waters. Sand bars also impede the flow of water, which causes gold to drop out and accumulate there.

Turbulence and complicated rotations in the area where the rivers or creeks converge can cause the flow of water to either slow down or abruptly change directions. This will cause the gold to stop moving with the current and instead rest in a quiet area of the river. Additionally, search the bedrock along the stream or river for crevices and cracks because gold can get trapped there like riffles on a sluice mat.

Gold Panning California (CA)

Can a gold miner legally mine gold on public land ? Yes it's true! California gold is mostly found at state parks and rivers. It's possible to find your own little fortune! The gold rush began in California in about 1848. The gold rush took place when James W. Marshall at Sutter's Mill inColoma, California. Around 350,000 people had made the journey to mine there.

The rush lasted seven years. While they certainly took every bit of gold as possible, rivers in some regions of California still contain small amounts of these precious metals. Gold prospecting in Cali is overseen by land management.

Panning for Gold in Alaska (AK)

The Klondike Gold Rush in Alaska was once the biggest gold rush ever. Both recreational and professional, these miners and recreational miners are highly active throughout the summer. Recreational gold extraction is legal in most publicly owned Alaska lands.

You will need to do some research to find out what the area of interest is before you start. If it should be on private land and require legal permission, first get permission. Gold prospecting in Alaska: Use Area Dalton Highway to access a lot of Recreational Mining Sites.

A Note About Gold Pans

gold pan

All gold prospectors - both novice and experienced - possess gold pans as their gold prospecting tool. Until recently, prospectors had to literally used pots. The gold pan is usually made from a 12 inch or 14-inch plastic pan. These gold pans have been very popular for many reasons! As mentioned earlier gold pans come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Some are made from metal, while most modern pans are plastic. Some contain riffles and others do not. Some are spiral riffles while others are more traditional. Pick what best suits you and feels comfortable. You can always return it and try another. We are sure that you will dial in your own panning skills in no time flat!

Is panning for gold profitable?

Gold panning is quite an exciting and profitable hobby if you do well. First, you need to acquire skill to find the best way to find and mine gold. The better you learn the skill, the more chances you can uncover the mystery of gold panning.