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How To Pan For Gold

There's gold in them thar hills! Here's how to find it.


  • Step 1: Pick out any large, worthless chunks of rock and gravel.
  • TIP: If your pan has ridges on one side, tilt it in the direction of the ridges.
  • Step 2: Continue carefully submerging the pan with water and allowing lighter sediment to flow out, until only black sand remains. Any gold will be in and around this sand. Take the pan out of the water, leaving a little water in it.
  • Step 3: Tilt the pan slightly away from you, in the direction of the ridges, and swirl the water slowly to check for nuggets you can pick out by hand. Use a snuffer bottle or a magnet to separate the gold from the sand. When you're finished, place the gold in a vial.
  • FACT: A 54-pound gold nugget was discovered in Dogtown, California, in 1859.
  • Step 4: Don't get discouraged! It takes a practiced hand -- and a sharp eye -- to get the gold.
  • Step 5: Take the pan out of the water but leave enough water in it so you have a soupy-looking mixture. Tilt it away from you, and swirl the water so that the lighter gravel flows out over the edge of the pan. Level the pan, and shake it back and forth, then tilt it again and repeat. The motion will cause lighter dirt and rocks to come to the surface and gold to settle to the bottom.
  • TIP: Try to keep the material at the bottom of the pan still while you let the water wash off the top layer in the pan. Don't dump lighter dirt and sand out of the pan--allow it to flow out.
  • Step 6: Consider booking a gold prospecting vacation. The Gold Prospectors Association of America ("": arranges outings all over the U.S.
  • TIP: If you're thinking of prospecting in a national park, contact park officials to make sure it's legal.
  • Step 7: Get some equipment. You'll need a gold pan, a tool or shovel to loosen the earth, a scoop to fill the pan with dirt, a magnet to separate the gold from dirt, or a snuffer bottle, which sucks the gold particles out of your pan and into the bottle for safekeeping.
  • Step 8: Know where to look. Gold is found at the high water marks of rivers and fast-moving streams. Because it's heavy, gold settles wherever the water is forced to slow down, so look behind gravel bars, in moss, in and around rocks, and at sharp river bends.
  • Step 9: Start panning. Fill the pan about 3/4 full with sand, gravel and small rocks. Submerge it so that it is just under the surface of the water. Shake it from side to side a few times, but not so hard that any material falls out. Then, with the pan still submerged, rotate it in a circular motion, which will allow dirt and clay to flow out of the pan, while heavier material sinks to the bottom.
  • Step 10: Decide where to prospect. You can find gold almost anywhere, and in the U.S. you can stake a claim in about 20 states.

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