Alaska Gold Panning
Many rivers hold gold in Alaska
Gold panning is fun in Alaska and you never know what you’ll find. Unlike professional gold seekers, recreational gold panners benefit mostly from the adventure. The entire family can share in the fun of prospecting and gold panning. Fairbanks, Juneau, Nome, Chicken, and the McCarthy Area are good places to start. Basic gold panning equipment is quite simple and requires only a minimum investment. A gold pan is most important. Metal pans were used by early prospectors; modern versions are plastic with built-in riffles. In a pinch, frying pans and even hub caps will work. New metal pans generally come with a coating of grease and should be cleaned thoroughly by heating over an open fire. The pan will rust, but some rust is beneficial for collecting fine gold.
Gold Panning Equipment:
• Gold pan (plastic with riffles or metal); 14″ size is best. Plastic is better in cold water.
• Shovel to loosen gravel from creek bottom.
• Grizzly pan with 1/2-inch holes in bottom; this pan helps separate coarse gravel, speeding up the panning process.
• Magnifying lens (at least 10X power) to identify minerals.
• Sluice box, approximately 3 feet long; (construct or obtain commercially; aluminum version is available.)Gold Panning
• Tweezers for picking up gold; a dry finger will also work.
• Small magnet for separating out magnetic black sands.
• Small vials to hold gold.
• Rubber gloves to protect hands from cold water.
• Rubber boots to keep feet dry while wading in creeks.
Gold Panning/Mining Guidelines:
Here are a few simple guidelines that all recreational gold panners should know and follow.
Follow all national forest rules such as camping limits, discharge of firearms, use of trails, etc. These regulations are found in Title 36 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), with general prohibitions in part 261. Copies are available at Chugach National Forest offices in Anchorage, Girdwood, and Seward. Regulations may or may not be posted.
Four-inch or smaller suction dredges are allowed in salmon streams from May 15 to July 15 only with a permit from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
No hydraulic mining or use of earth moving equipment is allowed without an approved mining plan of operation.
Work only the active stream channel or unvegetated gravel bars. Do not dig in stream banks!
Recreational gold panning does not allow you to build structures, cut trees or dig up archaeological historical or paleontological objects. Nor does it give you the right to obstruct others in recreational pursuits.
The 1872 Mining Law, although amended several times, remains essentially intact. The law allows a person to locate a mining claim on federal land and to mine that claim. However, when certain lands are withdrawn from mineral entry, no claims can be staked there (although there may be preexisting claims). Any federal lands in the Chugach National Forest not covered by claims are available for recreational panning. Remote areas are less likely to have active mining claims.
Gold Panning Rights:
As a recreational panner, you do not have the right to keep others from panning. You can walk, fish, hunt, and recreate on a federal mining claim, but you must respect the claimant’s equipment and operation. The claim owner has an exclusive right to mine his/her claim. You must have permission from the claimant to pan on his/her claim.
Here’s a really good page on How To Pan For Gold.
How to pan for gold – Some basic tips:
The key to recovering placer gold from gravel is the weight difference which allows gold to move downward (concentrate) when agitated. The simplest placer mining tool for this purpose is the pan. Scoop some soil from the river bed. Totally submerge your 1/2-full pan in water. Panning may be done from a squatting or sitting position at the stream edge, in gently moving water, holding the pan between the knees.
Keep pan riffles pointed away from you to catch any gold that might slip over the lip. Liberal water, agitation, and patience are required to persuade gold to settle to the bottom of the pan. While the pan is submerged, break up any clots of dirt and wash any cobbles that may have clay that can trap placer gold. The clay has been removed when the water in the pan starts to clear. Pick pebbles from the pan to get them out of the way. Look for heavy pieces with unusual color or shape. You might find a gold nugget or a gold-bearing piece of vein quartz.
Hold the pan level under water and shake it with a sideways or circular motion. The gold will settle to the pan bottom. Occasionally tilt the pan, to let the sand-sized material wash out. Dipping the pan in and out of the water with a slightly forward motion while tilted, will wash lighter material away. Alternate underwater swirling and dipping until only a few spoonfuls of heavy minerals remain. When dark, heavy mineral grains (black sands) are present, the panning is being done right. Black sands may be a variety of heavy minerals including magnetite, garnet, scheelite, zircon, cassiterite, and platinum. If it’s heavy, keep it and seek identification from a geologist or miner.
Beginners are often impatient to find gold quickly. Take your time. During the panning motion, black sand and other fines concentrate in the crease or riffles of the pan. Gold can be separated from black sands by rolling water in the pan with a combination swirling and rocking motion. Lighter material moves to one side, gold stays put. For safety, do the final panning over another container to keep gold from being lost. Dry the fines. Use a magnet to separate magnetic grains and tweezers, a knife blade, or a dry finger to pick up small gold pieces. Save the gold in a water-filled vial.
Examine your gold. Rough, nuggety gold is near its source. Gold that is flat and smooth has traveled some distance from its point of origin. Flour gold has been flattened to a few microns thickness and will float on water.
Gold Panning is a relatively slow method for recovering gold. Experienced panners can process about 10 large pans per hour. A sluice or suction dredge can increase productivity. Good Luck.