Abandoned gold mines litter mountainous regions ranging from Georgia, where the first gold rush occurred in the United States, to the West Coast. Looking for gold can be exciting and rewarding but also dangerous because of cave-ins, gas leaks, radiation, rock slides, getting lost or disturbing dangerous animals lurking inside the cave.
Check with a local chamber of commerce and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). They most likely will be able to tell you about any restricted hunting areas or private property restrictions before going to the area you intend to explore. The chamber of commerce is a source for whether the area contains any radioactivity. The local office for the BLM can also tell you where old mines are located and whether they are open to the public. Generally, all streams and rivers owned by the Forest Service are fair game for panning for gold.
Tell someone where you are going and what your plans are. Although the miners and prospectors of the past are fabled as being secretive about their stakes and findings, the reality is that going into an abandoned mine is dangerous. Telling someone what your plan is and when she should expect to hear back from you afterwards will ensure that you put safety first. Also, give your safety person back home the numbers for local land management officials in case he does not hear from you.
Adorn your safety gear. Make sure that you pack extra batteries for your headlamp. Helmets should be worn at all times while in a mine. If there are lots of twists and turns in the mine, use a rope to help trace your way back. It's also advisable to carry rope in case you need to do some climbing while underground.
Examine the high use areas. If the abandoned mine that you are exploring has an old train track, then look for an area where the train might have derailed, as evidenced by broken tracks or a large mass of rocks next to or downhill from the track. Search through this area as there is a high likelihood of finding minerals scattered throughout the pile.
Pan for gold in nearby creeks, which might still carry trace amounts of the precious metal. Gold panning equipment can be purchased from a local mining shop.
Consider taking a Geiger counter that measures radioactivity in your mine as well as radiation from isotopes, which can be lethal in high doses.