How to pan for gold in rivers and streams

Written by morgan o'connor
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How to pan for gold in rivers and streams
19th century prospectors extracted gold dust from rivers by panning. (Getty Creative)

Panning for gold can be anything from a fun family activity to a career. All you need to get started is a river or stream and a gold pan. Gold is naturally heavier than almost anything else you'll find in these places, so as you swirl water in your gold pan, the gold will sink to the bottom and the materials with a lighter relative weight will rise to the top. After you wash all these lighter materials away, with a bit of luck you'll be left with gold.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Gold pan
  • Bottle or other container

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  1. 1

    Find a river or stream that potentially has some gold in it. You can do this online, by looking in books or by asking around.

  2. 2

    Put several handfuls of sand and small gravel from the stream into your gold pan. Try to collect this material from places that gold might settle, such as between larger rocks.

  3. 3

    Hold the gold pan underwater and gently mix the material in it with your hand to make sure everything in the pan gets wet.

  4. 4

    Keep the pan underwater and begin to gently shake it back and forth. Some of the smaller and lighter material in the pan should drift away gradually in the stream, but you shouldn't actually be shaking the material over the sides of the pan.

  5. 5

    Pull out the larger pebbles that begin to rise to the surface of the material in your pan.

  6. 6

    Continue shaking the pan and pulling out the lighter pebbles that rise to the surface until you're left with a pan full of sand and smaller bits of gravel.

  7. 7

    Lift the gold pan out of the water and tilt it slightly away from you, making sure the ridges are on the far side of the pan (the side that's closer to the stream when you tilt it).

  8. 8

    Gently shake and swirl the pan to let the materials in it begin to drift over the ridges in the pan and back into the stream. The ridges will catch the gold, which should be at the bottom.

  9. 9

    Once all the water has run out of the pan and carried some of the material with it, refill the pan with water and shake it gently a few times.

  10. 10

    Tilt the pan away from you again and repeat steps 8 and 9 until the gold pan is almost empty.

  11. 11

    Swirl the small amount of remaining material in the pan with a little bit more water. At this point, if there is any gold in your pan it should be clearly visible.

  12. 12

    Pull out the gold and put it in a bottle or other container so it doesn't get lost, then rinse out your gold pan and start over.

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