A Gold Mine Trail In California

A gold mine trail in California

The time between 1848 and 1855 in California was the gold-rush period. People from all over the world from China to Cornwall came to find their fortune, many did and many others did not. Gold mining in California left the area ragged and soon those populations moved on to find something new, but gold can still be found in the area if you have some luck and knowledge on where to look. We strongly recommend only using safe and non-intrusive techniques to look for gold and so this list covers ten fantastic areas where you can either pan for gold on your own or at a recognized national park. Whichever you choose, we wish you good gold luck!

1. Bridgeport South Yuba River State Park

Historic Covered Bridge in Bridgeport, CA at South Yuba River State Park 2
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user BenFranske used under CC BY-SA 3.0

Gold was first discovered in the South Yuba River at Rose’s Bar in 1848. The site is still open to the public to try their hand at panning, you’ll need your own equipment but no digging tools are allowed. There are gold demonstrations for newbies every Saturday and Sunday in the summer months, as well as plenty of events and historical activities so be sure to check online to see what is going on during your visit.

Bridgeport South Yuba River State Park

Address: Bridgeport, California 95946

Website: Bridgeport South Yuba River State Park

2. Downieville

North Fork, Yuba River, Downieville, California
Source: Photo by Flickr user Ken Lund used under CC BY-SA 2.0

Gold was first discovered in 1849 at the site of Downieville. Within just one year, 5,000 people had populated the site and 15 hotels were established. Whilst you’re in Downieville, be sure to take part in one of the historical tours to learn about gold panning and the local settlement, where some of them may allow you to experience the former firsthand.


Address: Google Map

Website: Downieville

3. Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park

Gold Tail Grange
Source: Photo by Flickr user Sarah Stierch used under CC BY 2.0

During 1848 James W. Marshall first found gold on the Southern Fork of the American River. This discovery led to the largest mass movement of people in the Western hemisphere. The original gold discovery site can still be seen today and when visiting you can take part in a number of activities including tours, walks and even a gold panning experience.

Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park

Address: 310 Back St, Coloma, CA 95613

Website: Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park

4. Coloma

Coloma, California street2
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Swampyank used under CC BY-SA 3.0

There are a few places to pan in Coloma but you’ll need to have your own equipment as they aren’t ‘experiences’ offered by a company. If you are camping at Coloma campgrounds then you have permission to pan at the areas main site otherwise you are restricted to panning along the northeast shore of the river by the Mt. Murphy Road bridge, which is opposite the park museum.

Panning in Coloma

Address: 6921 Mt. Murphy Road, Coloma, California, 95613

Website: Panning in Coloma

5. Columbia

Columbia California
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user [Unknown]

Want to see what life might have been like for those living in America during the gold rush? Well now is your chance by visiting Columbia in California. You can have a go at panning for gold yourself, see some of the traditional mining machinery and then grab a well needed drink at the Saloon. There are also plenty of events throughout the year in this historic gold rush town so be sure to see what is scheduled before you arrive.


Address: 11255 Jackson St, Columbia, CA 95310

Website: Columbia

6. Jamestown [Jimtown] 1849 Mining Camp

Gold Pan
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Nate Cull used under CC BY 2.0

Photo is only for illustrative purposes

This is perfect for first time gold prospectors who need a little bit of hand holding before starting out. There is a company called Gold Prospecting that offers a variety of tours, the three hour tour is recommended for beginners. Visiting Jimtown Mining Camp will be like stepping back in time to the gold rush era - you’ll soon feel the buzz as you see gold gathering in your pan or sluice box. Equipment is provided.

Jimtown 1849 Mining Camp

Address: 18170 Main St, Jamestown, CA 95327

Website: Jimtown 1849 Mining Camp

7. Angels Camp

Lightner Mine, Angels Camp, California, USA
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Mcgaffey used under CC BY-SA 4.0

Rich gold sites along the nearby Californian rivers led to many mining camps being established. Of course, as with so many sites, once the gold ran dry people soon left the settlements, with only a few struggling on. Angels Camp was once of those that struggled on and is now a fantastic place to live, work and explore. Gold panning opportunities in Angel Camp are led by Gold Rush Originals who offer both individual and group local tours with equipment provided.

Angels Camp

Address: City of Angels Camp, 584 S. Main Street, Angels Camp, CA 95222

Website: Angels Camp

8. Butte Recreation Area

Butte Creek CA.
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user US government

This area offers low impact panning without a permit and for free, but you’ll need to bring your own equipment. If you want to include sluicing then you’ll need to obtain a special permit which you can register for online. There are also plenty of trails to explore to find your perfect panning location!

Butte Recreation Area

Address: Google Map

Website: Butte Recreation Area

9. Malakoff Diggins State National Park

Hydrauloc mining remains at Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Commodoredudley used under CC BY-SA 3.0

Take a step into history at Malakoff Diggins State National Park, you can take part in a guided tour, enjoy the many hikes and walks around the site and enjoy gold panning in their designated zone for free!

Malakoff Diggins State National Park

Address: 23579 N Bloomfield Rd, Nevada City, CA 95959

Website: Malakoff Diggins State National Park

10. California State Mining

California State Mining and Mineral Museum - central gallery
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user California Depart...

There are lots of places in the Yosemites to take part in a bit of gold panning for the day. Our favorite hot spot is the California State Mining Centre where there are a number of attractions, including a museum and plenty of activities for children. The museum is California’s only ‘official’ collection of over 13,000 gems, mineral crystals and artifacts. The highlight is the “Fricot Nugget", a glorious 13.8-pound piece of crystalline gold found in the American River in 1864.

California State Mining

Address: 5005 Fairgrounds Rd, Mariposa, CA 95338

Website: Californian State Mining

Gold, gold! Always remember your soul!

Gold panning at Bonanza Creek
Source: Photo by user [Unknown] used under CC BY-SA 3.0

Nowadays we no longer are experiencing the gold rush, and in all honesty the mining techniques of those days left devastating scars on the landscape. But, there is still gold to be found by hand panning, and you never know, you may strike it lucky! So whether you choose to visit a designated spot in a state park or choose one of the independent locations on the list we’re sure that you’ll have a great day out.

Disclosure: Trip101 selects the listings in our articles independently. Some of the listings in this article contain affiliate links.

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A full-time global wanderer and volunteer. Strong compass leading to random and remote pockets of Earth; exploring jungles, abandoned villages and the open seas. Passionate about documenting on my...Read more

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