How To Pan For Gold (Beginners Guide)

by Chad Eicher

How To Pan For Gold

Gold panning has been a popular practice since ancient times, with the first known gold pan dating back to Mayan-Indian civilization. While the gold rush of the 19th century may have ended, there are still many places you can pan for gold – especially with this helpful beginner’s guide to the art of gold panning! 

But how to pan for gold?

We’ll explain everything you should know if you want to start panning for gold! Once we’ve explained this practice, we’ll discuss the necessary panning equipment and how you can pan for gold. We’ll also outline the best places to pan for gold and some helpful tips to get you started on your gold panning journey!

What Is Gold Panning?

Gold mining is a traditional type of placer mining, which is the act of mining streambed deposits for precious minerals. Placer mining dates back to ancient civilizations that used this method to recover minerals from various deposits. Gold panning entails using a specialized pan to extract gold from a placer deposit found in a river or stream.  

Gold is often found in the veins of fractured rocks. Over millions of years, gold flakes and nuggets are eroded from the rock’s veins and carried away by rivers and streams. However, since gold is much heavier than water, it settles on the bottom of rivers, lakes, and streams. Plastic gold pans are used to separate all the gold from lighter material. These gold nuggets and flakes are often mixed with sand and gravel, forming placer deposits. 

During the gold rush of the 19th century, many people sought fortune by panning for gold everywhere, from Alaska to California. While you’re less likely to find miners moving around the country wherever the gold takes them, gold panning remains a popular hobby – especially since you can pan for gold virtually anywhere! 

The best places to pan for gold are near streams or rivers – especially those where gold has been found before! Once you’ve found a suitable place or alluvial deposit in a river or stream, you can scoop the deposit into a metal or plastic pan and separate the particles by washing the deposit in your pan. 

What Do You Need To Pan For Gold?

While panning for gold isn’t very complicated, you’ll need the right equipment and supplies to find gold. 

Gold prospector with his pan in New Mexico 1940
Gold prospector with his pan in New Mexico

Supplies Needed For Gold Panning 

Since the best place to pan for gold is around water, you should expect to get wet and covered in mud! Due to this, you should wear shoes and pants that you don’t mind getting wet and dirty as you search for hidden treasure. Rubber or wading boots will help you better navigate the terrain while panning for gold. 

Equipment Needed For Gold Painting

Your most important tool is your gold pan itself. Ideally, you should purchase a pan with riffles. There are many metal and plastic pans to suit every budget. Gold panning kits are also available, the kits contain a gold pan and other required tools. 

In addition to your pan, you’ll need a scoop for picking up sediment deposits. You’ll also need a plastic snuffer/sniffer bottle, a two-in-one suction bottle that can store gold pieces too small for your fingers to catch. Tweezers will also come in handy when picking gold pieces out of your pan. Finally, you’ll need another glass vile or container to store larger gold flecks. 

Do Gold Panning Kits Contain Everything You Need? 

You’ll be glad to know most gold panning kits include a gold pan, a gold guzzler bottle (snuffer), gold vials, and tweezers. Some kits also have a magnifying glass and a manual/DVD to get you started! 

How To Pan For Gold (In 8 Simple Steps)

When done correctly, gold panning can be a highly rewarding hobby. After we’ve discussed the steps, we’ll explain how you can locate the best places to pan for gold.

➜ Step One: Collect Your Sediment 

Firstly, you’ll need to fill your gold pan with sediment. As a golden rule, you should fill your pan until it’s 75% full of sediment. Areas of a river or stream where the water is deep enough to submerge your pan are great places to start panning for gold. The water should also be clear so that you can see what you’re doing while panning. 

➜ Step Two: Break Any Clumps Apart

Once you’ve filled your gold pan with sediment, you can break apart any clumps or clay balls in the sediment. You can use your fingers in this part of the gold panning process! 

➜ Step Three: Submerge Your Gold Pan

You’re now ready to submerge your pan so that it’s underwater! The pan should be leveled flat in the water. By leveling and shaking the pan, you’ll cause the gold to settle on the bottom of the pan, while lighter materials will rise to the top of your pan. 

➜ Step Four: Shake Your Gold Pan

With your pan submerged in the water, you can vigorously shake the pan in a circular motion. You should shake your gold pan side to side and back and forth. As you shake the pan, materials with lower density will rise. Since gold has a 19.3 grams per cubic centimeter density, it should sink to the bottom of your pan. 

➜ Step Five: Release Topsoil From Your Gold Pan

You’re now ready to release the topsoil from your gold pan by using light circular motions. Ultimately, this stage will need to be repeated several times, arguably the most important part of the gold panning process. 

The dirt and sediment will come out as you move the pan around. You will need to repeat this process until only black sand remains in your gold pan, which is commonly left over when gold panning with alluvial deposits. 

➜ Step Six: Take Your Gold Pan Out Of The Water 

Once you’ve only got a small amount of sediment left in your gold pan, you can lift the pan out of the water to reduce the amount of water in your pan. You should use slow, swirling rotations to sort the remaining sediment. As you do this, you should watch for any gold flecks! 

➜ Step Seven: Collect Any Gold Flecks 

If you find gold flecks in your pan, you’ll need to put them in a container. While it’s possible to use a tweezer and a glass vial, you can also use a sifter bottle to suck up and store smaller gold flecks. 

➜ Step Eight: Clean Your Gold Flecks

Once you’re confident you’ve extracted any gold from your pan, you can clean your gold pan – you can now use it to clean the contents of your glass vial and snuffer bottle! You can empty your vial and snuffer bottle into your clean pan and clean the gold flecks. 

A magnet will help you separate black sand that may have gotten transferred with the gold. When your gold flecks are clean, you can suck them into a clean snuffer bottle before transferring them to a glass vial. As you keep hunting for gold, your gold flecks will start adding up in your vial! 

You should be patient when cleaning your gold flecks and nuggets. Handling your treasure too aggressively can damage the quality of the gold. Using a magnet will ensure that you carefully clean your gold! 

Check the best gold panning kits here

Finding The Best Places To Pan For Gold

Panning is a fantastic hobby because you can do it almost anywhere! The true first step is finding the right spot to pan for gold. Bodies of water like rivers and streams are fantastic places for gold panning. 

Much like the process of panning for gold, the flowing water in streams and rivers wash away lighter materials while denser gold flecks remain behind. The Colorado River is a great example of a place to go gold panning. However, inland areas like Northern Nevada are ideal for experienced panners with tools like metal detectors. 

There are many fantastic gold panning spots across America! Using these resources is a great way to help you avoid trouble. When panning for gold, you should avoid ending up on private land. There may also be mining claims in certain areas. You should thoroughly research areas before hunting for gold. 

Tips To Help Beginners Successfully Pan For Gold

It’s time to outline some helpful tips for beginners ready to start panning for gold. These golden nuggets of wisdom might help you find real gold nuggets or flecks! 

Practice Your Gold Panning Techniques 

The techniques you use when panning for gold will determine your success. You can practice your panning skills at home to ensure you use the correct method. To do this, you can mix fine bits of copper wire into some sediment. You can then use your panning kit to extract the copper from the sediment. 

Since copper’s density is even higher than gold’s, it will be harder to pan out of the sediment. However, if you can successfully extract the copper wire, you’ll be able to pan for gold. Overall, this is one of the best ways to refine your panning techniques at home and prepare to find the real deal.

Research Leads To Successful Gold Panning 

Since gold is a hidden treasure, it’s not always easy to find. Research areas before going out with your panning kit. Whether you live near rivers or in the desert, there are bound to be great nearby panning spots. It’s important to remember that panning can be done anywhere! You never know where you’ll find gold. 

While you can find popular local panning spots online, there are many great resources about the best places to pan for gold in the United States. However, there are also resources to find gold panning spots abroad in countries like Australia, South Africa, and Mexico.  

Understanding Geological Indicators To Look Out For 

There are many geological indicators that will help you locate the best places to pan if you’re serious about finding gold. For instance, rocks that are lighter than nearby rocks can be an indicator of gold. 

When panning for gold, you should stick to areas near rock contact zones. Gold and quartz are often found in these zones where two different rock types come into contact. If you’re panning for gold near rivers, you should pan farther upstream, where coarser gold is usually found. However, for those gold panning in deserts, the best places to pan are areas with moderate to flat slopes. 

Spend More Time Collecting Sediment Than Panning For Gold

The reason many beginners don’t have success finding gold is that they spend too much time panning for gold and not enough time collecting sediment. Many beginners are so excited to use their tools that they start digging anywhere. However, you’ll need to get down to the bedrock to collect sediment if you want to find gold! 

In many areas, you’ll be able to find exposed bedrock. There may be a lot of sand, gravel, and overburden covering the bedrock. Due to this, it will take some time and effort to reach the gold-bearing bedrock. Cracks found in bedrock can also be gold-rich areas. Gold nuggets worth millions were once recovered from a single bedrock crack during the California Gold Rush! 

Add More Tools To Your Gold Panning Arsenal

While you don’t need much equipment to start panning for gold, adding more tools to your arsenal will help you improve. For instance, some kits include a magnifying glass to help identify gold dust or flecks. There are also beginner’s pinpointers and metal detectors that can identify metals, including gold, which can help you find ideal panning spots. 

Metal detectors that use higher frequencies are the best for detecting gold. You should also purchase a pair of headphones to use with your metal detectors since this will let you hear tone variations while looking for panning spots. Wireless headsets should be avoided since they are known to lag, especially when used outdoors. 

How Does Gold Prospecting Differ From Gold Panning? 

Gold panning is a traditional method of gold prospecting. Prospecting refers to the general process of searching for new gold deposits. Dry-washing is another traditional form of gold prospecting. Modern prospecting methods include biological, geochemical, and geophysical prospecting. 


Ultimately, all you need to get started on your journey is a gold panning kit, some old clothes, and determination!

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Article by

Chad Eicher

Detectorist Chad is passionate about metal detecting since he got his first metal detector as a gift when he was 12 years old. He created Metal Pursuits to share his knowledge and create the ultimate metal detecting resource on the web.

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