Is Metal Detecting Legal? (Laws by State)

by Chad Eicher

is metal detecting legal?

It can be disappointing to find out you are not legally allowed to use a metal detector on a property even though there were no signs or notices. Of course, you could assume that all open ground is fair game, but each state has laws deciding whether metal detecting is legal.

Metal detecting is legal in Alaska and Michigan. Metal detecting is permitted with restrictions in Vermont, New Hampshire, Virginia, Washington, and Oregon. Detecting with several conditions allowed in Ohio, Iowa, Florida, Colorado, and Arkansas. Other states restrict or prohibit it outright.

The restrictions and regulations around metal detecting can change from time to time, so always call and make sure the stated rules are still in effect. Let’s look at where metal detecting is legal. 

Contents

Where Can I Go Metal Detecting Legally?

It’s not possible to go metal detecting anywhere you like. Many open land areas are owned by the state, county, or private individuals. 

Even though beaches are public spaces, some states and counties impose a permit system that authorizes you to use a metal detector to find treasure without the risk of a fine. 

Places where you can legally go metal detecting:

Specific public saltwater beaches – Unless otherwise specified via a noticeboard

Areas under the Federal Bureau of land Management – the exception is historical sites

National forests – unless otherwise specified via a notice board

Freshwater lake beaches – unless closed off for a season 

Counties –  Many counties have no restrictions on metal detecting

Where Can I Go Metal Detecting Without Permission?

You can go metal detecting on any public land without permission unless there is a specific sign restricting it. Prospecting, soil disturbance, flora disturbance, historical sites, or if there is a danger to a person could be reasons. 

Dangers can include:

Old mineshafts

Falling rocks

Marshlands or quicksand 

Landmines or war-era explosives buried in the ex-military ground 

Where Do I Need Permission To Go Metal Detecting?

Defunct Amusement Parks

Defunct Outdoor Theaters

Resort Areas

Railroad Lands

Ghost Towns

Civil & Revolutionary Battlefields

Homesteads

Private Lakes and Beaches

As a side note – never go metal detecting in cemeteries or around the perimeter of a graveyard. It may come across as disrespectful to the dead and their families. 

➜ Check here the best places to go metal detecting

How To Get Permission From Landowners To Go Metal Detecting?

 One golden rule of metal detecting is never to enter private property without permission. There is a simple procedure to follow; usually, the owner will be agreeable. You can follow these suggestions:

  1. Determine the property owner, and try to get a phone number or email address – you can use several metal-detecting apps that show who the owners are
  2. Make contact with the owner and ask for an appointment
  3. Arrive on time and never take your gear with you
  4. Explain to the owner what your intentions are and if they have any objections
  5. Show them your equipment, and if the owners want a percentage of what you find, the good idea is to draw up a simple Memorandum of Agreement, and both parties sign
  6. Stick to the rules and respect the landowner’s wishes
  7. Always leave the property in the way you found it
  8. Declare the treasures you found to the owner unless they are uninterested

Metal Detecting Laws By State

Metal detecting in different states is divided into seven categories where the legal aspects are concerned. We can look at states across the seven categories and the best way to legally detect metal in each state. 

Michigan – Metal Detecting Legal

The state laws for Michigan are as follows.

Public Property And Lands

Metal detecting in public areas is allowed, provided there is no damage, digging, or disturbing of the natural environment. When metal detecting in public places, the following items are protected and may not be collected:

  • Beads
  • Baskets
  • Arrowheads
  • Horseshoes
  • Old glass bottles
  • Grinding stones
  • Money or coins older than 100 years

Historic Sites Or Land

Historical sites are not open to metal detecting in any way. Several areas fall under this section:

  • Mining areas or abandoned mines
  • Ranches
  • Ghost towns
  • Sawmills 
  • Gravesites
  • Railroads
  • Trail traces

National Forest And State Parks

You can use a metal detector in any national forest or state park where there is development. National parks demarcate areas where metal detecting is prohibited. Where there are archeological findings, for example. 

The only thing you may not do is disturb the natural environment. That includes digging holes or excavating areas, displacing flora, or moving any object of historical or archeological significance.

Vermont – Metal Detecting Legal With Declaration 

The state laws for Vermont are as follows.

Public Property And Lands

You can use a metal detector in most public places in Vermont as long as it is a hand-held unit and not on wheels or dig holes larger than 3-inches long. If you dig, you need to refill the pits immediately after.

The only objects that may not be removed are man-made objects older than 100 years to preserve history. This law applies to public land.

Private Land

Metal detecting on private land must be done with the authorization or permission of the rightful owner in writing. It must be carried on the person at all times. 

Historic Sites Or Land

Metal detecting on historical lands is prohibited. This will include sites like:

  • Abandoned towns
  • Gravesites
  • Monuments
  • Active archeological sites

National Forests Or Parks

You can go metal detecting in most national parks or forests as long as they are open and if there are developed areas nearby. There are only a few places where metal detecting is prohibited, like in many other states.

Metal detecting for gold is considered prospecting, and you will need a prospecting license. Still, gold or silver coins may be collected. Any archeological discoveries remain the property of the state. 

New Hampshire – Metal Detecting Legal With Declaration 

The state laws for New Hampshire are as follows.

Public Property And Lands

Metal detecting in New Hampshire is legal if you declare your intentions to the relevant authority or governing body. The following places should be avoided when metal detecting on public lands:

  • Earthwork sites
  • Burial sites that are not enclosed

Metal detecting is legal in public parks and is seen as a recreational activity.

Private Property

Metal detecting on private property is legal only with written permission. You are not allowed to use a metal detector on any property belonging to a Trust without all members’ consent.

National Forest And State Parks

You will need authorization to use a metal detector in national forests and state parks. Disturbing and disrupting the natural environment and any prehistoric and historic sites is unlawful.  

If you uncover anything older than 100 years, do not remove it from the place you find it and inform the relevant authorities of its discovery. 

Maine – Metal Detecting Legal With Several Restrictions 

The state laws for Maine are as follows.

Public Property And Lands 

Metal detecting in Maine is regulated by ARPA or the Archeological Resources Protection Act, like in every state in America. You need to get written permission or a permit. 

Main is tough on metal detecting, and you cannot use a metal detector on public property or land without a permit. Historical objects older than 100 years may not be removed. 

Private Property 

Authorities such as ARPA do not control or regulate metal detecting on private property. You would still need to get written permission from the landowner. 

National Forest and State Parks 

Using a metal detector in Maine’s national forests or state parks is strictly prohibited. 

West Virginia –  Metal Detecting Illegal

The state laws for West Virginia are as follows.

Public Property And Lands – Including Beaches 

The only places you are allowed to use a metal detector are on certain public lands like lake beaches or parks unless there is signage that prohibits it. 

Although metal detecting is not illegal in itself, the state parks and national forests in WA do not allow any disturbance of natural habitat. So even if you find something, you may not dig it up. You can use a metal detector only where there is development, such as picnic sites.

Private Property 

If you plan to use a metal detector on private land, you must get written permission from the landowner. 

California – Metal Detecting Legal / Excavating Objects Illegal

The state laws for California are as follows.

Public Property And Lands – Including Beaches 

Many Californian counties outright prohibit metal detecting unless you have a permit. The counties where it is legal have strict laws against digging for objects that may be of historical value.

The general feeling is that metal detecting goes hand in hand with prospecting. You will find that you may need a metal detecting and prospecting permit to dig up the treasure. 

When you find any object on a mining rights property, you must leave it undisturbed and report it to the relevant authorities. 

National Forest And State Parks 

Using a metal detector in any of the Californian national parks is illegal. The idea is that metal detecting leads to discovery, discovery leads to digging, and digging leads to the destruction of habitats. 

You may get permission from the national parks’ superintendent to use a metal detector in California, but you may not dig without permission. 

Private Property 

You must get the owner’s permission if you want to metal detect on private property. 

New York –  Metal Detecting Legal With A Permit

The state laws for New York are as follows.

Public Property And Lands 

Although New York allows metal detecting with a permit, it has many by-laws and regulations that govern how, where, and when you can use a metal detector. 

When you find any object of significant value in a public park or area, you must report it to the Urban Park Service within 48 hours. They will decide whether to retain it or you may keep it.

If you find jewelry inscribed on or inside, you must hand it to the Parks department. They will give it to the NYPD to attempt to find the owners. 

If any Park official stops you, you must show everything you discovered while metal detecting.

If you locate an object, you may only use hand-held tools to dig and, upon extraction, return the soil to eliminate evidence of digging. 

Digging is prohibited in the following areas:

  • 25ft from the tree drip line
  • Athletic fields
  • Newly seeded lawns 
  • Memorial tree planting areas
  • Manicured lawns
  • Golf courses
  • Flower beds
  • Monuments
  • Areas with native vegetation
  • Woodlands

National Forest And Parks

Metal detectors are allowed in areas where there is development. Digging and disturbing the natural environment is prohibited. 

Illinois – Metal Detecting Legal – Specified Areas With A Permit

The state laws for Illinois are as follows.

Public Property And Lands 

The only places you are allowed to use a metal detector are on certain public lands like lake beaches or parks unless there is signage that prohibits it. In Illinois, the requirement is to get a permit from the relevant authorities before you may use a metal detector.

National Forests And State Parks

You can metal detect in areas where there is development, such as picnic sites. Still, you may not dig and disturb the natural habitat.

Public Beaches And Shoreline

The use of metal detectors on the beaches is permitted unless specific signage or fencing restricts it. If you dig, the expectation is that you leave the site as you found it. 

Any treasure or artifact older than 100 years belongs to the state and should be handed over. 

Texas – Metal Detecting Illegal 

The state laws for Texas are as follows.

Public Property And Lands 

Metal detecting is prohibited in any city, county, state property, or land. Artifacts may not be removed, and you may not use a metal detector to locate treasures in abandoned towns or buildings. 

Some cities like Houston may allow metal detecting in a park. The person must pay for a permit before treasure hunting. In addition, Texas is known to impose hefty fines for people who break city by-laws. 

National Forests And State Parks 

The only place in Texas where metal detecting is allowed on Federal land is inside the national forests. Still, it is restricted to recreational metal detecting and rock collection only. 

For recreational metal detecting, you should check with the park ranger’s office to get clarity on their requirements.

You can use a metal detector around lake beaches inside the national forests. Still, it may not be disturbed if you find an object with archeological significance. Report the finding to the relevant office. 

Private Property 

You have to get the landowner’s permission to use a metal detector on private land. 

Native American Land 

You may use a metal detector on Native American lands or reservations, provided you get written permission from the leaders or chiefs. 

When using a metal detector on reservations, follow the rules and respect burial sites and important ritual sites. Do not remove any artifact or finding but report it to the leadership.

State Beaches 

Using a metal detector on state beaches is permitted but with the restriction of removing any findings. Digging on state beaches is prohibited.

Florida – Metal Detecting Legal In Places –  Permit Required 

The state laws for Florida are as follows.

Public Property And Lands 

Using a metal detector on public property is allowed. This includes public beaches and parks unless expressly prohibited through signage or fencing. 

Federal Lands – Including Federal Beach Areas 

Metal detecting is prohibited in Federal land areas, including national parks, beaches, and lake shores identified under Federal protection. You may not enter any of these areas or zones with a metal detector in your vehicle or any tools for excavation. 

National Forest And State Parks 

You may use a metal detector in the state parks in Florida with a permit, and this includes areas of beach or lake shorelines. Metal detecting and digging are prohibited on archeological sites.

All findings must be declared to the state parks office, which may confiscate any previously reported stolen or lost item.

Anyone wanting to use a metal detector must identify themselves to the office and present their permit. 

Failure to apply for a metal detecting permit will result in a fine and the confiscation of the equipment from an individual. The park officials may ban the individual from ever entering the areas again.

Florida Counties 

Certain counties like Orange County requires permits for metal detecting. The issuing of the license comes with some requirements as follows:

  • No trailblazing is allowed
  • No metal detecting in prohibited areas
  • The natural environment must not be disturbed
  • No metal detecting in wetland areas
  • No harassment of wildlife is permitted
  • The killing of wildlife is prohibited
  • No metal detection within 1000 yards of homes or commercial industries
  • No metal detecting in construction areas or private land adjacent to the park

Any violation of the regulations and rules will ban the individual from using a metal detector for up to 12 months in Orange County.

City Limits 

Every city in Florida has different rules and regulations regarding using metal detectors. The rules may be any number of restrictions, such as:

  • No metal detecting of landscaped areas and plant beds
  • No metal detecting on golf courses
  • No metal detecting on manicured lawns 
  • No metal detecting 10 ft on either side of any walking trail
  • No metal detecting in groups
  • No digging allowed in city parks
  • The individual must carry their metal detecting permit at all times

Pennsylvania – Metal Detecting Legal With Several Restrictions 

The state laws for Pennsylvania are as follows.

Public Property And Lands 

Metal detecting is allowed but restricted to specific days. For example, labor day and Memorial day, when many activities are planned, and metal detecting can interfere with attendees. Certain counties require permits for metal detecting.

National Parks And Forests 

Recreational metal detecting is allowed in most state parks but restricted to certain areas, and archeological sites are off-limits. Digging is not permitted if it disturbs any trees or plants. 

Public Beaches And Shoreline

The use of metal detectors on the beach is permitted unless specific signage or fencing restricts it. If you dig, the expectation is that you leave the site as you found it. 

Collect any trash you find and dispose of it in the bins provided. Any treasure or artifact older than 100 years belongs to the state and should be handed over. 

Oregon – Metal Detecting Legal With Certain Restrictions 

The state laws for Oregon are as follows.

Public Property And Lands 

Metal detecting in Oregon is legal and can be enjoyed in most public places, including beaches, without a permit. Only a few areas require a permit for metal detecting. 

National Parks And Forests 

You can use a metal detector in national forests and state parks. You must adhere to whatever restrictions are imposed. Sites of historical or archeological value may not be disturbed, and digging in certain areas is prohibited. 

Public Beaches And Shoreline

The use of metal detectors on the beach is permitted unless specific signage or fencing restricts it. If you dig, the expectation is that you leave the site as you found it. 

Collect any trash you find and dispose of it responsibly. Any treasure or artifact older than 100 years belongs to the state and should be handed over. 

Under federal law, shipwrecks off the coast are protected as archeological sites and may be explored but not disturbed. 

Virginia – Metal Detecting Legal 

The state laws for Virginia are as follows.

Public Property And Lands 

Metal detecting in Virginia is legal and can be enjoyed in most public places, including beaches, without a permit. Only a few places require a permit for metal detecting. 

National Parks And Forests 

You can use a metal detector in national parks and forests, but you must adhere to whatever restrictions are imposed. Sites of historical or archeological value may not be disturbed, and digging in certain areas is prohibited. 

City Parks And Lands 

Many Virginia cities do not allow metal detecting to maintain a pristine landscaped and accessible area. Suppose you are found with a metal detector in restricted or prohibited areas. The city official or police officer may give you a fine and confiscate your equipment. 

Rhode Island – Meal Detecting Legal – Certain Restricted

The state laws for Rhode Island are as follows.

Public Property And Lands 

Metal detecting in Rhode Island is legal but with several restrictions imposed. With a permit, metal detecting can be enjoyed in public places, including beaches. 

National Parks And Forests 

You can use a metal detector in national forests and state parks, but you must adhere to whatever restrictions are in place. Sites of historical or archeological value may not be disturbed, and digging in certain areas is prohibited. 

Public Beaches And Shoreline

Using metal detectors on the beach is permitted unless specific signage or fencing restricts it. If you dig, the expectation is that you leave the site as you found it. 

Collect any trash you find and responsibly dispose of it. Any artifact older than 100 years belongs to the state and should be handed over. Coins with an estimated value of $25 may be kept.

Under federal law, shipwrecks off the coast are protected as archeological sites and may be explored but not disturbed. 

Idaho – Metal Detecting Legal Only With Permits 

The state laws for Idaho are as follows.

Public Property And Lands 

Metal detecting in Idaho is legal but has several restrictions in place. However, it can be enjoyed in most public places, including lake shores or beaches, with a permit. 

Certain counties have their own regulations and cost per permit, and the licenses can be seasonal, yearly, or for ten years. 

National Parks And Forests 

You can use a metal detector in national parks and forests, but you must adhere to whatever restrictions are imposed. Sites of historical or archeological value may not be disturbed, and digging in certain areas is prohibited. 

Any coins older than 100 years must be handed in at the park office.

Nevada – Metal Detecting Legal But Severely Restricted 

The state laws for Nevada are as follows.

Public Property And Lands 

Metal detecting in Nevada is allowed but has several restrictions in place. It can be enjoyed as a recreational activity in most public areas, including lake shores, streams, or freshwater beaches, but with a permit. 

National Parks And Forests 

You can use a metal detector in national parks and forests, but you must adhere to whatever restrictions are imposed. Sites of historical or archeological value may not be disturbed, and digging in certain areas is prohibited. 

Any coins older than 100 years must be handed in at the park office

You may not possess or transport a metal detector in areas with natural or cultural resources. 

Governing Bodies 

Governing Agency For National Forests – USDA – National Forest Service

Governing Agency For Public Lands And Places  – Bureau of Land Management 

Governing Body For Natural Or Cultural Resources – Bureau Of Reclamation 

National Archives – Code of Federal Regulations

Governing Regulations – Conservation – Archeology Resources Protection   

FAQs

Do I Need Insurance For Metal Detecting?

Private individuals are not legally required to have insurance. 

In the event of a 3rd party liability issue, it is a good idea to have comprehensive insurance against any event. 

Is It Illegal To Use A Metal Detector In A Public Park?

It is not illegal to use a metal detector in a public park. Some states have restrictions, but it will be displayed on signage.

If you find an artifact older than 100 years in a public park, keeping it is illegal, as per the Antiquities Act

Is Metal Detecting Legal On Beaches?

Metal detecting is legal on most saltwater and freshwater beaches unless restricted explicitly by signage or fencing.

Metal detecting on Federal or Military shorelines is strictly prohibited. 

Is Metal Detecting Legal In The United Kingdom?

Metal detecting is legal in the United Kingdom except on historical sites, private property, and military lands. 

You must get written authorization to use a metal detector on private property and private access pathways.

It would be best to have comprehensive public liability insurance when using a metal detector in the United Kingdom. Also, significant historical findings cannot be claimed but must be reported. 

Conclusion

Even though each state that allows the use of metal detectors may have similar regulations. It is always best practice to contact the most appropriate governing body or local authority. Being a responsible treasure hunter is the best way to enjoy this recreational activity.

Disclaimer: The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice; instead, all information, content, and materials available on this site are for general informational purposes only.

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