Trip Ideas

Man beside river gold panning

Learn How To And Where To Go Gold Panning In Nevada County

Immerse yourself in the history of the Gold Rush era by checking out a gold panning demonstration at one of our state parks. Then head out to one of the many legal places to try your luck on panning for gold on the same bodies of water 49ers did more than a century ago.

Tips & Resources

Don’t be a claim-jumper! Learn about public areas where you can pan for gold and keep what you find.

Practice the 7 Leave No Trace principles when you go out.

Check out more gold-panning locations here.

Learn more about Nevada County’s part in the Gold Rush at Nevada City Chamber

For more resources and gold-panning, check out the History of Grass Valley

By Alex Silgalis

Nevada County’s history runs along the same vein as the state of California. The county was put on the map during the Gold Rush. And the wealth from its mines created the charming historic towns of Nevada City and Grass Valley. Today, you can still see remnants of its mining past in its historic buildings, trails, and even its state parks. For those that want to experience first-hand what it was like to be one of those miners that discovered gold, here’s where to go gold panning in Nevada County.

Still Gold Mining To This Day

Be VERY aware that outside of the places we highlight below, many sections of the rivers, streams, and waterways are actively being prospected and individuals own claims. Claim jumping today is still very real and carries a SERIOUS offense with a potential fine of $25,000 or 6 months in prison. Instead, enjoy the areas we highlight below for your gold panning adventure in Nevada County.

Malakoff Diggins State Park

Image appears courtesy: Sierra Gold Parks Foundation

By 1850, there was little gold left in the streams within the county. But in 1851, three miners discovered a handful of nuggets in a creek. As others returned with them though, they didn’t find any other gold and hence the creek is now called “Humbug.” As the miners’ prospecting continued, they discovered that old riverbeds and mountainsides contained gold. To get to it, they created a new method of mining using high-pressure jets of water to dislodge rock material or move sediment called hydraulic mining. The mining operation grew so vast that it became home to California’s largest hydraulic gold mine ever.

In addition to seeing its environmental consequences and the ghost town of Bloomfield, every Saturday at 3 pm you can watch gold panning demonstrations at the troughs across from the Visitors Center. Then head down to Humbug Creek inside the park’s boundaries with a pan and try it on your own.

South Yuba River State Park


Following a 20-mile section of the South Yuba River, visitors will see the mighty river swiftly carving through the granitic canyon. Many trails to explore and in the spring the hillsides are alive with wildflowers. It’s also home to the longest single-span covered bridge in the world – the Bridgeport Covered Bridge. Throughout the summer, gold panning demonstrations are held every Saturday and Sunday from 12 – 2 pm at the Bridgeport HQ. From there, you can then try your hand on the mighty South Yuba River State Park.

Be Aware Of The River’s Flow

While the South Yuba River is scenic, it can be dangerous in early season when the snow melt is on. And that’s not just for swimming but also gold panning. If it looks dangerous, keep out and just enjoy the demonstrations.

Town Of Washington

Image appears courtesy: The Washington Hotel

Settled in 1849, this quiet town located on the banks of the South Yuba River was one of the first of California’s gold mining towns. In the 1850’s at its peak, thousands of miners called this settlement home. As fast as miners arrived by 1858, the population rapidly declined to just 200 individuals. To this day, it’s still surrounded by the wild and rugged forest landscape covering the steep canyon slopes. It’s also home to one of the oldest hotels in California – the Washington Hotel. Even if you don’t stay at the hotel, be sure to saddle up to the bar for a cold barley pop just like the miners did nearly a century before you.

Where To Go Panning

After you’ve enjoyed one of the gold panning demonstrations, you’ll want to experience it for yourself in its rawest form. Pan at one of the local campgrounds, the Keleher Picnic Area on the Yuba River two miles upstream from town. Or go even further upstream to the Quartz Picnic Area. For more information on where it’s safe to gold pan around Washington, contact the Tahoe National Forest offices at 631 Coyote St., Nevada City, CA 95959; (530) 265-4531.


Alex Silgalis

Alex founded Local Freshies® in 2014 to be the #1 website providing the “local scoop” on where to eat, drink & play in mountain towns throughout North America. When he’s not writing and executing marketing strategies for small businesses & agencies, he’s in search of the deepest snow in the winter and tackiest dirt in the summer.

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