Last week’s column on Georgia gold seems to have sparked a lot of interest. I’ve heard from a number of folks concerning gold prospecting, and the question that everyone gets around to sooner or later is, “Where can I go to prospect for gold myself?”
That’s a great question, and here in Georgia, we’re blessed with a number of great opportunities for you to get outside and go gold prospecting.
For many beginning prospectors, it’s hard to beat one of the commercial gold panning operations that you’ll find scattered through the gold region of the state. One, as we saw last week, is the panning operation at the Pine Mountain Gold Museum near Villa Rica. Other good commercial panning locations include sites such as the Crisson Gold Mine and the Consolidated Gold Mine in the Dahlonega area; Gold ‘n Gem Grubbing at the old Loud Mine near Cleveland; and Outpost Gold & Gem near Helen.
“My family loves to visit those sites!” affirmed one of the folks I visited with this week. She is the mother of two young boys, and she told that the kids are totally hooked on prospecting for gold and gems. “The kids always have a great time!”
“But here’s my real question,” she continued. “My husband and I would like to get out in the back country and do some prospecting like the old-timers used to do it. Where can we go to do some gold prospecting like that?”
That’s a great question, but is it really feasible to set out looking for gold on your own? Indeed it is. In fact, if you’re willing to put in the time to figure out where to prospect and to do a little backcountry hiking to get to the places you find, then grass-roots prospecting out in the woods can be a tremendous amount of fun. There is still gold out there to be found. All you have to do is go find it.
But find it where? That’s where it gets a little more complicated.
Blessed with an abundance of public land, Georgia does indeed offer plenty of possibilities for on-your-own prospecting. But land-use regulations vary from place to place, and all public land is not open to gold panning.
To help you get started, here’s a quick look at where you can and cannot prospect on your own. These guidelines should be accurate as of this writing, but note that land use guidelines can and do change. Always check with the land administrator right before your trip to make sure that the prospecting you plan to do is okay.
State parks: That’s an easy one. Gold panning, prospecting and rock collecting are not permitted within Georgia’s state parks. You’ll need to do your prospecting somewhere else.
National forests: One thing that northern Georgia has a lot of is national forests. Generally speaking, you’re permitted to pan for gold within national forests in Georgia. The Chattahoochee National Forest includes portions of the Georgia gold belt, and where the two intersect, there’s sometimes good potential for gold prospecting. However, there are some guidelines that you must follow. Panning is limited to recreational panning within streambeds only. In other words, don’t dig into the stream banks. And special permission is not generally required as long as no significant stream disturbance takes place and as long as you only use a small hand shove or trowel and gold pan. Note that in-stream sluices or suction dredges are not permitted within National Forest boundaries. To check the latest guidelines on gold panning on National Forest land, visit bit.ly/2clTdPL.
Corps of Engineers land: In some areas on Corps of Engineers land, except in prohibited areas or in “organizational lease” areas, recreational gold prospecting is permitted. Hereabouts, you will find prospecting opportunities on Corps land around Lake Allatoona in Cherokee County, where gold is found in some of the tributary streams. Prospectors can only use gold pans, and digging must be within creek beds. No digging is permitted in the sides of creek banks. Sluice boxes, rockers, dredges or metal detectors are not permitted. Find more info on gold panning around Allatoona Lake at bit.ly/2c0edfs.
When looking for places to prospect on public land, remember that land-use regulations can and do change from time to time. It’s always wise to double-check and be sure that the land you’re interested in prospecting on is indeed open to recreational prospectors.
What will you find when you set out on an out-in-the-woods prospecting adventure? You never know, and that’s part of the fun. But always be ready for pleasant surprises.
When shooting the photo for the cover of the book “Prospecting for Georgia Gold,” for example, we found gold in every single pan of dirt. No, it wasn’t enough to quit the day job. But it was gold - honest-to-goodness straight-from-the-ground Georgia gold. There’s still gold out there waiting to be discovered. Looking for and finding it adds a whole new dimension to enjoying the Georgia outdoors.
Of course, no one finds gold every time. That would be too easy. But when you do finally see those tiny flecks of treasure winking at you from the bottom of your gold pan, it’s something you never forget.
There’s no doubt about it. When you get outside, you never know what kind of adventure you’ll discover next.