Strike It Rich Panning for Gold and More at These 7 Spots

A man pans for gold in a river.
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Define the perfect family vacation.

Could it be soaking in scenic landscapes from America’s streams and rivers? Maybe it’s learning about a historic piece of the American experience? Certainly, striking it rich and pulling out a 17-pound chunk of gold worth millions would be an enticing option!

For centuries, Americans have taken to rivers and streams in search of curing their gold fever. At many historic places, you still can — by panning for all the gold.

7 Places in America That Let You Pan for Gold and More

You might strike it rich if you vacation at one of these spots that let you pan for gold and other treasures.

1. Reed Gold Mine – Midland, North Carolina

The Reed Gold Mine is the place that started it all.

In 1799, Conrad Reed was walking along Little Meadow Creek when he noticed a shiny, gold substance gleaming in the water. That glint was found to be a 17-pound gold nugget. The event is documented as the first authentic gold claim in the United States, and you can still pull gold out of the water to this day.

The Reed Gold Mine is about 20 miles outside of Charlotte, North Carolina. The site offers free admission and $2 tours of the gold mines that last 30 to 40 minutes. Visitors can pay $3 each to gold pan from April 1 through Oct. 31.

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2. Big Thunder Gold Mine – Keystone, South Dakota

Mount Rushmore, Black Hills Forest and gold panning – these are things worth doing while in South Dakota.

In 1876, the gold rush swept across the Black Hills of South Dakota after deposits were found in Deadwood Creek. People have been panning for gold ever since.

Big Thunder Gold Mine is one spot to try it — they’ll teach you proper technique in about 20 minutes and charge $12.95 per pan. The cost drops down to $10.95 when you also take a tour of the mine.

3. California Gold Panning – Jamestown, California

There’s a reason it was called the California Gold Rush. The problem with gold panning in California is deciding where to do it. The state is rich with gold mining history and remarkable finds. Although Sutter’s Mill is the more well known, consider heading south to Jamestown, California.

The town isn’t far from Yosemite National Park. Plus, there are numerous panning tours available. You can adventure out on your own, buying gold pans in town, or you can hire a professional guide.

California Gold Panning offers groups of up to two adults and three children a one-hour panning tour for $120 (longer tours are also available). Additional guests are $45 each.

4. Consolidated Gold Mine – Dahlonega, Georgia

Perhaps you are familiar with the phrase “Thar’s Gold in Them Thar Hills.” It comes from a famous advertisement for gold mining in Georgia.

Although people have been hunting for gold in North Georgia’s Appalachian region for nearly 200 hundred years, places like the Consolidated Gold Mine offer you a fair shot at finding your own fortune. Everyone who goes on the Underground Adventure Tour at the mine gets a chance to try gold panning. Tours cost $21.95 for adults and $14.95 for children and take around 40 minutes.

5. Crow Creek Gold Mine – Girdwood, Alaska

If you are in Alaska and want to look for more than incredible scenery and wildlife, you might want to try your hand at panning for gold.

Crow Creek Gold Mine, which is about an hour outside of Anchorage, offers demonstrations and private mining excursions. Children 12 and under pay $16, while people ages 13-64 pay $25. Seniors 64 and over, as well as military and Alaska residents pay $21 each. The site also offers camping trails, plus a salmon bake and live music during the summer months.

6. Alabama Gold Camp – Lineville, Alabama

Perhaps gold alone isn’t enough for you. If you’re looking to add the possibility of finding garnet, citrine or fossils into the mix, you should head to the Alabama Gold Camp.

For a mere $5 per person, you can get admission with panning and sluicing included. Children 11 and under are free with an adult. Camping is also available, for only $5/day for “primitive” camping or $25/day for RV hookups.

7. Crater of Diamonds State Park – Murfreesboro, Arkansas

Gold not your thing? What about diamonds?

Crater of Diamonds State Park contains a 37-acre field – the eroded surface of a volcanic crater – which holds a variety of rocks, minerals, gemstones and, you guessed it, diamonds. Any rock or mineral you find on the property is yours to keep.

More than 35,000 diamonds have been discovered at the state park since it opened in 1972. Notable diamonds include the 40-carat Uncle Sam, the largest diamond ever unearthed in the U.S, as well as the 16-carat Amarillo Starlight, the 15-carat Star of Arkansas, and the 8-carat Esperanza.

One man also made news at the park in 2021 when he found a 2.2 carat yellow diamond he would customize as an engagement ring for his soon-to-be fiance.

Adults pay $13 to search for diamonds, while it costs $6 for children 6 to 12. Children under 6 are free.

John Preston is a former contributor for The Penny Hoarder. Robert Bruce, a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder, also contributed to this article.