Colorado is one of the best states in the country for gold panning. Local Coloradans have been panning gold for centuries here with great success. This is why their local NBA team is named the Denver Nuggets.

This state had a gold rush of its own in 1859. A long time ago you could find large gold nuggets in the creeks and streams. It's no longer common to find large gold nuggets, but you can still find gold deposits. It's also a lot of fun to be outside and explore the beautiful landscapes of Colorado.

In addition to gold you can also find gem stones in Colorado. There is a large variety of different precious and semi-precious stones. Two of the main stones that people hunt for are topez and rhodochrosite.

Gold Panning Rules and Regulations in Colorado

It's legal to gold pan in Colorado's national forests. Most of the gold sites in the national forests are located near trails and roads.

Remember that in the national forests there are a lot of active mining claims. The owners of these claims don't want trespassers. Before panning you first need to verify that it's okay to pan in the area. Usually you will see markers, but if not then it's good practice to check online at the National Bureau of Land Management. Check the official website to lookup where the active mining claims are located. Claims can change even on a daily basis so always make sure to check beforehand.

There are also unwritten rules for gold panning in Colorado. The state's premiere gold prospecting club, Gold Prospectors of Colorado, has a code of ethics that every club member must follow:

  • Observe all state and federal laws
  • Obnoxious behavior is prohibited
  • Pets need to be under control
  • Don't litter
  • Keep the area neat and clean
  • Refill all holes that you dug
  • Be respectful of other people prospecting near you

Those are the main guidelines, but there are others as well. You can view the full code of ethics on the club's website.

You don't need to belong to a gold panning group in order to follow those guidelines. They are guidelines that everyone should follow in order to keep the experience great for everyone.

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Best Spots

Many of the best places are either claimed or on private land. However Colorado is a big state, and there are still plenty of good places. Below you will learn about seven of the best spots.

Cache Creek

Cache Creek Map

Cache Creek is one of the best public places to gold mine in Colorado. It's located on the US-24 highway right near Leadville. There is plenty of open space to pan and plenty of gold to be found.

This creek is only open to the public from Memorial Day to Labor Day. On the weekends it can get busy and it can be interesting to see so many people panning at the same time.

At Cache Creek you aren't allowed to dig under or near any trees.

Arapahoe Bar

This is one of the best panning places close to Denver. It's located west of Denver in Wheat Ridge. The Araphahoe Bar is managed by the Wheat Ridge Parks and Recreational Department and there are no entry or panning fees.

The rules are fairly simple. Gas-powered equipment is prohibited and digging is prohibited on the southern side of the creek. Sluicing is allowed in the creek and you can dig on the Northern side, as long as you don't interfere with the plant-life and you fill up your holes.

There is no better place in Colorado to pan in the winter. This is because the Araphaoe bar is located near the Coors brewery. The brewery uses the creek water to cool their beer, so certain sections of the creek will have warm water in the winter.

Cleer Creek Canyon

The Cleer Creek Canyon is another spot near Denver. It's located near Golden Colorado and close to Denver's metro area. It's a big area with about 10 miles of water access. This public spot is maintained by Jefferson County.

At this creek you are allowed to sluice, and dredges are permitted if they are no more than four inches in diameter.

Because the area is so large, it's best to consult the official map before you go.

Fairplay Town Prospecting Park

Located in Fairplay Colorodo, this small town has a great prospecting park that is right on the South Platte River.

This area used to have commercial gold operations, but they have long since closed. Now it's only individuals that come to take advantage of the gold prospecting opportunities. Here you are allowed to pan and sluice along the river and the surrounding creeks.

It will cost money to prospect here, but it's definitely worth it for the experience alone. The pass costs $10 per day or $100 per year, and you can buy the pass at the town hall.

Rattlesnake Gulch

Rattlesnake Gulch is federal conservation land that's located off Highway 50 north of Delta Colorado. It's a great outdoor space where you can also camp, hike, and fish.

The rules here are simple: panning and sluicing is allowed, but power equipment and digging are prohibited.

It's possible that this area could be closed for seasonal fish spawning. Therefore it's best to call the BLM's Colorado office ahead of time to confirm. Their phone number is: 970-244-3000.

Point Barr on the Arkansas River

Point Barr is a public area on the Arkansas River where you can gold pan. The area is about 37 acres so you have plenty of space for prospecting. You also have the option of camping here.

You can use power equipment but only with a federal BLM permit.

The issue with Point Barr is that it's not the easiest place to get to. The roads aren't the best, and at times the water levels can be high. Therefore it's recommended to come in with a 4WD vehicle and a vehicle with high clearance. In the summer there can be high water levels when the mountain snow melts.

We only recommend Point Barr if you have the right vehicle and you're passionate about gold panning.

Phoenix Gold Mine

Phoenix Gold Mine

This is an old commercial gold mine located in Idaho Springs Colorado. The Phoenix Gold Mine is a private company that gives tours and there is also an area where you can pan for gold. A day at this mine makes for a great family outing.

There is a fee of $15 per person (ages 12+) for the tour and panning. It costs $10 for the tour only. The fees are lower for children and young children under five get free admission. It's cash only and there are no ATMs on site, so keep this in mind.

It's also worth noting that this is a non-profit company and the money goes to children with disabilities.


Colorado is one of the best states in the country to gold pan. Metal detecting in Colorado is also a good option. However this isn't the best state to prospect during the winter months. If you want to prospect for gold in the winter then it's better to travel south to Arizona.  

Further reading:

Finding Gold in Colorado