Pack your gold pan when vacationing in the state of Michigan, and you just might come across your own personal gold rush. The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) of the Great Lakes State allows recreational panning on its state and federal lands with no permits needed and just a few restrictions.
A gold pan is all you need to pull flakes or gold nuggets from rivers running through Michigan’s national or state lands and gold mines. In fact, only panning by hand is allowed in the state; using portable dredges or sluices doesn’t meet the definition of casual or recreational panning. Feel free to use a shovel and other hand tools, but don’t undercut stream banks to access the gold. Using a metal detector is OK to look for contemporary coins and jewelry, but it’s illegal for finding mineral deposits or searching for coins or gold jewelry more than 50 years old.
Decide Where to Go
Glaciers moved across the entire state during the last ice age, which means that finding gold is a possibility in virtually any waterway in the state, with there even being a possibility of striking a lode. The state prohibits gold prospecting in a few areas, however, including designated trout streams, waterways where mussels live, and areas marked as natural rivers or natural areas. Marquette County, along the shores of Lake Superior on the state’s Upper Peninsula, enjoys the reputation of having the highest concentration of Michigan gold, but recreational prospectors may see a shine in their pan in state and national forests throughout the state and along the shores of the Great Lakes.
Head to a Hot Spot
Certain rivers in Michigan enjoy a reputation for being exceptionally productive for gold prospectors. The longest river in the state, the Grand River, runs through many major cities in the state, making it convenient for a panning session. The areas around Ionia and the Portland State Game Area are especially fruitful, and the Muskegon River runs through Newaygo County and boasts a large amount of gold.
In northern Michigan, check out the Rapid River, which runs through state forests in Kalkaska County. Gravel bars in the river are the most likely places to find gold deposits. In the central part of the state, check out the Flat River north of Lowell, where a state game area has river access and glacial placer deposits. In Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, check out The Ropes Gold Mine Company north of Ishpeming, or the Victoria Copper Mine for placer gold.
Pay to Pan
Camp and pan for gold in Stony Creek at privately owned Barkus Park Campground in Lyons. Pay a nominal per-diem fee to try your luck using your equipment. Camp overnight in a primitive site – the campground has minimal electric hookups and primitive outhouses only. Rules for panning are similar to the national forest: You are cautioned against digging into the banks and must show any artifacts to the caretakers before removing them.