If you are looking for a fun adventure and a way to see what it was like to live in the days of the gold rush, a gold panning tour in Alaska might be for you. The Alaska gold rush brought tens of thousands of miners to Alaska, and gold mining is an exciting and crucial part of Alaska’s history that you won’t want to miss. Gold panning is a fun activity for the entire family.
Gold panning tours are available in several Alaska locations including Fairbanks, Juneau, Skagway, and Girdwood. The only equipment you need to get started is a gold pan and a shovel. A magnifying lens, a sluice box, tweezers, rubber gloves, and rubber boots are also recommended. If you take a gold panning tour, these items will be provided. This article will tell you how to get started with gold panning and where to find the best gold panning tours in Alaska.
Gold Panning Guidelines
Before you start panning for gold, it is important to know the guidelines. Prospecting is only allowed in certain areas, so you want to be sure that you are on designated public lands or private lands before you begin.
The 1872 Mining Law regulates Alaska gold panning. According the law, a person is allowed to locate a mining claim on federal land and mine it. Lands that have not been withdrawn from mineral entry and have no mining claims are available for recreational panning.
Gold Panning Rights
Recreational panners can walk, fish, and hunt on a federal mining claim, but the claim owner has an exclusive right to mine the claim. In order to pan on someone’s claim, you will need to be sure you have permission.
How to pan for gold
Its easy to get started panning for gold. All you need is a pan and a small shovel. If you are on your own, keep a lookout for warning signs to be sure you are not trespassing. Once you have your equipment ready and have secured a good spot, you are ready to get started
Gold panning relies on the weight difference between gold and gravel. The gold’s heavier weight will cause it to sink to the bottom. You will use a shovel to scoop soil from the riverbed, put it in your pan, and submerge the pan in water. When the pan is submerged, break up clumps and wash away cobbles that may have clay because they can trap the gold. Once the water clears, remove any pebbles from the pan. If you find any heavy pieces left behind, you might have struck gold.
Panning for gold requires time and patience. You will need to use swirling and rocking motions in order to separate the gold from other materials. Panning over another container will prevent you from losing your precious gold. A magnet, tweezers, and knife blade can assist you in separating the grains. A gold miner or geologist can help you identify your finds. However, the best way to get started is by taking a gold panning tour.
Where to go
Gold panning tours give you the opportunity of a lifetime to learn about the history of the Alaska gold rush, to get a hands-on experience of gold panning, and to collect some bits of gold to take home as souvenirs. Many include additional activities like nature walks and salmon bakes. Here are a few spots where you will find some of the best gold panning tours in Alaska.
In Fairbanks, gold was first found in 1902. From that time, the gold rush lasted for approximately eight years. Dredges, or water powered mining machines, were introduced in the 1920s and used through the 1950s.
The El Dorado Gold Mine Tour
The El Dorado is one of the most famous gold mining attractions in the state. Combining panning with a train ride on the Tanana Valley Railroad, this tour offers a day packed with fun and adventure. The two-hour guided tour includes a trek through a permafrost tunnel, a walking tour of the mining camp, and a talk with Alaska miners.
After that, you will have a chance to pan for gold. Finding gold is guaranteed at this exciting hands-on adventure. Complimentary coffee and fresh homemade cookies are included making this a family-friendly excursion.
Gold Dredge 8
Gold Drege 8 is where 100,000 gold rushers sought their riches. This tour begins with a 35-minute train ride through the boreal forest on a replica of the Tanana Valley Railroad. On the train, a fiddle-playing conductor will entertain you.
You will visit a historic dredge, which was used to scoop pay dirt from 1927-1942. The dredge is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. You will learn about the dredge and about mining from the miners themselves, who will tell you all about their harrowing adventures and give you a chance to pan for some gold of your own. You are guaranteed to find some.
Founded by two sisters, Gold Daughters is located in an old mining bunkhouse. On site are hundreds of gold dredge buckets, 12 troughs of water, and piles of raw pay dirt, which has come straight from the family’s mining claims and has not been sifted through.
For one entrance fee, you will have the chance to learn about Fairbanks’ gold rush history, the technique for panning, and pan for your own gold in the pay dirt piles all day long. Not only that, but you will learn about different types of dirt and how prospectors worked with it. Whatever you find is yours to keep.
Hope, in the Kenai Peninsula:
With just 200 residents, Hope is a small town that is easy to get to from Anchorage. You can start your day with a demonstration-based gold tour at Indian Valley Mine.
Indian Valley Mine
This unique mine, founded by a vagabond runaway in 1910, is listed on the National Register of historic places. Associated with load mining, it played a role in the early settling of the Turnagain Arm. It consists of a log cabin, a log assay office, a hand-dug gully to bring water, and three collapsed mine shafts.
You will find parking off the Seward Highway at mile 104 below the mine. The site offers tours of the historic buildings, a hands-on experience of gold panning, and a gift shop.
Not far from Anchorage, the resort town of Girdwood is a great place to learn about mining history.
Crow Creek Mine
Crow Creek Mine has been operating since 1896 and is still kept operational by members of the mining family. Tours are small and intimate. Presently run by third-generation miner, Kate Williamson, and her husband Nate, a geologist, this is a great place if you want to learn the art of panning and the history of mining in Alaska. At Crow Creek Mine, you can learn about mining, try out some panning for yourself, and collect some souvenirs to bring home.
Less than an hour from Anchorage and accessible by a free shuttle from Girdwood, Crow Creek is a fun, hands-on family excursion where you can search for gold all day and tour the grounds of one of the largest mines in Alaska. To get a taste of mining history, you can explore original buildings that are on the National Registry of Historic Places and mining equipment from the turn of the century. If you enjoy hiking, be sure to spend some time on the mine’s hiking trails including the Historic Iditarod Trail.
With a reception hall for special events, salmon bakes on Monday nights throughout the summer, and evening concerts, this mine has it all.
Juneau, the capital city of Alaska, offers various hands on panning tours and adventures.
Gold Creek Salmon Bake
This two-hour experience includes a feast of salmon roasted over an alder wood fire in a rainforest setting and a unique history lesson all in one. Dessert of blueberry cake and roasted marshmallows follows the all-you-can-eat meal. Local folk musicians will entertain you with music throughout the event.
Running for over 30 years, the Gold Creek Salmon Bake dispatches you from your hotel and brings you to a corner of the Southeast rainforest. You will see salmon spawning and the old Wagner mineshaft on a nature walk to Salmon Creek Waterfall and have the chance to try your hand at panning for gold.
Historic Gold Mining & Panning Adventure
For a fun and educational lesson in gold mining history, take this one-and-a-half-hour tour of this historic site. A costumed tour guide will meet you at your hotel in Juneau or at the dock and bring you to Gold Creek.
The majestic views of the Alaska-Juneau Mine and rainforest scenery are highlights of this gold mining tour. This is a great excursion for families who want a chance to learn the history of gold prospectors in the area, pan for gold in icy waters, and be guaranteed to take some home.
Liarsville Gold Rush Trail Camp and Salmon Bake
This two-hour long tour combines two of the best things Alaska has to offer: gold and salmon. Named for tall tales told by the journalists who came during the Klondike Gold Rush, the Liarsville Camp event begins with an all-you-can-eat salmon bake.
After that you will explore the old trail camp where you will see the bordello and laundry tents, the neighboring waterfall, and visit the gold fields for a gold panning lesson and experience. At the end of the day, you will visit the Fancy Goods store for shopping and photo ops with a dance hall girl or with the camp’s mascot, an Alaskan malamute.
Talkeetna & Trapper Creek Area
Denali Gold Tours
Running for 4.5 hours or more, this tour gives you a true gold panning experience. You will spend a half or full-day in the beautiful countryside of Alaska with your guide who will teach you gold panning techniques and share stories of the gold rush days. With great views of Denali from the South, this tour works several claims in the Cache Creek Mining District.
Located off the Parks Highway between Anchorage and Denali, this authentic mining claim is surrounded by forests, wildlife, and gorgeous scenery. The owner or his son will meet you at the Trading Post off the Parks Highway and take you through backcountry, swampland, hills, and streams on a comfortable tour van. When you arrive, you will find yourself in a pristine setting where you will be schooled in bear safety and provided with rain gear and boots.
Your guides will teach you how to extract gold flour from other sediment, let you take home anything you find, and supply you with a souvenir bottle of gold. After your gold panning adventure is done, you will be treated to grilled reindeer dogs, hot dogs, and drinks.
Caribou Creek Recreational Mining Area
To find this area, look for the turn off near mile marker 104 on the Glenn Highway. Once you get there, take your gold pan and shovel along for a hike down to the creek where you will be able to pan for gold.
Your best chance of finding some gold is to locate a spot where the creek’s current has slowed. Be prepared to dig persistently. Whether or not you succeed in finding gold, you will enjoy the beautiful surroundings and scenery of Caribou Creek, the Matanuska River, and the cliffs of Lion’s Head.
If you are looking for a way to enjoy Alaska’s natural beauty and learn more about gold rush history and traditions, gold panning tours in Alaska are the way to go. Whether you want a short excursion or a full-day adventure, you will find the tour that is just right for your needs. Be sure to dress in layers so you will stay warm and to wear comfortable walking shoes. At the end of the day, you will have some cool souvenirs to bring home and memories that will last a lifetime.