July 29 2011 by Claudia Kunkel
How did panning for gold get started? Well, talk of gold in California had been around for years before the Gold Rush and in December of 1848, President James Polk told Congress there were confirmed accounts of finding gold in California. By 1849 the Rush was on and people from all over the United States were jumping on the wagon train and heading to California with a touch of "Gold Fever."
At the beginning of the Gold Rush, gold was relatively easy to find if you could stake out an open spot along the riverbank. Once you found your spot, all you needed was your knife, a pick, shovel and a pan. At that point, you loaded your pan up with dirt from the creeks and rivers, swirled it around and hopefully your gold was waiting for you at the bottom of your pan.
Panning for gold is an activity for all ages and a great family activity. Considering that 80% of gold in the Mother Lode (Mother Lode originally meaning the name given to gold deposits in the Sierra Nevada of California) is still in the ground, there's a good chance you might just get lucky and strike it rich! If you still need a few ideas for that summer vacation, here are some popular locations to go "stake out your claim."
In the Eastern United States, gold was found in deposits running from Alabama to Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, to name a few. In South Carolina, there were several operating gold mines near Columbia that at one time were one of the largest gold producing mines in North America.
Alaska is still a great place to pan for gold. There are numerous streams that will offer up a few nuggets with enough patience and work. The areas near Nome, Fairbanks and in Southeast Alaska are very popular. If you're so inclined, there are several companies that will take you out and let you give it a go.
California - where there's "gold in them thar hills." California still remains one of the top panning locations in the US. Many of the panning sites can be found on maps of local gold mines and many are family friendly. I would recommend picking up a map and locating an area that is conducive to beginners. One such area is Hangtown's Gold Bug Park and Mine near Placerville in Northern California which offers a great variety of activities for everyone in the family.
So pack up the family along with your pick, shovel and pan and head out for the hills. With a little luck you might actually come home with a little extra cash in your pocket! If you're headed towards Placerville, I recommend the Best Western Placerville Inn nestled in the heart of gold panning country.