The Mother Lode of the California Gold Rush ran straight through El Dorado County bringing in miners from all over the world to strike it rich. But did you know that El Dorado County and the American River still draw in gold panners today? Not only can you learn about the Gold Rush in El Dorado County, you can still search for gold yourself. While the kids learn about the Gold Rush in school, take them on a fun family trip to learn about Gold Rush history and try out a little gold panning for themselves.
The best way to start your family’s search for gold is to learn how to gold pan. Several of our El Dorado County Historical Sites include lessons. Try heading over to Strike it Rich Adventures or The Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park. Before your lesson take a walk around the museum at The Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park or take a tour of the Gold Bug Mine at Strike it Rich. You’ll learn all about how the Gold Rush began, how the gold miners lived, and brush up on your gold panning techniques.
Next, we propose a little adventure. Start by purchasing a gold pan or two; there are usually some available in the gift shops in Gold Rush museums. If you would like to plan ahead, they are commonly available at Walmart and Home Depot. You will also need a small shovel for river sediment, a few folding chairs (gold panning takes a long time), and a safe place to keep the gold you find (such as a glass vial). You’ll also want to have clothes and shoes that can get dirty. Rain boots are nice to have near a lot of the creeks. Once you have your gear, put your newly acquired skills to the test with some real gold panning on the American River.
The best place to look is around forks of the American River or at the river tributaries. Gold is more likely to be in a creek than a fast moving part of the river. It is a good idea to make sure in advance that the area you are going to does not have a claim on it already. (This is easy to find out with the park rangers.) If you would like to try the middle fork of the American River, take a look around the Michigan Bluff area. The south fork also has good finds a little north of Chili Bar. We’ve also heard people are finding coarser flakes around Rock Creek.
For specific information on which state and historic parks to park at and more specific directions to gold panning sites, check out Gold Fever Prospecting.
Once you’re there, it’s time to get a little dirty. If you decided to skip the gold panning lesson, here are some gold panning tips: Take your shovel or spade and put some sediment and gravel into your gold pan. Next, fill your gold pan with water about half full and mix the sediment around. While keeping the pan level and continuing the circular motion, slightly tip the pan to get the lighter material to the top. Take your thumb and scrape the lighter and larger pieces out of the pan. Repeat the process until only a small part of the pan is covered with concentrate. Leave just enough water to feather the tailings as you lightly swirl the material. The heavier material (gold) will be at the tail of the feather.
We wish the very best of luck to you and your little miners. Get out there and strike it rich! And once you’ve had a full day as a California gold miner, head back into town for a well-earned bite to eat. See a list of restaurants in El Dorado County.