Prospecting Fun in
Cowlitz County - Modern-day Treasure Hunts Await!
Several rivers, creeks, located through-out Cowlitz
County hold varying amounts of Gold, Platinum, and other
minerals. While you may not strike it rich, there are
many exciting areas to try your hand at gold panning.
Bob's Sporting Goods located in Longview, WA, carries a
large assortment of basic prospecting equipment,
supplies, and informational materials.
Information Courtesy of Boom Towns and Relic Hunters
of NE Washington
Gold occurs in two types of deposits: lode and placer
(pronounced plasser). Lode deposits consist of ore
minerals in veins or disseminated in rock. These
deposits require blasting, milling, or leaching to
recover the gold.
When a lode deposit weathers, gold and other minerals
that resist weathering remain. Some of these minerals
are called 'heavy minerals' because a given volume
weighs more than the same volume of most other minerals.
Many heavy minerals are black and make up what are
commonly referred to as 'black sands'. When the
weathered material is transported in a stream, heavy
minerals (including gold) settle into crevices and any
other depressions in the streambed and form placer
deposits. Gold in the sand and gravel in the streambed
can be recovered by panning.
Panning In Washington
The state's streams that contain placer gold are also
important for the plant and animal communities they
support. To protect stream and streamside habitats, the
Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW)
administers the Hydraulics Code (RCW 75.20.100). This
requires that any person or government agency desiring
to use, divert, obstruct, or change the natural flow or
bed of any river or stream, or utilize materials from
stream beds shall obtain a Hydraulic Project Approval (HPA).
A formal HPA is not required for recreational panning
and prospecting if you use a gold pan, mini-rocker box,
or non-motorized, small sluice box. You must have a
formal HPA for sluicing and dredging. Hydraulic Project
Approval Applications may be obtained from Department of
Fish and Wildlife Habitat Program at (360) 902-2534.
The DFW publishes a booklet "Gold
and Fish" to provide details and definitions for use
by recreational gold panners. Be sure to obtain and read
a copy of "Gold and Fish", which you must carry with you
whenever you are panning. The booklet also lists the
classes of different streams and seasonal restrictions
to certain activities on the various streams. If you
have ant questions, contact the DFW.
It is important to know where in Washington you can
go to find land that is 'open' for recreational panning.
The map shows general areas in which gold placer
deposits have been found. Not all of these localities
are open for recreational panning.
Federal lands managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land
Management and the U.S. Forest Service (but not all
federal lands) are open to panning (and prospecting).
These federal agencies provide maps showing which lands
they manage. Obtain a map from either of these agencies
for the area where you plan to pan.
State-owned lands are not open for panning unless a
placer mining contract for a specified parcel of land
has been negotiated with the Department of Natural
Resources. Privately owned land and patented or
unpatented mining claims are considered private lands,
and you must obtain the owner's/claim holder's
permission to pan in advance.
If you have questions about land ownership, check
with your Local County Assessor. Assessors maintain
records of all land ownership in each county.
When doing more than recreational panning on public
lands you should check with appropriate land management
agency (Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management). If
an HPA is required, you should check with these federal
land management agencies to file operation plans with
How To Pan
The following simple instructions will help you get
started with a gold pan, which you can purchase at your
local hardware store, rock shop, or prospecting supplies
First, fill your pan nearly full of the sand and gravel.
Remove the largest stones from the pan.
Place the pan under water and be sure that all the
material gets wet. You may have to mix the contents of
the pan with your hands.
Quickly move the pan from side to side, either under
water or while it is full of water, and rotate the pan's
contents (but don't spill the contents). This action
gives the gold particles a chance to settle to the
While continuing the side to side motion, gently tip the
pan away from you. Lighter material and larger pieces
that come to the top will move to the front of the pan.
These can be skimmed or scraped over the brim of the pan
with your thumb or hand.
Continue the motion described in steps 3 and 4,
allowing water to wash lighter material over the brim
until only a small amount of material remains in the
pan. You'll need to add water to the pan.
The remaining heavy material is the concentrate. If you
haven't yet seen gold in your pan, pour out excess water
until enough is left to barely cover the concentrate.
Swirl the pan contents to 'string out' or 'feather' the
concentrate. Lighter particles will be washed father
than the heavier particles, leaving the gold (because it
is the heaviest) in the 'tail' of the concentrate.
Continue swirling water in the
pan to further clean the concentrates, being careful not
to lose any gold. Recovering gold by panning takes
Click Here for a Downloadable Copy of the Rules
This guide must be carried with you at all times when
prospecting, even recreationally - you can request a
copy be sent to you by calling Fish and Wildlife,
360.902.2534 - WDFW Headquarters
The 2009 Gold and Fish pamphlet replaces all
previous editions and will remain valid until the
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW)
publishes a new edition. The rules contained in it were
developed to protect fish and their habitats. You may
print out the Gold and Fish pamphlet from this website
or request one from a WDFW office. There is no charge
for the Gold and Fish pamphlet.
For More Information, please go to