Weekend Gold Prospectors have Been Heading to the Hills around Orange County

As the price of gold has gone up, people have been heading to the national forests to mine for gold.  They just go up for the day, so you cannot stake a claim.  And if you brag about what you find, someone will take your spot the next day.  If anyone is making a lot of money they ain’t talking; but we have a hankering something big is going on.

Have you noticed how many “We Buy Your Gold” places have popped up in the past few years?  So maybe there is a stealth gold rush.

We couldn’t find a lot of information about this subject, but we found a bunch of video reports which we hope you will find useful.

And according to the experts at KNBC, geologists estimate that 80% of California’s gold was never found.  (link)

We are not sure if this is a hobby or a business, but it looks like fun so the editor at OCBusinessStartUp.com told us to go for it.  Most of the info we could dig up was from local TV stations and on Youtube.

Channel 7 Video

The video plays after the commercial.


Gold in Trabuco Creek  (Independent Producers)

SoCal Connected Video

KNBC videos Chuck Henry brought us these stories a little while back. The first one is regarding the San Gabriel Mountains in LA. The second one is more genera.

View more videos at: http://nbclosangeles.com.

View more videos at: http://nbclosangeles.com.

This CBS video shows people panning for gold in the San Lytle Creek which is located on federal land in the Sand Bernardino National Forest.  Because of the lack of rain, more areas are accessible than had been before, so people are finding gold in places they haven’t been able to look before.
Video Link

Where to prospect in Southern California?

In the second video, the prospector says that you can prospect anywhere you don’t see a no trespassing sign.  This might get you in trouble.  Land owners may not want you coming onto their property–how would you like it to come home to find someone hanging in your apartment?  Do you have a no trespassing sign in your living room? Kitchen?  If you want to prospect on private land, be sure to ask. Remember some of these ranch owners have guns and big dogs.  And some prospectors may stake a claim on public land.  This gives the claim owner exclusive right to extract gold from their claim area.  Their claim must be registered and they must post signs.

Claim Jumping is a Crime

Reader Comment

I am a claim owner in trabuco canyon. the biggest problem i have is people taking my signs down then prospecting. This is claim jumping and is punishable by jail time. Please let your readers know, that if they are going to prospect check with the BLM or the county recorders office.   They will tell you if there are claims in the area you are looking to prospect.

Thank You,


Prospecting on Federal Land



If you just want to hike in someplace and pan for Gold, generally speaking it is legal to prospect in a National Forest.  This is land that’s owned by the people, and has been set aside for public use.  Our land has been set aside so we can use this resource for recreation, prospecting, harvesting and hunting.    The National Forest Service (the people who brought you Smokey the Bear.) is tasked with managing the land so it can be used for generations to come.   According to the CBS story above, you can prospect on National Forest land as long as no one has registered a claim.  In many parts of the West there are few or no trees growing in our national forests but the land called National Forests.  

Just to be clear, if there is a forest growing on land owned by the Federal Government and designated a National Park you probably will not be able to prospect.  You need to check with the park rangers.  You probably will not get sent to Leavenworth  Prison  if your kids are caught panning in a stream, but check with the rangers first.  And it should be noted that there may be some land administered by the BLM which is not part of a national park or national forest. 

Mining on BLM Land According to the Federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) anyone can file a claim on Federal Land that is open to mining for less than a couple hundred dollars a year (what a deal!!!) and you can buy and sell the claims.  But there does not appear to be an easy way to see what claims exist.  You have to visit the BLM office conveniently located in Sacramento.  Because claims must also be filed with the county, you might be able to get the information from a Real Estate Title Insurance Company.

Prospecting in our National Forests The National Forest spells it out here.  (If this does not load, we have made a pdf copy of this webpage here.)  This is regulated by the General Mining Act of 1872.  The forest offers an Adventure Pass basically part time people.  If want to have a bigger operation you will need to get an Administrative Pass which allows you or your club to do some digging for up to 14 days.  They will have to determine if you can do so based on the impact you will have on the land.  The webpage referenced in this paragraph explains how to file for an administrative pass–and it’s free.  You will also need an administrative pass if you plan to just pan for gold in any environmentally sensitive area “A  Notice of Intent is required if the proposed activity is located in an environmentally sensitive area (1-e, Holcomb Valley, Lytle Creek, Horse Thief Canyon, Cactus Flats, Santa Ana wash and Rose Mine). This includes panning for gold, dry washing, high banking, metal detecting and suction dredging. ”

Respect our National Forests

Just a reminder, the National Forest Service (from their website) has some basic rules, but you should be sure to talk to a Ranger when you get your pass:

  • Pick/shovel excavations may only be done in conjunction with gold panning and metal detecting and must be made below the high water mark of the stream channel.
  • All excavations must be filled in before leaving the area.
  • Do not cut trees, limbs or brush, do not dig up ground cover or dig under tree roots.
  • Pack out everything you brought into the area, especially trash.
  • Do not wash yourself or your dishes in the creeks. All wash water is to be contained and disposed of, off of National Forest Land
  • Bury human waste 4 to 6 inches deep and at least 100 feet from the stream channel.
  • Vehicles must remain on designated routes, unless approved by the District Ranger.
  • Check local conditions and fire restrictions by calling the local Ranger Station.

Lately there has been a legal controversy about the State of California preventing people from prospecting on Federal land because it disturbs the wild life.  A group calle Public Lands for the People http://plp1.org/home.html has argued that federal law prevents the state from regulation of protected activities on federal land.  As they see it, you have the right to pan and dredge on Federal lands based on the 1866 and 1872 mining laws regardless of what rules the park rangers choose to enforce.

The video below is an internet documentary about people who prospect on Federal Land in the San Bernardino National Forest on the East Fork of the San Gabriel River.  It shows you the struggles they have with the Forest Service.  The video was produced by Scott Crozier.  Although it was a 2011 student film Azusa Pacific University, it does the best job showing how real people are living off the land by prospecting for gold.


According to the Channel 4 story, there is a gold spot at Azusa near campgrounds.  They did not give an exact location.  It looks like it’s the East Fork area of the San Gabriel River.  And the CBS report shows people prospecting in San Lytle Creek in the Sand Bernardino National Forest


The PBS show SoCAl Connected said that their story was filmed were “deep in the Angeles National Forest”

Website that Summarizes where you can prospect for free on public lands in California

Another option is to join a prospecting club that has purchased the right to a claim.

Gold Prospecting Organizations and Education

Southern California Prospecting Club They have some claims about three hours away that you can mine if you join the club.  They also have monthly meetings, a club newspaper called The Treasure and an awards banquet.

Gold Prospecting Association of America  They have all the equipment and training you will need.  They also have gold claims in all the counties surrounding Orange County that you can use to find gold.  The association costs around $70/yr.  This association is associated with the Lost Dutchman Mine Association which owns two properties that you can prospect at.

Gold Prospecting Equipment

All you need to get started is items you probably already have

Shovel, 5 gal buckets, tweezers, magnifying glass, glass container to keep you gold in.

You will need to buy a pan and sifter.