Recreational Gold Mining

Gold mining is not just a part of Alaska's past, but it is still an important activity in many areas of the state today. You might like to try your hand at finding some of the precious metal. Recreational gold panning and prospecting are permitted, with some restrictions, on most public lands in Alaska. On private lands or mining claims, the owner's permission is needed to mine even if you are just gold panning. Alaska Native villages and corporation lands are private.

Land Status

It is not easy to determine where on public lands recreational gold mining is possible and permitted. You must always check on the status of the land before beginning your activities. If you are unsure of the status of a particular area, check with the federal Bureau of Land Management. They maintain the most up to date maps and information on land status, but you will need to know the exact location of the land in which you are interested, including meridian, township, range, and sometimes section. In Alaska, there is still land with undetermined status pending state and Native Corporation claims settlements. For this reason, it is not possible for accurate maps to be widely available.

To determine if an area is open to mineral entry and if there are legal mining claims in the area, contact the State Division of Mining, or, for claims on federal lands, the Bureau of Land Management. Once you have determined land status, know that it is public land, that it is open to mineral entry, and that it has no legal claims, check with the managing agency to determine what restrictions might be in force. In many areas, suction dredges are prohibited in order to protect streams.

If you wish to mine in someone else's legal claim, you must first have the permission of the claimant. They may refuse permission because they are currently mining the claim and/or because of concern about liability in case of injury or vehicle problems or damage. You may take part in other activities such as hiking, camping, or berry picking on mining claims as long as you don't disturb the equipment operations. As a recreational miner without a claim, you do not have the right to prevent anyone from looking for gold in a particular area.


In most cases, only the use of gold pans, shovels, pry bars, picks, and manually fed sluice boxes and rocker boxes are allowed in streams on public lands without a permit or authorization. In Chugach and Kenai Peninsula State Parks, (the only state parks which are presently open to any recreational mining activity) an individual is limited to one gold pan, one shovel, and one sluice box which is three (3) feet or less in length and fifteen (15) inches in width. In national parks and preserves, only surface sampling with a hand-held gold pan is allowed. No digging tools are allowed. Regardless of land status, the use of motorized earth-moving equipment, hydraulic mining either by gravity or mechanical methods, or the use of chemicals is not permitted by recreational miners.

Motorized vehicles are limited to existing roads and some trails. In certain situations, trails and some river outwash plains may open for official travel. Sometimes off-road vehicle permits are required for cross-country travel. Check with the agency in the area of interest.

Suction Dredges

Suction dredges with a suction hose diameter of four inches or less and sixteen horsepower or less may be used under certain conditions in national forests and on BLM lands. Check with the managing agency.

If you are using a dredge of any size, you must check with the Alaska Department of Fish & Game, Sportfish Division. Streams may be restricted because anadromous fish use them for migration, spawning, and rearing. Some streams are restricted during certain times of the year. The list of streams is quite long and you must know which stream you are interested in working before requesting a permit.

On any land in Alaska, a suction dredge with a nozzle diameter greater than six inches or a motor with more than sixteen horsepower or which processes more than 220 cubic yards/day requires a tri-agency permit which can be obtained from the Alaska Division of Mining. Suction dredges with a suction hose diameter greater than four inches require that a "Notice of Intent" be filed with the district manager.

Environmental Considerations

A recreational miner should work only in the active stream channel or on unvegetated gravel bars. No digging or excavating should be done in the stream banks. Environmental impacts should always be considered and minimized. Mining activities in streams might be restricted or have certain time constraints to protect fish and other organisms.

Even with simple tools, damage can be done. Care should be taken to minimize scarring the terrain or destroying natural resources. Fish and the aquatic insects they eat have difficulty surviving in heavily silted streams. You should not wash soil and vegetative material directly into the stream flow, as the silt and the decay of organic matter can cut off the oxygen supply to fish eggs buried within gravel spawning beds. Digging in the gravel beds can also destroy fish eggs.

Respect archeological, paleontological, and historical objects that you may find. It is unlawful to remove such artifacts from the site. In national parks, mineral specimens, except platinum, silver, gemstones, and fossils may be collected by hand in areas not specifically closed to mineral collecting.

Commercial Enterprises

If you want to learn more about gold mining and perhaps get a little color in the pan, but you do not have the time and/or interest for the investigation into land status, then you might want to consider taking advantage of a commercial outfit. These businesses have mining claims and will often rent you a pan and give some instruction.

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