The author working a pan in a southern Indiana creek looking for "color" Photo by author
The author working a pan in a southern Indiana creek looking for “color” Photo by author


For years, just that single word has spurred men to do strange and irresponsible things, caused them to leave their homes and families and lose their fortunes in its quest. In 1849, when gold was discovered in California, many East and Midwest settlers headed toward the gold fields. Today, most adults wear or possess some form of gold.

To obtain gold 150 years ago, the average individual had to travel to the west, endure great hardships, and find his gold by separating it a panful at a time from the surrounding rock, gravel, and sand. Fortunately, you can do it in your own backyard regardless of where you live. (More on that later.)

Indiana gold panning is easy. To get good at it takes a little bit of practice. The equipment needed to start is minimal. First, you need a pan. Gold pans come in basically two types, steel or plastic. Both come in numerous sizes and designs, while the plastic pans also come in different shapes and colors. Steel is the traditional material used by nineteenth century prospectors. The modern plastic has many advantages which, while technical, are nonetheless important. The plastic pan with the built in riffles (ridges) are the best, and most pans now come with them. Cost of a plastic gold pan is around $15. Another item you will need for actual field operations is a small shovel. The army surplus type folding shovel is fine, but any small, easily carried, similar tool will work. This is used to dig down to and scrape the bedrock in a creek where the gold collects. This tool is not necessary in back yard practice sessions.

Two other minor items you should have are an eyedropper and a small glass vial. The eyedropper is used to pick up tiny gold flakes out of the bottom of your pan. It can be picked up at any drugstore. The glass vial is used to put your gold flakes in. Most metal detector dealers either stock or can order pans and vials for you. The Keene Engineering website at will give you an excellent idea of the equipment available in the search for gold.

Tree roots, mossy banks, and the edges of fast water are all good places for gold to settle. Photo by author
Tree roots, mossy banks, and the edges of fast water are all good places for gold to settle. Photo by author

Now that you have the absolute essentials for panning gold, you need to decide where to look. Indiana, has gold in sufficient quantities for recreational panning. Most of that gold is in Morgan and Brown Counties, but other south-central creeks contain some. None of this gold is native to Indiana, but was brought down from Canada in glaciers during the Ice Age and left at the lower reaches of the ice pack when the glaciers retreated. Other states such as Ohio and Illinois should also have some gold left behind by the ice. Of course, if you travel a lot, Alaska and California still contain much gold, as do all of the States in the western third of the U.S. Less well known is the fact that large amounts of gold are located in Georgia, North and South Carolina, and Virginia. If you are planning a vacation in these areas, a gold panning side trip could prove interesting.

When you pick your hunting site, it should be a creek with at least some water available in it. Dry panning can be done, but is not easy or effective, especially for the beginner. In the creek, gold lies in areas where the water current slows. Start looking in pockets on the downstream side of boulders or rocks in the center of the creek. As the water races around an obstruction, the water slows on the far side and the heavy gold settles out. Also, on a large bend in a river or stream, the water flows faster around the outside curve but slows down on the inside turn. Look along the bank just around the curve on the downstream side. If the creek has meandered or moved its course around in the past, as many do, the gold may be located in the old bed if it can be found. Basically, no concrete rules apply. Gold is where you find it (and a lot of other places too!)

Ready to start? Wait! Have you gotten permission to pan gold at this spot? You must get the owner’s OK. Claim jumpers were not tolerated 200 years ago and are not well liked even now.

Now you’re ready. Take your shovel and try to scrape the gravel off the bottom of the creek until you hit solid rock. This is where most of the gold settles. While it is easier to actually pan the gold in the water, it is easier to get the material to put in your pan in a dry area of the creek. Get 2/3 of a pan of fine rock or sand from as close to bedrock as you can get. In a dry area, try to find cracks in the rock and pick out the cracks with a screwdriver or other suitable tool. Fine gold will settle in these cracks. Place your pan of material under water in an area of little or no current. If you have any moss or clay in your pan, carefully tear up the moss, washing it directly over your pan. Moss holds gold. Next, completely dissolve clay lumps, as gold attaches to the sticky mud. Now, pick out all the large and medium size stones and wash them over your pan, then discard them. Being careful not to spill anything, push your hands down into the remaining material and knead it several times like bread dough. This helps settle the heavier gold to the bottom. This entire process only takes a couple minutes and now you are ready for the most important step.

This "concentrator" pan and sluice are another way to speed up the process of looking for gold. Photo by author
This “concentrator” pan and sluice are another way to speed up the process of looking for gold. Photo by author

Hold the pan tightly with both hands and, while underwater, (the pan, not you!) begin moving it in a circular motion. Do this carefully so none of the contents spill out. After a few turns, the entire mess will begin moving and the gold will quickly work its way downward. You can again remove any large rocks from the top of the conglomerate. Tilt the pan slightly so the built in riffles tip away from you and continue swirling underwater. The lighter material on top will start spilling over the front edge. Occasionally, tilt the pan backwards to position all the contents back into the bottom of the pan. Then, tip and swirl again. Some side-to-side motion or front-to-back can be worked into the movement. Your practice at home will determine the easiest and best motion for you. Continue washing more and more of the top sand and gravel over the edge. At this point, if you are in a productive area, you should see some black sand appearing. This sand is very heavy and is usually associated with gold. You should also start to see small gold flakes in your pan. Tilt the pan back to settle the contents on the bottom often now. Continue to pan. The pan should be light enough now to do it one handed. If you want, take the eyedropper and pick up the small, yellow flakes and put them in your bottle. The gold is often hard to separate from the black sand, especially for a beginner. To save time, you might want to carefully dump your remaining pan contents into a bucket and continue panning it at home. You can then process your material several times for the practice and to find out how much gold you are losing. You must give your gold a chance to settle behind the ridges in your pan, so go slow and always keep the concentrates in the pan underwater while you are working them.

There is no substitute for having a real person demonstrate proper panning technique though metal detecting magazines usually carry several ads promoting gold panning books and videos. Gold Prospector-the magazine for gold and treasure hunters- can sometimes be found at newsstands or grocery stores, as can Western & Eastern Treasures and Lost Treasure magazines. These can usually be found along with gold panning books at most metal detector shops.

This small dredge is an easy way to cover a lot of area in a small creek. Photo by author
This small dredge is an easy way to cover a lot of area in a small creek. Photo by author

Even if you can’t (or don’t want to) travel to other states, you can still pan gold in your own back yard. A large washtub or even a kid’s plastic swimming pool will serve as your creek. Fill your pan with a sand and gravel mixture and poke 6 or 7 BB’s or small lead splitshot sinkers into it. Practice until you can pan this mix without losing any BB’s (simulates gold!). If you decide you want the real thing, check a copy of the Gold Prospector magazine. It will have several ads where you can send for varying quantities of sand/gravel mix containing gold to pan at home. This is fun and the samples usually contain quite a lot of gold. Save all the material after you pan it and it can be used over and over. Buy several bags and see who is the best (or luckiest) panner in your family.

Few modern day prospectors will earn a fortune hunting gold, but the fresh air and exercise coupled with the excitement of watching your pan for the first sign of “color” might be fortune enough to give Indiana gold panning a try.


Indiana DNR Rules on Gold Prospecting (PDF)

Indiana DNR Gold Prospecting Page

Suggested Equipment available at Amazon:



  1. Hello Richard, I have been gold prospecting for years now and really liked your article you have here. I have done lots of panning and all you say here is just right, at times I wonder in I am doing it right. lol. But have more equipment now and having lots of fun when I find a place to go. Thanks. Jimmie Smith

  2. We own a few acres of property about a mile North of Nashville Indiana which is in Brown County.
    Part of the property has a small stream that usually dries up in the summer.
    I remember my Grandfather telling me stories of gold being found in Brown County when I was a child. He passed away several decades ago. I miss him.
    Now that my Grandson is with me and I’m slowing down in life. Those stories from Grandpa are coming to mind. The creek on our property is very small. I want to start working it to maybe find some of that gold Grandpa talked about.
    Any suggestions or contacts that may be useful are welcome.
    Thank You for the great article.
    Take Care and Be Safe..


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