Gold panning for fun — not profit!

Photo by Lesli Christianson-Kellow

I tilt my gold pan and backpan gently, and just where it should be, in the groove of my gold pan, fine, powdery gold has collected along with a bit of black sand. Once again I have found gold.

My husband and I have just returned from our family’s annual gold panning and camping trip. Yes, gold panning. No, we didn’t find any gold nuggets.

No, we didn’t strike it rich. Yes, it’s a real thing that people do as a recreational hobby. How much gold did we find in a two week period? Well, maybe $7.00 worth.

Why do we do it? For the fun of it, of course, and for the challenge. It takes practice to develop your gold panning skills, and once your skills are solid, you’re motivated to keep looking for gold,

The science of gravity supports the technique used in gold panning. Gold is a heavy metal. Therefore the weight of the gold and the technique of gold panning causes the gold to fall to the bottom of the gold pan. The gold will end up in the same place every time, guaranteed. What is not guaranteed is actually finding gold.

But, gold panning is a fun hobby that you can combine with camping, fishing and hiking. It’s an activity we often do as a group, arranging to meet up with friends at gold claims or at gold club functions or gold panning competitions. The variety of people that are attracted to the sport of gold panning is amazing.

In the 1970s, my Dad was struck with gold fever and gold panning was often part of our family’s camping trips growing up. I was a teenager before I realized that gold panning was not your typical family hobby. But I’ve continued the tradition, and my daughters also grew up gold panning and taking part in gold panning competitions. They are third generation gold panners.

Gold panning is one way of searching for gold, usually near a river or a creek. Some areas are open for gold panning, but in other areas you can’t gold pan unless you have a claim. It’s advisable to research what areas you can gold pan.

There are gold claims all over B.C., where the land has been segmented into grids and each grid is considered a gold claim. It used to be that you had to go out into the forest and physically stake a claim using GPS coordinates, and sweat and grit.

An actual stake with the claim owner’s identification was pounded into the ground and that indicated the boundary of the claim. Then the claim had to be registered at the B.C. Mineral Titles office.

If your claim was staked inaccurately then you had to go back out into the bush and re-do your work. These days, a person can stake a claim by registering online and pushing a button on their computer.

What do you need to get started with gold panning?
A gold pan, a shovel, a snuffer bottle, a glass vial with a tight lid (to hold your riches). And a lot of patience.
How do you pan for gold?
Shovel gravel into your pan. Ideally, you are in an area where gold has been found, or that indicates that gold would likely be in the area. (Black sand, inside bend of a river).

Why doesn’t the gold fall out of the pan?
Gold is heavy, the back and forth motion, agitates the contents of the pan causing the gold to drop down to the bottom of the pan.

How do you get that tiny gold out of the pan?
By using a snuffer bottle, this bottle allows you to easily suck up little specks of gold.

What do you do with the gold?
Most prospector’s dump the day’s contents from the snuffer bottle back into the gold pan to ‘clean it up’ by getting rid of any extra materials that are sucked up with the snuffer bottle, like black sand.

Then the gold is panned again and then back panned to once again use gravity to coax the gold into the crevice of the gold pan. Once the gold has been cleaned then it is sucked back up with the snuffer bottle. Then it can be transferred to a glass vial.

There are clubs you can join to learn more about gold panning and to swap gold panning stories with. The Alberta Gold Prospectors Association has regular outings and competitions for their membership (

It’s not a guarantee that you will ever strike it rich or find a big nugget, but that’s part of the fun, and the challenge – you just never know if the next pan might hold a shiny nugget.

After all Gold is where you find it!