Gold in the West: Idaho (Part 4)

(Idaho's Salmon River, location of numerous gold placers.)

Idaho County

The largest of Idaho's gold-bearing counties, Idaho County is recorded as having produced nearly 2,200,000 troy ounces of the precious yellow metal, most of that from placers. Your best bets will be found just about anywhere along the Salmon River's gravels, including benches and terraces. Try focusing your attention in the Warren Marshal District of the Salmon, since those placers were once extremely rich, producing nearly a million troy ounces by themselves. Other areas to check out can be found along Lolo, Mussell, and Eldorado Creeks. At one time very rich placer ground was worked on and near these creeks.

Gold Pans

(Note: Although I can't verify the fact, I've heard tales of dredgers recovering 1-3 troy ounces per day at certain spots on Lolo Creek. That's a lot of gold per day for small-scale or recreational mining anytime, anywhere. Trust me, I know. J.R.)

The Dixie District has a mixed bag of recorded placer and lode gold production. Areas near Elk City may provide a good starting point as well as on the north side of the Salmon River. In that area you may want to sample along Sheep Creek or Crooked Creek, since both those streams were once big placer gold producers.

A potentially very profitable area for small-scale miners (providing you can find access or open areas to work) is the Elk City District. The District produced over 800,000 troy ounces of gold, with a good part of that coming from placer diggings. The best spots can be found along the South Fork of the Clearwater River and just about anywhere on the American River.

(Note: One highly interesting aspect of the Elk City District is the fact it contains rich Tertiary Channel gravels [i.e., prehistoric rivers of gold] that sit high above present day stream courses, much like California's Northern Motherlode region. J.R.)

The Florence/French Creek Districts are about 45 minutes from Grangeville, Idaho. Although debatable, these two districts are said to be the best placer gold producers in the entire state. Over a cool million troy ounces of placer gold came out of this region's gulches, streams, washes, and creeks. For a time in the late 1800s thousands of miners worked these rich placers and then declaring them "worked out," moved on to better ground elsewhere. That's when Chinese miners arrived, pulling untold additional amounts of placer gold out of this region and literally "leaving no stone unturned."

(Note: As I've mentioned elsewhere in "Bedrock Dreams," you won't find me attempting to work any area that Chinese miners worked in the old days. Why? They were not only good at that they did, they were much more meticulous and thorough about mining than their Anglo predecessors. Call me crazy, but no old Chinese "workings" for me, no way, no how. I don't care how rich they might have been at one time. J.R.)

Just east of Kooskia along portions of Maggie Creek excellent placer gold ground can be found by small-scale miners with a practiced eye and hand. I've been told some very nice (and large pieces) of placer gold have been recovered here in the past and recently as well.

That's it for this round. Stay tuned for more...

(c) J.R. 2010

Questions? E-mail me at