The "A" List: Top States for Placer Gold in the USA (Part 1)

Here's a list of the best states (based on historical production records) for placer gold in the United States of America. I appreciate the suggestions and ideas some of you have sent in and this post is a reflection of your input.

And the first place winner is...

1. California

The once-Golden State has consistently outpaced all other states in the USA in both wet and dry placer mining and placer gold production and still offers decent opportunities (with some reservations as you'll soon see) for small-scale placer miners for recovering good gold values in nearly every part of the state. The gold areas in California range from the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the Mojave Desert and from the Klamath wilderness near the Oregon Border to the extreme southeastern tip across the Colorado River from Yuma, Arizona. California's main gold-producing area is the historically famous and extensive Motherlode Region of Gold Rush days which includes well-known placer gold streams and rivers like the Feather, Mokelumne, American, Consumnes, Calaveras, and Yuba and their tributaries. The Motherlode itself runs nearly 150 miles from north to south and is 50-75 miles wide in certain areas. That's one hell of a lot of gold ground brothers and sisters, believe you me. California has its share of lode or hard-rock areas as well, but since we're talking about placer ground here, I'll let that aspect fall by the wayside for now.

Here's the bad news though. In recent years California has led the anti-mining charge and that doesn't just mean the big companies and means you as well. The culprits in this radical anti-mining BS are the usual suspects, including elitist "greenies," the white wine and quiche crowd from San Francisco and Hollywood, and the state's left-leaning politicos who are crazier than a dozen coots for the most part. Thus, my use of the term, the "once-Golden State." Suction dredging for placer gold has been banned in California and an evil eye watches every movement small-scale gold miners make. Some small-scale guys and gals have been yanked up short by over-zealous state and federal rangers ("forest Nazis" as "Muskrat" likes to call them) even when using highbankers or portable sluice boxes. In other words, small-scale miners are getting screwed with on occasion, especially in the Motherlode area. If you want to escape this sort of interference and hassle I suggest you try dry washing in California's desert or dry placer regions. The greenies are too busy hugging trees up north to bother with most desert rats down south and east in the state. At least that's my read.

(If only they would choke themselves...sigh.)
The runner up is...

2. Alaska

Nearly all of Alaska's gold production has come from placers, especially those in the Yukon River Basin. But paying placer deposits have been worked along nearly all of the 49th State's major rivers and their tributaries. Extensive placer beach and ocean deposits in the Nome District still produce good gold values as evidenced by the off-the-wall antics of the motley crews of underwater dredgers seen on the TV reality show, Bering Sea Gold. Very good alluvial, elluvial, and bench placers can be found in the drainages of the Copper and Kuskokwim Rivers. In recent years some very large placer gold nuggets have been recovered by nugget hunters using metal detectors in areas where old-time bucket dredges once processed river gravels. There are even pay-as-you-go gold camps in the 49th State where you can nugget hunt, sluice, highbank, or dredge. Alaska still offers many challenging and potentially rewarding opportunities for those small-scale gold miners with the time, means, and constitution to exploit them.

On the other side of the coin, Alaska is not all it's made out to be on the plethora of TV reality shows about Alaskan mining, hunting, and homesteading. It seems you can't change the channel these days without a new Alaskan reality show popping up. It's not just saturation, it's overkill. Remember, perception is not always reality. Alaska's a tough gig for most folks, especially those living and working out in the boonies. It may be the last frontier in the USA, but it takes a special sort of person to make a go of it there, mining included. There's no question about its natural beauty and great mineral resources, but Ma Nature isn't kind to dilettantes or the unprepared or unwary in Alaska. "Doc," a Vietnam buddy of mine has lived, fished, and hunted in the boonies of Alaska for over 20 years now and he's told me what a struggle it can be up there. Now he's looking to get the hell out of Dodge and move back to Texas where it's not only warmer, but tamer. Just throwing that out there.

(One of those recent Alaskan nugget finds I mentioned.)

Coming in at number three is...

3. Montana

This might surprise a few folks unless I miss my bet. The Treasure State has produced huge amounts of placer and lode gold historically. Montana's main placer mining districts are located in the southwestern part of the state and the most significant placers can be found in the Helena District, which is near Helena and includes many workable placers along the Missouri River and upstream along the Missouri. Additionally, the headwaters and tributaries of the Missouri in Madison County (near Virginia City and Bannock) were large placer gold producers historically as well. Good amounts of placer gold have also been recovered from the headwaters of the Clark Fork of the Columbia River at various locations. I can't speak much in the way of specifics about Montana gold mining since I've never been up that way, so do your research if you're interested in gold in the Treasure State.

(Helena, Montana. At lot of placer gold was recovered nearby.)

4. Idaho

The famous potato state is home to my friend Gary "Muskrat" Thomas, a Renaissance Man in the best sense of the term. I've never been to Idaho either, so Gary knows more about gold there than I do. That said, the Boise Basin District, northeast of the city of Boise, is probably the best known and most extensive placer area in Idaho, with a substantial historical production of placer gold (most of this from large bucket dredge operations). Other extensive gold placers can be found along the Salmon River in Lemhi and Idaho Counties and on the Clearwater River and its tributaries, especially near Elk City, Pierce, and Orofino. Some very fine or "flour" gold can also be found along the Snake River at various locations.

 (Idaho's Salmon River.)

Let's take a minute or two to talk about bucket dredge operations. These old-time behemoths processed staggering amounts of placer gold ground in their heyday. What they left behind was mostly mile after mile of worm-like fine tailings but their weakness (if there was one) was a tendency to "bump and dump" larger rocks off into piles or sections. Any gold contained with these bumps and dumps, including large nuggets or gold in quartz or other matrices was left behind. What I'm saying here is that NO piece of mining equipment is 100% efficient, bucket dredges included. In the past 10-15 years some amazing gold finds have been recovered by nugget hunters swinging metal detectors over these bump and dump piles. Many very large nuggets have been found this way in Alaska, and good finds have turned up in California in similar fashion. Maybe the same holds true for Idaho. I don't know but it's definitely something to think about.

(Paul A. made a great suggestion about including a "newbie notes" section in my posts and that's exactly what I'm gonna do. From now on each post will close with a Newbie Notes tip or suggestion.)

Here's the first:


Be proud you're a newbie. Yep, you heard right. You may not know a lot right now and may struggle valiantly with this whole gold mining thing. But be thankful you're just starting and have all that quality time stretching out before you. Many of you will develop a life-long love and passion for gold mining and prospecting and many good finds await you out there once you learn the ropes and gain some solid experience. I'm here to help you in that regard and so are the other Bedrock Dreams miners. Watch, listen, read, study, and research gold mining in all its aspects. That's your first task. Establish a firm foundation to learn and grow from. Take things one step at a time and know that one day you'll be the old salt or sourdough passing along your expertise to a new generation of small-scale gold miners. So take heart and be proud of yourself.

Peace to one and all.

(c)  Jim Rocha 2017

Questions? E-mail me at


  1. WELL DONE JIM! And thanks!

  2. Thank you Gary and thanks to the other readers who made good suggestions.


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