Rocks & Minerals

Mineral Material Collection on the Forest

There are several locations on the Forest open to collection of rock (pit mineral/rock material) for personal use.  In most instances, a free use permit is required and available from the local ranger district office.  Maps are also available to help you locate the collection site on the ground.

Most of the National Forests in the western states are open to prospecting and mining, including panning and sluicing for gold. However, it is important that you recognize the following:

  • A considerable amount of privately owned land exists within the boundaries of most National Forests. These private lands are not open to prospecting or mining without the owner's permission. National Forest visitor maps, for sale at all Forest Service Offices or online, show the general location of these privately owned tracts.
  • Some National Forest areas are not available for prospecting and mining, including panning for gold. Those areas may include Wilderness, Acquired Lands, active mining claims, and Mineral Withdrawal Areas. The local ranger district office may be able to provide information about these specific areas.
  • The more easily found mineral deposits have already been discovered and "claimed" by other prospectors. Entering onto these claims for the purpose of prospecting or removing any mineral is "claim jumping" or trespassing.
  • Most western states have laws regarding prospecting and mining that vary from state to state. Therefore, it is important to understand and comply with state law when panning or sluicing on the National Forest.
  • Before you begin prospecting, check the local county records in the county courthouse and the Bureau of Land Management's Mining Claim website for any claims in the area in which you are interested. Then check the area on the ground for any evidence of a claim that may have been staked recently.


In general, four government agencies regulate prospecting and mining on Forest Service lands:

  • Forest Service:  The Forest Service manages the surface estate of the National Forest lands and is charged with ensuring that no adverse impacts to resources such as endangered species, water quality, fisheries, etc. result from prospecting and mining activities. Normally, panning or sluicing for gold using hand tools and non-motorized equipment is allowed without a Forest Service permit or bond. If an operation requires use of motorized equipment, suction dredges, results in the removal of vegetation, or causes significant ground disturbance, a prospector must contact the closest Forest Service district office to file a Notice of Intent to prospect or mine. Once a Notice of Intent is filed, the district office will provide specific bond and reclamation requirements to the prospector.
  • Bureau of Land Management (BLM):  The federal agency responsible for managing the mineral estate of the United States is the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The BLM Montana State Office manages minerals in Montana and is the office in which a claim staked in Montana is recorded. Please contact the BLM at (406) 896-5004 if you wish to stake a mineral claim in Montana.
  • The State of Montana also regulates mining and prospecting. Visit their website for information on Montana requirements for obtaining permits.
  • The local county conservation district also has jurisdiction and permit requirements for proposed work within a stream or floodplain.
Areas & Activities