Rocks & Minerals

Mineral Prospecting and Mining

Mineral prospecting and other mining-related activities (i.e. use of sluice boxes, suction dredges, pick and shovel work) are considered commercial endeavors, and not a recreational activity. The right to enter federal lands to remove valuable minerals such as gold, silver, or copper is governed by the mining laws like the General Mining Law of 1872 and the Surface Resources Act of 1955.

Information about mining regulations for federal lands can be found in 36 Code of Federal Regulations 228, or by contacting the Minerals Specialist on the Whitman Ranger District.

Recreational Gold Panning

Gold panning is an enjoyable past time for some visitors on the National Forest. Visitors may pan or search for gold on federal lands in the west, but they have the responsibility of knowing where to legally pan to avoid areas claimed by others. There are over 1500 active mining claims on the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, with new areas claimed each day. Panning or searching for gold on someone's legal claim can be considered “claim jumping” and is not allowed. By law, mining claims should be marked on the ground generally by posts or sometimes paperwork for the claim is in a jar nailed to a tree. However absence of such markings does not mean the area is not legally claimed. Many areas in Wallowa, Union, and Baker County that are near roads or streams may already be covered by existing claims, and are not available for gold panning to visitors. 

If you want to review a specific area, please check with the local courthouse or BLM website that tracks the status of active mining claims in the state.

Areas Closed or Withdrawn from Mineral Entry

Areas closed to mineral entry include administratively 'withdrawn areas' such as the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area, designated wilderness areas, “wild” portions of wild and scenic rivers, administrative sites like campgrounds, recreation rentals, and special places such as the Ah Hee Diggings near Granite.

Books or internet web sites listing Antlers Guard Station, Deer Creek, McCulley Forks, and Eagle Forks campgrounds and Mason Dam Recreation Area as “recreational panning” areas are outdated and that information found in them is incorrect. The Wallowa-Whitman National Forest does not have any designated recreational gold panning areas.