Metal Detecting on the Monongahela National Forest

The metal detecting policy on public lands is fairly restrictive to protect our valuable, non-renewable historical resources. Special care must be taken on public lands to protect historical remains. If you feel you may have discovered any material remains of human life or activities which are at least 50 years of age and which are archaeological interest, you must stop searching and contact Monongahela National Forest offices immediately


Recognized and Forms of Metal Detecting

Recreational Pursuits

Searching for lost coins, jewelry, and incidental metal items having no historical value is the most common form of metal detector use. Such use is common in developed campgrounds, swimming areas, and picnic areas and requires no permit.

Please be careful to recognize if the area may indeed contain archaeological or historical resources and, if it does, cease metal detecting and notify a Forest Service office. Not doing so may result in prosecution under the Code of Federal Regulations or Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979.

Under these laws, the following activities are prohibited:

  • Digging in, excavating, disturbing, injuring, destroying, or in any way damaging any prehistoric, historic, or archaeological resource, structure, site, artifact, or property.
  • Removing any prehistoric, historic, or archaeological resource, structure, site, artifact, or property.

Digging of any type is not allowed without a permit Please only search for items on the surface. 

Searching for Treasure Trove

Requires a special use permit. Treasure trove is defined as money, uncounted gems, or precious metals in the form of coin, plate, or bullion that has been deliberately hidden with the intention of recovering it later. 


Using a metal detector to locate gold or other mineral deposits is permitted subject to the General Mining Law of 1872. A Notice of Intent (36 CFR 228 A) is required for prospecting, and metal detectors may be used in this activity. Prospecting that involves land disturbance also requires the filing of a mining plan of operations.

People who use metal detectors for this activity should bear in mind that many of the mineralized lands within the NFS have been “claimed” by others who have sole right to prospect and develop the mineral resource found on the claim. A search of County and Bureau of Land Management records should be made prior to prospecting to determine if an area has been claimed.

Searching for Historic or Prehistoric Artifacts

Using a metal detector to locate archaeological or historical remains is subject to the Antiquities Act of 1906 and ARPA as amended and requires a special use permit. Such permits are granted for scientific research only.

ARPA forbids anyone from excavating or removing archaeological resources from federal or Indian land without a permit from a land managing agency. ARPA also forbids any sales, purchases, exchange, transport, or receipt.


Getting Involved

Recognizing the universal interest in archaeology and history and the vast public knowledge of such resources, the USDA Forest Service sponsors a public archaeology program through which metal detector enthusiasts and others can help. Passport in Time (PIT) is a national program inviting the public to work with agency archaeologists on historic preservation projects.

We have done numerous projects through PIT in cooperation with metal detecting clubs and individuals. The cooperation has been beneficial for both the detectorists and agency’s archaeologists. Locating archaeological sites becomes a joint endeavor and we learn a great deal. If you would like more information on this program, call 1-800-281-9176 or visit

For additional information on metal detecting on Monongahela National Forest contact the Heritage Program Manager at 304-635-4450.