Prospecting, Mining, And Searching For Treasure In Wilderness Areas

Activities such as prospecting and treasure troving also occur in Wilderness Areas of the Tonto National Forest. Some of these activities are described briefly below. For further information on these activities including regulations and necessary permits, contact local the Forest Service Office that administers the area of interest.


Prospecting is the gathering of information on mineral resources. Prospecting is allowed within a designated Wilderness Area, but an approved Plan of Operations is required. No person can acquire any right of interest to mineral resources discovered by prospecting or other information-gathering activity. Extraction of minerals (except a small grab sample) is a type of mining, and must comply with all related laws and regulations; see "Mining" below. If the search is for precious worked metal or other treasure, see "Treasure Trove Hunting" below.


Mining is any activity that attempts to extract minerals (which are valuable and locatable) from their natural setting. No mining of any type (whether for recreation and/or profit) is allowed except with an approved Notice of Intent and/or Plan of Operations for activity on a legal claim with valid existing rights. New mining claims can no longer be filed on designated Wilderness Areas. The Wilderness Act of 1964 allowed mining claims to be filed until January 1, 1984, at which time all Wilderness Areas were closed to new mineral entry. Subsequently- designated Wilderness Areas were closed to mineral entry upon enactment of the law creating them.

Gold Panning

This category includes panning, sluicing, or dredging wet or dry material. If any mineral is extracted by this activity (for recreation and/or profit), it is a type of mining; see "Mining" above. If mineral is not extracted, this activity would be a type of prospecting; see "Prospecting" above.

Metal Detecting

If the metal detector is used to search for and/or extract locatable minerals, the activity is considered either a form of prospecting or mining; see "Prospecting" and "Mining"above. If the search is for money (except recent vintage coins), or precious worked metal, see "Treasure Trove Hunting" below. If the search is for recent vintage coins, no permit is needed so long as there is no significant soil disturbance.

Treasure Trove Hunting

A treasure trove is defined as money, gems, or precious worked metal (in the form of coins, plate, bullion, etc.) of unknown ownership. Not included are recent vintage coins, locatable minerals, or archeological resources and specimens. Searching for such treasure must be authorized by a permit. Applications for Treasure Trove Permits are evaluated on a case-by-case basis; approval requires that evidence of treasure is of such a character that a person of ordinary prudence would be justified in the expenditure of labor and funds, with a reasonable possibility of success. Permits are issued for a specific number of days and the site is subject to inspection.

Other Wilderness Resources