Gold Panning, Rockhounding, and Fossil Collecting

Gold Panning

Photo of a pan being used to pan for gold.In most cases, stream-bed (placer) gold does not exist in sufficient quantity to constitute economically recoverable deposits. Usually no more than a few cents worth of gold can be panned in an hour; however, there's always a chance of finding a stray nugget or odd pocket of finer gold.

 Recreational panning for gold in most stream beds is allowed. Special permission, permits, or fees are not required as long as significant stream disturbance does not occur and when only a small hand shovel or trowel and a pan are used. In-stream sluices and suction dredges are NOT allowed.

Contact the District Ranger office to be sure the stream is on national forest land. The district office can also give you information on road access and road conditions. Some forest areas are easily accessible by family autos while others may be inaccessible, or accessible only by four-wheel drive vehicles. Some roads close seasonally and remote areas may only be accessible by foot. You can find information on seasonal road closures on our Motor Vehicle Use Maps.

Rock Hounding

Photo of people looking for rocks.A "rock hound" is any amateur who hunts and collects rocks and minerals as a hobby. Within the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests, rock hounds may find a wide variety of sedimentary, metamorphic, and igneous rock types, along with many individual minerals.  Recreational rockhounding may take place at areas where minerals are loose and free on the surface.

Before selecting a site, rock hounds should check with the District Ranger offices to determine the following:

  • The location is on National Forest land.
  • Rock hounding is permitted in the area.

Special permission, permits, or fees are not required to take a handful of rock, mineral, or petrified wood specimens from the surface of National Forest lands for personal use. You can collect a specimen if you can see all or part of it exposed on the surface of the ground. You can remove up to 6 inches of soil immediately around the specimen you are collecting. Do not dig so much as to cause significant surface disturbance that leads to damage of natural resources. You may collect reasonable amounts of specimens. Generally, a reasonable amount is up to 10 pounds. You can only collect specimens for personal use and non-commercial gain. Commercial use involves any trading, bartering, or selling of rocks and minerals from National Forest system lands.

Rock hounding must not be confused with commercial mineral activities which are governed by mining and mineral leasing laws. No mechanical equipment may be used and any collection must not conflict with existing mineral permits, leases, claims, or sales.

You can purchase maps of the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests on line at your convenience. The best sources of information on minerals are State Geological Survey offices, university geology departments and libraries, mineralogical societies, and rock hounding/lapidary clubs.

Causing ground disturbance or collecting minerals for commercial gain without a permit is punishable by fines and potential restoration costs.

Can I take some fossils home from the national forests in Georgia?

Yes, you can take a few fossil rocks home, provided:

  • you are not in a designated Wilderness area
  • you are collecting for non-commercial purposes (such as hobby, recreational, or educational purposes)
  • you do not create significant ground disturbance, and
  • you are not using any mechanized equipment

Fossil collecting for commercial purposes is not allowed.