One great thing about prospecting in Washington is that gold can be found in just about every part of the state. Placer gold is probably most prevalent in the creeks and rivers of the Cascade Range, but central and eastern Washington also have some great areas to prospect for gold as well.
Here are 25 rivers in Washington with documented occurrences of placer gold.
1. Skagit River
A short distance upstream on the Skagit River is the town of Lyman. A small amount of placer gold mining was done around Day Creek on the south side of the river from Lyman.
As you venture further upstream toward the headwaters, you can find additional areas that will have the potential for gold. One notable location in this area is Ruby Creek, a tributary to the Skagit River. There was once a small placer mining operation at the mouth of the creek just north of Ruby Mountain. The exact site has been inundated with water since the construction of the dam on Ross Lake. This general area still holds good potential for prospecting, but make sure you stay clear of North Cascades National Park, as mineral extraction of any kind is prohibited.
2. Sauk River
Gold can be panned on the Sauk River. Around the town of Darrington, including Deer Creek and the area around Gold Mountain have gold.
There is lots of public lands to explore in this area, so don’t feel limited to just exploring the river. Many creeks throughout the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie Natural Forest will have gold in them. Hiking in with a gold pan to some of the lesser explored areas may result in some new gold discoveries that others have not located yet.
3. Stillaguamish River
There have been some small historic gold diggings on both the North and South Fork Stillaguamish River over the years. The area around Gold Basin is worth exploring. Try the waters around Granite Falls as this is a known area for gold. Most will be very fine particles that don’t add up to much value, but it’s always fun explore!
4. Sultan River
A productive area for gold has been downstream of Spada Lake and on Williams Creek. Some historic mining took place at the mouth of the Sultan River where it enters into the Skykomish River at Sultan.
Other historic mining efforts focused on the canyon above the Horseshoe Bend above the powerhouse hydro project. The river was heavily mined by Chinese miners during the last century. The records on how much gold they found are basically nonexistent today, so the total gold recovery would only be speculation.
Large companies have tried to locate the source that feeds the gold placers on Sultan River, but ore veins fracturing into smaller scattered veins has made it difficult for any serious mining efforts to take place. The best bet for finding gold will be to pan and sluice the river gravels above Horseshoe Bend.
5. Skykomish River
There has been a sizable amount of placer mining done on the Skykomish River. Gold can be found throughout the river system, but one area that is known to be especially productive is around the town of Sultan.
The towns of Galena and Mineral City is located a short distance up Silver Creek. Both Silver Creek and the North Fork Skykomish River have produced some gold over the years.
6. Snoqualmie River
Snoqualmie River has some gold, as well as many of its tributaries. Of particular interest are Denny Creek up near the ski area, as well as the Tolt River, Raging River, and Miller River. Placer gold can be panned from all these areas.
7. Ozette River
There are very fine deposits of placer gold and also platinum that has been mined from the beach sands. One place that was fairly rich was at the mouth of the Ozette River.
The beach placers along the Washington Coast are quite unique and have an interesting history. While they were nowhere near as rich as the famous beaches of Nome, Alaska, there was definitely a lot of mining activity in this area for many years, particularly around Neah Bay, Shi Shi Beach, and at the mouth of the Ozette River. The gold here is tiny particles as small as grains of sand. It takes thousands, perhaps even millions of those tiny specks of gold to accumulate into a quantity of any real value. Capturing this super fine gold is a real challenge.
The problem for modern prospectors is that most of the best areas are now off-limits because they are situated within the Olympic National Park. Other good mining beaches in the area are on tribal lands and will require permission to prospect. From what I can tell, the Ozette River and most surrounding beaches will be completely off-limits for any prospecting activities today.
8. Columbia River
There has been a surprising amount of gold mined along the Columbia River over the years. Before the dams, there were many, many miners that used sluice boxes and rocker boxes to recover find gold from the gravels along the Columbia River.
This was another river that once saw considerable mining activity from Chinese miners. They were discriminated against during the early gold rush. The white miners would not allow them to work the best claims. This resulted in them working the less-desirable gravels like those on the Columbia River. While it was possible to get by, it took a lot of hard work to accumulate enough gold to make a viable mining operation.
Historically, most mining on the Columbia River took place between Grand Coolie Dam and the Canadian Border. The vast majority of this area is now inundated by Lake Roosevelt. The river has changed a lot over the years and a lot of these old placer operations are now covered with water.
9. East Fork Lewis River
Southwestern Washington isn’t the richest part of the state, but one place where gold can be found is in the East Fork Lewis River. Most of the gold is fine textured, but every once in a while a little “picker” is also found here.
I wrote a more detailed article about placer mining in Southwest Washington including the Lewis River, you can find it here. Platinum and gold have both been mined from the river gravels.
10. Cowlitz River
Similar to the Columbia River, there are some very small amounts of gold in the Cowlitz River. There are actually some lode gold deposits that have been discovered around Mount St. Helens that have gotten some attention by larger mining companies in recent years. There are likely a few gold veins up on the volcano that have eroded and made their way into the gravel bars of the Cowlitz River.
11. Wenatchee River
Placer gold can be found all throughout the Wenatchee River. A good amount of placer mining has taken place around the town of Leavenworth on the Wenatchee River and Icicle Creek and Bridge Creek. Decent quantities can be recovered from this area in certain areas.
The stretch of the river downstream of Leavenworth is best. Evidence of past mining can be seen around Leavenworth and Dryden.
12. Chiwawa River
The Chiwawa River will produce some placer gold. One area that has seen some mining is near the mouth of Deep Creek. Most of the creeks around this area would be worthy of checking out. This is big country with a lot of big mountains and remote mountains streams. I suspect a person could use a gold pan and find some nice placer gold in many of the creeks throughout this area. Some hiking into remote areas might be the trick here, just make sure you are prepared for the adventure.
13. Entiat River
The Entiat River flows from the high country of the Cascade Mountains and some gold can be found all throughout the river. Check the smaller creeks that feed into it too. The Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest provides endless areas that a prospector could search. There is definitely gold to be found all around this general area.
Washington Gold Prospecting Clubs
Bedrock Prospectors Western Washington Prospectors Washington Prospectors Mining Association North American Miners Association Northwest Mineral Prospectors Club North Central Washington Prospectors Southwest Washington Gold Prospectors Yakima Prospectors Association
There are many gold prospecting and rockhounding clubs throughout Washington State. Joining these clubs can help you gain access to private claims in rich gold-bearing areas. It is also a great way to learn how to find gold by meeting experienced miners. The small annual fee to join a club is “worth its weight in gold” for the knowledge that you will receive.
14. Mad River
The Mad River also has some gold, and due to its remoteness it likely hasn’t been prospected very hard. You could camp at the Pine Flats Campground at the lower end and explore the many mountain roads and trails throughout the forest to explore the river and the many creeks.
15. Stehekin River
Fine gold can be found throughout the Stehekin River. A few scattered copper and gold mines can be found all throughout this drainage from its headwaters to where it enters Lake Chelan. Iron stained rock outcrops area an indicator for the rich mineral ores in this area. Ore deposits run through quartz veins within galena, pyrite and sphalerite.
16. Okanogan River
Fine gold can be found all throughout the Okanogan River from the British Columbia border down to its confluence with the Columbia River. The gold is very fine here so careful gold panning is needed to recover the gold.
Gold concentrations are likely similar to those that were found along the Columbia River, but the main difference is that most of the Okanogan River is still in a free-flowing state. The upper section near Oroville is probably best known to have gold, with some larger nuggets and “pickers” being found here in the past.
17. Simikameen River
The Similkameen River that flows into the Okanogan River has also produced a decent amount of gold, including some sizable nuggets over the years. Using a metal detector might be a good way to find some of these gold nuggets. The Loomis-Oroville Road follows right along the river and provides several great access points to large gravel bars that could be prospected.
The small mining camp of Nighthawk is situated just east of the bridge over the river a few miles north of Palmer Lake, with a historical marker along the highway. Minerals were found in this area in the 1860s, and several mines operated in this area for many years. The townsite itself is on private property.
18. Methow River
There is very little historical information about gold mining on the Methow River, but I do know that very fine gold is present. It is likely sources from the surrounding mines in the area. Careful gold panning is needed, as there is not believed to be much in the way of coarse gold. Expect very fine gold hidden on bedrock under the gravel bars.
19. Twisp River
The Alder Mine near Twisp was a rich producer of a variety of minerals. At the time of operation, it yielded over a million dollars worth of copper, zinc, silver and gold. These mountains around the Twisp River have a lot of potential for prospecting.
As for the potential for gold panning on the Twisp River, the gold is known to be present but very fine textured gold dust. As you drive up the river there are many campground and areas to camp and explore. Surely the creeks that flow into the river will also have some gold that you can recover with a pan or sluice box.
20. Sanpoil River
The Sanpoil River contains gold from its confluence with the Columbia River up to its headwaters, with most of the mining activity in this area occurs around the town of Republic. The waters around Republic are especially rich, and the hard rock mines here are the richest in the state.
With so much commercial mining activity around Republic, be wary to stay off of active mining claims. Most of the richest areas are already claimed, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t find an area that is open to explore. However, it may require some hiking away from the main roads and exploring some of the smaller tributaries of the main river.
21. Kettle River
The Kettle River originates in British Columbia and flows into the Columbia River. Where the Kettle River enters Washington, gold is found all around the town of Danville. Several lode prospects are scattered around the town as well. Other historic mining sites were located on the lower section of the river around Orient and Barstow.
Kettle River is also near the site of the short-lived gold rush at Rock Creek.
22. Pend Oreille River
Although it is the lead, zinc, and silver deposits that have attracted the most attention to the area, the original mineral discovery in the area was the rich placer gold deposits found in the Pend Oreille River. Sullivan Creek, a tributary to the Pend Oreille River, has produced some very good gold.
Some sizable gold nuggets have been found in Sullivan Creek. There is still active mining taking place around Metaline Falls, with less activity on Sullivan Creek today. I once met an old prospector who mined Sullivan Creek back in the 80s who showed me a dandy 20-gram nugget that he recovered with suction dredge.
23. Yakima River
Gold is present all throughout the Yakima River, particularly around the tributaries of Cle Elum River and Swauk Creek. There are old placer diggings all throughout the Yakima River through this area, although I expect most serious prospectors focus their efforts on the Cle Elum River and its tributaries since the gold concentrations are generally better.
24. Cle Elum River
There are some very rich placers that can be found in Cle Elum River from its headwaters downstream to where it enters the Yakima River at the town of Cle Elum. Many of the drainages that flow into the Cle Elum River are also gold bearing, including Silver Creek, Fortune Creek, and Big Salmon Creek. This is near the famous gold mining town of Liberty, which has produced some huge gold nuggets over the years.
25. Snake River
There has been historic mining all along the Snake River. These gold deposits are similar to those found along the Columbia River. They are widespread, but the gold is extremely fine. The most successful prospectors working along the Snake and Columbia Rivers use a Gold Cube or other specialized fine gold recovery tool.
Historically there was a fair amount of mining activity in Hell’s Canyon, mostly up in the canyon section along the Idaho/Oregon border.