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4 Rivers in Utah Where You Can Go Panning for Gold

Utah gets overlooked by most prospectors, and perhaps that is for good reason. To be honest, it is one of the poorer states in the West for gold prospecting. It certainly isn’t anywhere near its neighboring states of Colorado, Arizona, or Nevada.

There’s still gold here though.

Here are 4 rivers in Utah that have documented occurrences of gold. These had limited placer mining that took place mostly in the 1800s and later during the Great Depression in the 1920’s and 1930’s.

There are many tributaries that feed into these river that also contain gold. In fact, some of the better prospecting opportunities in Utah aren’t actually in the main rivers themselves, but in some of the smaller creeks, dry washes, and lesser known locations that feed into the river systems. We will mention a few of these below too.

Gold miners generally didn’t strike it rich in Utah, but some of them were able to eek out an existence in this harsh environment.


1. Raft River


In Box Elder County, there were some small gold deposits found along the Raft River that got some short-lived interest.

For a short time, there was the town of Golden, which was a mining camp. Both gold and silver were mined in the area. While there were limited gold deposits, it was the silver ore that eventually brought miners to the area. At it’s peak, Golden had as many as 500 residents. Unfortunately, the Silver Panic of 1907 cause a collapse in silver price and decimated the silver mining industry.

The area just wasn’t rich enough to attract any significant interest from miners, but there are still some placer deposits that can be panned from the Raft River.


2. Colorado River


Gold deposits have been known to exist in the Colorado River since the earliest explorers came to this area. There is gold all throughout the river, but one thing remains consistent. The gold is always very fine textured.

This didn’t stop prospectors from working the big gravel bars of the river, but they were mostly smaller operations. Recovering fine gold, particularly back in the 1800s was a real challenge.

Nowadays, we have better equipment that can aid in the recovery of fine gold. A prospector can definitely recover some fines from the Colorado River today.

However one major consideration for miners here is that most of the Colorado River is now is specially designated areas such as the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and Canyonlands National Park. To my knowledge, these areas are not open to gold prospecting. You’ll have to go all the way to Moab and upstream to the Colorado border to get out of the parks.

Utah gold miner

Despite a fairly rich mining history , you’re not allowed to pan for gold on much of the Colorado River anymore due to the National Parks. Our post titled Gold, Minerals and Treasures of the Grand Canyon goes into more detail about the early mining history here.


3. San Juan River


Miners found gold in the San Juan River early on, but it didn’t take them long to realize that to gold was fine and difficult to recover, just like in the Colorado River.

Official records account for about 2,000 ounces of gold recovered from the river. However, with the way that gold occurrences were document back in the day, it was likely quite a bit more than that. These were from small operations, solo prospectors that would recover just enough gold to survive. The placers weren’t rich, but there was a lot or areas to prospect and less competition.

Gold Panning in Utah


4. Green River


There was a very small amount of gold found on the Green River south of Vernal back in the 1800s. The richest area reported was around present-day Flaming Gorge Reservoir.

The gold here wasn’t much. One dredging operation once reported a season recovery of 334 troy ounces. While this may sound like a lot of gold, it isn’t much considering the large amount of material that those old dredges could process.

Still, a gold prospector today could likely get a little bit of gold with a gold pan and some hard work.

Utah gold panner

The life of an early gold miner may have seemed exciting, but it was a tough existence for most. Conditions were harsh, and supplies were scarce. A miner had to find considerable gold just to feed themselves. Very few were getting rich…


Gold in Utah


These are the main rivers in Utah with gold, but there is definitely some more. A lot of the better places to mine are actually in smaller, lesser known creeks. There is also a lot of gold in the desert away from water sources, and drywashing is really the only effective way to prospect for it.

The main takeaway is that Utah gold is mostly small, very small. You need to use the proper techniques or else you will have a tough time finding any. With the right equipment and technique, there is definitely some to find.

Heck, one of the largest operating mines in the World, the Kennecott Copper Mine near Salt Lake City, actually recovers more gold than most other mines in the country, so there is definitely gold here. It’s simply not accessible to the casual prospector. You just need to know where it is and use the proper method to recover it.

Note: There are a lot of National Parks in Utah. For the most part, National Parks don’t allow any digging or prospecting so make sure you are in an area where prospecting is allowed.

Here are a few more articles to take a “deep dive” into the gold prospecting opportunities in Utah.

  • This Massive Mine in Utah has Produced More Gold than Most States!
  • The Gold Deposits of Utah’s Abajo Mountains
  • Mormon Gold – The Lost Rhoades Mine in Utah
  • The White Cliffs Lost Gold Mine in Utah
  • Metal Detecting in Utah – Coins, Relics & Buried Treasure
  • Rockhounding Adventures in Utah – Topaz, Geodes & More
  • Robber’s Roost – Bandit & Outlaw Hideout in Southern Utah
  • Mining in Silver Reef, Utah


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    Updated: September 27, 2023 — 9:18 pm
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