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Gold Prospecting in the Uwharrie National Forest

Gold Panning Uwharrie River

North Carolina is one of the richest gold mining states on the East Coast, with a history that dates back over 200 years. Back in the early 1800s, thousands of men were scouring the creeks, rivers, and mountains in search of riches.

The mining activity today is a far cry from what it once was, but recreational prospecting is still a popular activity here. And perhaps the best area to go is the Uwharrie National Forest. Not only is this a very historically rich area, but the forest provides lots of ground that is open for the public.


Uwharrie Gold


The Uwharrie National Forest covers an area over 79 square miles and sits within Davidson, Montgomery and Randolph Counties. Many of the richest mines in North Carolina history are located in this area.

Most people who look for gold here use a gold pan to sift through the gravels of the Uwharrie River. The entire river contains gold, but certain areas will obviously be richer than others.

Many small tributaries are also worth a try. Any of the creeks north of Uwharrie and near El Dorado are worth a try. McLeans Creek and the branches of Moccasin Creek are known producers. The Coggins Mine was a significant gold producer in this area with a working stamp mill.

You could also try panning around Ophir. Both Barnes Creek and Duncombe Creek have gold too. But most miners in this area stick to the Uwharrie River near the bridge accesses. Walk some distance away from the easiest access point to find areas not worked by others.


Rules and Regulations


  • No fees or permits are required for prospecting.
  • No motorized equipment. Dredges and highbankers are not allowed.
  • Basic hand tools and non-motorized equipment are allowed. Most prospectors use gold pans and sluice boxes.
  • Shovels and picks are allowed, but be sure to fill in holes after you are done prospecting. Keep digging activities below the water level and do not disturb vegetation.
  • No disturbance of historical or archaeological artifacts
  • There is a Ranger District Office in Troy. You might want to check in with them before you start for any updates to regulations, plus any local tips that they might be able to provide.


    What to Expect


    Most of the gold you will find here would be classified as “flood gold.” It is extremely fine, and will take a bit of effort to recover it.

    Using a basic gold pan is the most common way to recover gold, but it does have some limitations. The fineness of the gold requires a careful panning technique. Be sure to go slowly and practice so you don’t lose too much in the process.

    If you are serious about recovering some decent gold, I would recommend getting a decent sluice box. They don’t cost much, and you will be able to process a lot more gravel. I recommend using a classifier to screen material down to 1/4” before you pour it into your sluice. This takes extra time, but you will retain a lot more of that fine gold.

    I have seen a couple decent pickers that came from the Uwharrie River. It’s no surprise, considering that there were several lode mines within the forest and any sizable gold veins could easily erode and result in bigger gold. I would still prepare to find super-tiny gold dust, and the bigger pickers and nuggets will be a nice surprise.

    Work the bedrock carefully. You will have the best results in exposed rock down in the river bed. It’s best to prospect when water levels are low. Carefully clean out cracks. You will find that the best gold deposits are mixed in with the heavy iron-rich black sands.

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