Gold panning is the easiest technique for searching for gold, but is not commercially viable for extracting gold from large deposits, except where labor costs are very low or gold traces are substantial. Panning is often marketed as a tourist attraction on former gold fields. Before large production methods are used, a new source must be identified and panning is useful to identify placer gold deposits to be evaluated for commercial viability.

Gold panning is mostly a manual technique of separating gold from other materials. Wide, shallow pans are filled with sand and gravel that may contain gold. The pan is submerged in water and shaken, sorting the gold from the gravel and other material. As gold is much denser than rock, it quickly settles to the bottom of the pan. The panning material is usually removed from stream beds, often at the inside turn in the stream, or from the bedrock shelf of the stream, where the density of gold allows it to concentrate, a type called placer deposits

Gold panning is a very simple process. Once a suitable placer deposit is located, some gravel from it is scooped into a pan, where it is then gently agitated in water and the gold sinks to the bottom of the pan. Materials with a low specific gravity are allowed to spill out of the pan, whereas materials with a high specific gravity sink to the bottom of the sediment during agitation and remain within the pan for examination and collection by the gold pannier. These dense materials usually consist primarily of a black, magnetite sand with whatever gemstones or metal dust that may be found in the deposit that is used for source material.

Gold panning maps contain 378,890 active gold claims and 181,134 abandoned gold claims. All are located on federal public lands (BLM & NFS) spread across twelve western states. Our abandoned claims maps reveal activity from 1986 to present.

Even if you fail to find any gold, gold panning can definitely be an enjoyable activity. Whether you do it alone or with others, the possibility of striking it rich can certainly make it a thrilling activity. Also, there's the enjoyment of reliving history, by doing an activity that launched various gold rushes throughout the world. For instance, some regions in the United States hold annual gold panning contests as a way to educate and commemorate the history gold mining in those regions. Sure, it can be rewarding to find some huge gold nuggets when gold panning. But even if you don't, it can still be a fun experience.