Gold in Washington

Washington is a great state with plenty of opportunity for gold prospecting. Overall production has been much less than most of the other western states, but several million ounces of gold have still been found here. Recreational miners armed with pans, sluice boxes, and suction dredges will be right at home in Washington, with fine placers found throughout the state. With a few exceptions, most gold here is quite fine, and distributed throughout the creeks and rivers. Metal detecting is generally less productive than other places, since gold is smaller sized and difficult to detect.

The Columbia River is the largest drainage in the Pacific Northwest, and drains all of Washington’s waters east of the Cascade Mountains. Its headwaters start in Canada, and ends at the Pacific Ocean. Placer deposits are throughout the gravels of this river system, generally in the form of very fine flour gold. The same is true of the Snake River which drains into the Columbia in the southeast part of the state. It is worth emphasis that the much of this gold is micron in size, so consideration should be given to your prospecting method, since it can be very easy to lose gold that small. On the Columbia, check various gravel bars during low water, as well as bench deposits that may have been worked by the “old timers”. Many Chinese immigrants worked these placers at one time.

All of the counties in Washington have produced gold. East of the Cascades, the most noteworthy are Stevens, Ferry, Okanogan, Chelan, and Kittitas Counties.

Stevens County is in the far Northeast corner of the state. Hundreds of mine sites are scattered throughout the area, often lode mines that also produced copper, iron, etc.

Ferry County is one of Washington biggest gold producers, containing the Republic District 25 miles below the Canadian border. The vast majority of the gold found has been from lode mining. Placers produce mainly fine gold.

Okanogan County is in the northern part of Washington on the east slopes of the Cascades. The Columbia, Methows, and Okanogan Rivers all contain gold.

Chelan County was the largest gold producer in the state. Much of the gold came from lode mines in the Blewett, Chelan Lake and Wenatchee Districts, but numerous placer operations have also been in place since the mid 1800’s. The Golden King Mine is in the Wenatchee District, and is one of the largest lode gold producers in the United States. Creeks and rivers throughout these areas should also produce placer gold for the recreational gold prospector.

In Kittitas County, you will find one of the best known prospecting areas in Washington. Although overall gold production was not near as high as in other counties, the area has a history of producing coarser gold including nuggets of several ounces in size. Near the historic town of Liberty, there are numerous lode and placer mines worthy of investigation. Williams and Swauk are the best producers. They are also well known for the unique wire gold specimens that have been found.

West of the Cascade Mountains there is also ample opportunity for gold prospecting. All counties have produced at least some gold in the past. A few of the more noteworthy include Whatcom, Skagit, Snohomish, King, and Pierce.

Gold can be found throughout Skagit County along the Skagit River and its tributaries.

Snohomish County has produced a lot of gold, mainly in the Monte Cristo and Silverton Districts.

King County is also a large gold producer in the state, but nearly all sizable operations have been lode mines. Exploring creeks near these lode areas may be productive for fine gold.

In Pierce County, most activity is found at far eastern part of the county, where it borders the Yakima County line.

All counties along the Columbia as well as the ocean beaches have fine gold. Look for black sand deposits and carefully sample the sands. Gold will be extremely fine textured.

Be aware that many of the waters in Washington contain salmon and steelhead, and rules and regulations regarding prospecting vary throughout the state. The Washington Department of Fish and Game prints a “Gold and Fish” pamphlet that covers the prospecting regulations in the state. There will be different regulations associated with private, state, federal, and tribal land so it is always important to check with the various agencies associated with the area that you intend to prospect for the most current information.



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Start Finding Gold! - A Guide to Prospecting in Washington