While Utah does not have extensive gold prospecting opportunities like many other western states, there are still plenty of places that you can find gold though. You just have to do diligent research and realize that there aren't as many places to mine compared to neighboring states.
Surprisingly to some, Utah is actually one of the top gold producing states, but most of this gold comes as a byproduct of silver, lead, copper, and zinc mining. In fact, the largest mine in the United States is located right here in Utah.
The Bingham Canyon Copper Mine near Salt Lake City is by far the largest producer in the state. A handful of other large commercial mines also produce significant amounts of gold as well, resulting in significant overall production for the state. These mines are responsible for 99% of the total gold that gets recovered an an annual basis.
The Bingham Mine is the largest man-made excavation on Earth. Copper is the main interest here, but gold comes as a by-product. Over 23 million ounces of refined gold have been extracted.
Most placer discoveries throughout history in Utah resulted in minimal recoveries, as much of the gold was extremely fine, and not in significant quantities to warrant much attention from the early miners. Much more attention was given to other minerals, but production requires significant money, and cyanide leaching techniques that are out of reach for most recreational prospectors. Still, there are plenty of creeks and rivers throughout the state that yield gold.
Since the gold in Utah is generally very fine, it is important to be careful when panning, or gold can easily be lost. If there is enough water you can run a sluice box which will help you process more material, but in much of the state you will have a hard time finding any water at all.
There are thousands of old hard rock mines and prospects throughout Utah that produced some gold as byproducts of silver, lead, zinc, etc. Creeks and rivers near these mines always have potential to produce some gold for a placer miner, but many have had little reported about them due to lack of any significant concentrations. A few areas that have documented placer workings are listed below.
The general area southwest of Salt Lake City has fine gold in the creeks near the Bingham Mine in the Oquirrh Mountains. In addition to lode mining, many placers have been exploited in this area.
Johnson Creek and Recapture Creeks in the Abajo Mountains.
The Abajo Mountains hold known placer deposits primarily on the southern drainages. Johnson and Recapture Creek are the best-known mining areas, though many unnamed tributaries also have minor placer deposits also.
Gold has been found in the Colorado River, but it is extremely fine and requires great care to recover it. A man could probably make his fortune from all the gold in this river, but each speck is so tiny that they are worth a fraction of a cent. It takes a lot of tiny specks of gold dust to amount to much money.
In the northeast corner of the state, the Green River has produced fine placer gold below Flaming Gorge Reservoir. Early record indicate that at the most productive sites were at Horseshoe Bend, Jensen, below Split Mountain Gorge, and at the mouth of Cub Creek. Several dredging operations were set up on the Green River between 1900 and 1942. Success was limited and likely didn't cover the cost of operation.
Focus on finding and capturing the finest gold. There's an old saying among miners.. "The big gold will find itself." The big nuggets aren't hard to recover by panning, sluicing, dry washing or metal detecting.
It's the small specks, flakes and "pickers" that are the real challenge. Careful technique is necessary to be successful, especially in Utah.
Several creeks draining the Henry Mountains in Southeastern Utah. A known gold producing location is Crescent Creek, which drains the east side of Mount Ellen. This creek is about 25 miles south of Hanksville. Some old reports also make mention of gold mining activity down around Mount Pennell.
The San Juan River in the southwest part of the state has fine placer deposits. There was much excitement in the early days when gold was discovered here, but the "rush" ended almost as quickly as it started. Much like the Colorado River placers, the extra-fine texture of the gold made it challenging to recover in any significant quantities. Finding gold is easy... finding enough gold at the bottom of your pan to hold your interest is a different story.
Some noteworthy placer sites along the San Juan River include below the mouth of Montezuma Creek, Clay Gulch, Piute Farms, Spencer and Zahn's Camp. Of course, many of the best placers are now covered by the waters of the Glen Canyon Dam.
Utah's gold deposits are not as widespread as most other states in the West. It takes some research, but there is plenty of gold here.
Keep in mind that the lack of water in much of the state limits the extent of exploration, and it is quite possible that significant discoveries are yet to be found. The vast expanse of the mineral resources throughout the state means that there are almost limitless areas worthy of investigation, but gold recovery may be difficult with the lack of water.
In addition, the extreme fineness of the gold found can make capturing the gold very difficult as well. A skilled gold panner can still catch some of this gold, but be careful because it is easily lost.
Approximately 71% of Utah is public land. Most of this is managed by either the Bureau of Land Management (yellow) or the US Forest Service (green). There are some exceptions, but for the most part, these lands are open for casual prospecting. Opportunities abound for gold prospectors in Utah!
One great thing about Utah is that it has an abundance of public land that is still wide open for recreational prospecting. No permit is required for non-motorized methods such as panning, sluicing, or drywashing. Suction dredges are limited to 4” in diameter and have seasonal limitations as well. Contact the Utah Division of Water Rights for additional information.