Gold Mines of Caribou Mountain in Southeastern Idaho

Gold Mines of Caribou Mountain in Southeastern Idaho
The Caribou Gold Rush occurred in Southeast Idaho on Caribou Mountain starting in 1870. The peak of activity taking place within a few years, but mining continued at small levels up through the early 20th century.

Caribou Mountain is located about 50 miles northeast of present day Soda Springs.


The Extent of the Gold on Caribou Mountain


These discoveries came several years after most of the major gold strikes in Idaho. Following the rich discoveries of the Boise Basin, Salmon River Placers, Elk City and Silver City, the gold found on Caribou Mountain paled in comparison.

Hindsight may be 20/20, but at the time there was considerable excitement, with miners traveling from all over the country to work the land and see if Caribou would be the next major gold rush.

The town of Cariboo City was established as the center of the gold rush, and it quickly grew to a population of over 2,000 people. Long abandoned now, the townsite sits on the eastern flanks of Caribou Mountain at the headwaters of McCoy Creek.

Other camps would soon be established with the names of Iowa Bar (lower on Iowa Creek) and Keenan City (at the confluence of Barnes Creek and McCoy Creek).


Early Mining Efforts


These started off as placer mining camps, where gold was panned and sluiced from the creeks that drained off of Caribou Mountain.

Hydraulic mining was commonplace on the mountain. This allowed men to wash away overburden using high-pressured hoses. The camps were populated by men from around the world, including a sizable population of Chinese miners.

As time went on, underground working would become the larger gold producers. Many men would work in crews, blasting rock and extracting ores to crush and extract gold.


Eastern Idaho’s Only Gold Rush Ends


The gold rush to Caribou Mountain was short-lived, however, as the ore deposits in the area proved to be quite limited. By the early 1900s, the population of Caribou City had dwindled to only a few hundred people, and the town was eventually abandoned.

This is still one of the only sites in Southeast Idaho with any significant gold deposits. Caribou Mountain was the only are that could be considered a true “gold rush” in this region.


What’s in a Name?


Caribou got it’s name because the first miners had previously mined in Cariboo, British Columbia. The earliest names used for the settlements were Carriboo and Cariboo, but would eventually become Caribou by 1907.


Rules for Modern Prospectors:


Most of the area is Forest Service Land within the Soda Springs Ranger District. The area is still popular with gold prospecting, as it is within Blackfoot, Idaho, and Pocatello.

While any serious efforts to make money aren’t very likely, a person can find some small amounts of gold with a simple gold pan.

There are a few rules to keep in mind:

  • Dig holes should be modest in size and filled in when finished.
  • Check with the Forest Service if you intend to use motorized or large mining equipment. Dredging is limited to shortened seasons to protect Yellowstone Cutthroat habitat.
  • Much of the gold-bearing land is actively claimed, and will require that you get permission from the claimant. Not doing so is considered mineral trespass.


    Recent Interest from Exploration Companies


    As recently as 2021, an exploration mining company was granted approval for 130 core drilling sites to further explore the gold resources within the Caribou-Targhee National Forest.

    Previous attempts to explore this area in recent years have come under scrutiny due to their proximity to Yellowstone National Park. Lawsuits from the Idaho Conservation League have prevented previous mining attempts over the past few years.


    More Interesting Reading:


    5 Idaho Ghost Towns with Gold & Silver

    A 27-ounce Gold Nugget from Montana

    Gold Prospecting in Roadless Areas