Gold of the South Fork Umpqua River

Gold of the South Fork Umpqua River
One of Oregon’s most easily accessible gold prospecting areas would have to be the South Fork of the Umpqua River. It follows right alongside I-5 for many miles, and right through sizable towns like Roseburg, Myrtle Creek and Canyonville.

Miners have been finding gold here since the very earliest days of the Oregon Gold Rush. There are numerous gold mines scattered throughout the mountains of Douglas County. Fine textured (and abundant) placer gold is present throughout the river and many of its main tributaries.

Mining and logging have long been a tradition here in Southern Oregon, and the gold in this river have helped men survive during some tough times. There were many men scouring the banks during the 1860s, and again during the Great Depression there was a resurgence of small-scale mining that occurred here.


Fine Gold of the Umpqua


Gold in Southern Oregon is no secret, but many people overlook the Umpqua River placers. The gold here is much finer. Don’t expect to find those big nuggets like were often found in places like Althouse Creek, Applegate River and the Rogue River. Most of the gold you will get out of the South Fork Umpqua River is 100+ mesh size and under.

There was certainly MORE gold found farther south in Jackson and Josephine counties, but don’t pass on the Umpqua… the gold may be smaller but there is LOTS of it. The trick is recovering it successfully.

In the summertime, the low water on the Umpqua River can expose some wonderful looking bedrock that can hold some nice gold. Look for narrow, deep cracks in bedrock, preferably running perpendicular to the river. Use crevicing tools to clean out the gravels and pan them. You’ll be surprised how many colors turn up.

If sand bars have formed, dig down under the loose material and seek out the compacted rust-colored materials. Fine gold and pickers will be hidden beneath.


Recommended Prospecting Gear


Since almost all of the gold found in the South Fork Umpqua River is fine, you need to use the best equipment to recover it.

Back when dredging was popular it was a constant challenge to recover Umpqua gold. Unfortunately, with the current state of mining in Oregon, dredging is not a viable option and we are limited in what we can do to find gold.

I am a recent convert to the Gold Claw. I can process more material, more quickly than I can with a standard gold pan. It takes some practice, especially if you have been panning your whole life.

Use crevicing tools, screwdrivers, spoons, wires, knives, and whatever else you need to dig out those exposed cracks. Put the material in your pan and carefully pan the contents. You will find a lot of colors.

I recommend that you do the final processing at home. Separating the fine Umpqua River gold from black sands takes time. Rather than worry about it when on the river, take the concentrates home and do final processing in your garage. Then you can use special fine gold tools like or a trusty Blue Bowl for final gold recovery. Spend your time on the river efficiently.


China Ditch


One of the lasting marks of the early gold rush in Douglas County was the construction of the “China Ditch,” a 30-mile long ditch constructed during the 1890s. As many as 200 Chinese laborers built the ditch, which moved water from Little River to the rich placers of North Myrtle Creek.

The water fed several large hydraulic operations. Using massive hydraulic monitors, the waters would wash away the bench gravels and release the gold from gravels which were then run through long-toms and sluice boxes.


Gold-Rich Tributaries


Douglas County has a lot of good placer mining waters that are tributaries to the Umpqua River. In fact some of them probably produced more gold that the Umpqua did.

Cow Creek - had quite a bit of hydraulic mining done in the past. Terrace gravels are very rich and can be quite productive. There is a recreational gold panning area on Cow Creek set aside for casual prospecting.

Myrtle Creek - east of the town of Myrtle Creek are rich gold prospecting areas. North and South Myrtle Creeks saw a lot of mining during their heyday. Other small drainages in the area can produce some good colors. Buck Fork, Lee Creek, Letitia Creeks, Long Wiley Creek, and Weaver Creek.

Lee Creek - there was a major hydraulic mine about 12 miles east of Myrtle Creek that operated on Lee Creek during the early 1900s. This was a profitable venture that resulted in considerable gold.

Coffee Creek - the first mining camp on the South Fork Umpqua River was at the mouth of Coffee Creek. Early reports noted the fineness of the gold and difficulty of recovery, but an early article from the Oregonian noted the find of a 6-ounce nugget!

Tiny Seasonal Creeks - This is rich gold country with extensive mineralized areas on both sides of the Umpqua River. You shouldn’t be surprised to find gold in small creeks and gulches even if they have no real “history” of gold mining. There is a lot of gold in Douglas County and a skill prospector can find it.

Additional Reading: Hunting for "Pocket Gold" in Southern Oregon