Gold Panning in the Cascade Mountains

Washington’s Cascade Mountains are a beautiful place to go panning for gold. Many are surprised to learn that within a short distance from Seattle, there are quite a few places that you can recover gold dust from many rivers and creeks.

Washington’s First Gold Discovery

The first discovery of placer gold in the State of Washington was in 1853, when a party searching for a railroad route through the Cascade Mountains discovered small amounts of gold somewhere in the Yakima Valley. This discovery was not of much consequence, but it did verify that there was gold to be found within the Cascade Range.

Future discoveries would soon show that gold could be found in many of the creeks and rivers of western Washington. Since that time, the occurrence of gold has been found all throughout the Cascades as well as many other locations throughout Washington.

Gold Occurrences in the Cascades

Gold distribution is very widespread throughout the state. Regardless of where you are located, there is a good chance that you can find an area close-by that has some gold. Especially in the Cascade Mountains, there are good opportunities for prospectors willing to hike and get away from the crowds.

While the gold occurrences are widespread throughout Washington, there has been much less attention given to it compared to most other western states.

With a few exceptions (such as the gold rush to Liberty, north of Ellensburg), Washington did not really have the same type of “gold rushes” that occurred in nearly all of the states throughout the west.

Some of the better known gold deposits in this part of Washington have been found on Ruby Creek east of the town of Diablo in Skagit County. It drains into the Ruby Arm of Ross Lake.

Ruby Creek drains some big country; main tributaries include Canyon Creek and Granite Creek, which also contain gold. This entire area has much historical gold mining history, and has produced good gold all throughout the area.

Most of the gold found in the Cascade Mountains is fine textured, but some of the gold found in Ruby Creek have also been large nuggets.

The ghost town of Barron is located on the western slopes of the summit of the Cascades near the Whatcom/Okanogan County line. Many lode deposits were mined at the headwaters of Slate Creek, which contains gold all throughout.

Fine gold can be found all throughout the Skagit River. Gold in this area is not noted for being particularly large, but there is fine gold present throughout the river. The same can be said for the beaches near Anacortes and anywhere around the Puget Sound for that matter.

There are many good areas to prospect in Snohomish County. Most of the larger rivers in this county will carry some fine gold in the gravel bars and down in the crevices of bedrock.

One good location is on the Sauk River near the town of Darrington. Check out the drainages that come off of Gold Mountain to the east of town. Placers can also be found on Deer Creek northwest of Darrington, and many other small creeks in this area.

The North Fork and South Fork of the Stillaguamish River have plenty of gold. Historically, small placer mining operations have occurred all throughout the river, with good amounts of gold recovered. A few noteworthy areas include the stretch or the South Fork Stillaguamish River near Granite Falls and upstream around Gold Basin, although gold can likely be found anywhere from its headwaters down to where it enters the Puget Sound.

Also Read: Gold Prospecting in Washington eBook

And: A Recent Visit to Liberty, Washington

The Sultan River is another gold bearing waterway that drains the high country of the Cascade Mountains and flows through a narrow winding canyon. There has been a fair amount of placer mining done on this river over the years, and it has produced some good coarse gold as well as fines.

A productive stretch for gold prospecting can be found from Spada Lake down to its confluence with the Skykomish River.

There has been a sizable amount of placer mining done on the Skykomish River. Gold can be found throughout the river system, but one area that is known to be especially productive is around the town of Sultan.

Many old workings can be found in this stretch of the river. It is always a good idea to try to locate areas where the old timer mined. Pan for gold in those areas and try to find rich concentrates of gold in the gravels.



Several other rivers that drain into the Snoqualmie River will also produce gold. The Tolt River is a tributary that enters at the town of Carnation. Fine gold is present in the gravel bars and down in bedrock cracks throughout the river. The same can be said for the Raging River from its mouth at the town of Fall City up toward it headwaters near the ghost town of Kerrington.

There are many creeks and rivers all throughout King County that likely produce gold but have not been explored extensively due to their inaccessibility. This is one area that has good potential for someone willing to hike in and explore some more rugged country.

The close proximity to Seattle and the Puget Sound area also makes it a great area for many folks.

Starting Your Search

Before you venture out to go gold panning in the Cascade Mountains, make sure that you are allowed to prospect there. Fortunately, much of the land in the Cascades is National Forest land that is open to prospecting, but there is some private timber land and other properties, so make sure you are allowed to prospect there.

It is always a good idea to check with the Forest Service in the area that you intend to search and make sure that the area does not have any restrictions.

Also, to the Washington Fish and Wildlife website, and download a copy of “Gold and Fish;” this will give you the latest information about mining for gold in your area.

There are many creeks and rivers throughout Washington’s Cascade Mountains that will produce gold. Some gold prospectors are very successful and recover several ounces of gold every season from the Cascade Range.

More about Gold Mining in Washington