There is a great place for gold prospecting on the South Platte River about 1 1/2 hours southwest of Denver.
The town of Fairplay is an old mining town. Most of the historic gold production came directly from the South Platte River and the adjacent gravels. Early dredging operations recovered millions of dollars in gold.
The town has a large section of land called the Fairplay Prospecting Park that allows people to pan for gold. Access is $10/day or $100/year. Permits can be purchased at the Town Hall.
Motorized equipment is not allowed. You will be limited to gold pans, sluice boxes, digging tools, shovels, etc. No dredges or high bankers allowed.
Early History of Fairplay
The town of Fairplay was established in 1859, one of the earliest towns to spring up during the Pikes Peak Gold Rush. The gold deposits in this area were known from the beginning, but they were not rich enough to warrant a great deal of interest. The surrounding strikes at Breckenridge and the surrounding mountains were much more profitable in those early days.
Fairplay began to grow mainly as a supply post for the larger lode mines in the mountains surrounding town. The population expanded and it would eventually become the county seat.
Eventually, some interest would be given to the placer deposits on the South Platte River. The gold was abundant, but it was very fine textured and a challenge to accumulate in paying quantities.
This would all change well into the 20th century with the arrival of bucket line dredges. Several dredges would eventually be constructed and churn up the river bottom. These huge machines could process tons of material in minutes, a task that would be unthinkable without these mechanized advances.
The dredges brought new life to the area. These dredges ran profitably for many years and would change the landscape of the valley forever.
Most of the mining activity around Fairplay is long over. There are still a few smaller mining operations, but nowhere near the scale of the early mining days.
The popular TV show “GOLD RUSH” even caused a bit of drama a few years ago when they came to Fairplay and set up a mining operations on some of the old dredge tailings. Many of the town residents were blindsided with their arrival, and upset with their round-the-clock mining operation.
For the most part, large-scale mining isn’t going on along the South Platte River today. The dredge tailings from the early diggings are still quite evident though. And there is a very good opportunity for casual gold prospectors to find gold now.
The Fairplay Prospecting Park
The town of Fairplay owns a 1/2 mile section of the South Platte River that they have set aside for public use. This area is popular with gold prospectors, as it provides a very real opportunity to recover some gold.
The area is called the Fairplay Prospecting Park and is situated between the Highway 285 bridge, upstream about 1/2 mile to Fairplay Beach. The area is well posted, so be sure to contain your prospecting to within the park boundaries.
This is a fee site. A permit can be purchased from the Fairplay City Hall which costs $10 per day, or $100 per year.
With permit in hand, you are free to explore the park and start digging for gold! The old dredge tailing piles contain a lot of gold that was missed by the old dredges due to inefficiency, and the river running right through the park has rich gold deposits. I recommend digging in the river gravels directly, since it helps to concentrate the gold and this will increase your odds of success.
A sluice box is a good idea, since it will help you process more gravel. You are limited to non-motorized equipment within the park, so shoveling gravel into a sluice box is the best way to process good amounts of gravel. You can also use a gold pan by itself. Move around and test different areas until you find a rich concentration of fine gold. Then set up for the day and process as much gravel as you can!
Gold here is very fine, so pan slowly and carefully so that you recover every speck.