Gold Panning in the St. Croix River

Gold Panning in the St. Croix River
The St. Croix River might seem like an unlikely place for a gold rush, but for a very short time that is exactly what happened. Yes, there was a time when men and women would scramble down to the river and seek out gold that hid down in the bedrock.

A relatively short distance northeast of Minneapolis was the site of most attention in the early days. The limited reports on the gold mention the area around the Dalles, where a person could scrape up gravel and pan it out to recover small flecks of gold.

The river cuts through sharp basalt rocks, which contain nice pockets and crevices to capture the gold. For the earliest miner in the area, the recoveries were quite impressive.

Certainly not the riches that miners would find out West of course, but for an area with almost no famous gold occurrences it was quite impressive. Locals would scramble down to dig when water levels were at their lowest. Using just the crudest of equipment they were able to pan out some decent color from the St. Croix river.


Tracing the Source of the Gold


One would have to wonder where this gold came from? People living in Wisconsin and Minnesota aren’t generally all that knowledgable about gold mining. Most would probably assume that there was no gold here at all.

The source is almost certainly from up north. Specifically, the rich gold mining regions in Ontario, Canada.

Another potential source for the gold could also be the Flambeau Mine located along the shoreline of Flambeau River. This was a metallic mine that produced a variety of metals, including 334,000 ounces of gold during the life of the mine.




But how does this result in the gold found in the St. Croix River? What does a gold mine in Ontario have to do with the gold down in Wisconsin?

The answer is glaciation. The geology in the vicinity of the river itself doesn’t lend us to believe that the gold originated in this area. Rather, it was the process of large glaciers pushing material from surrounding areas. When the glaciers melted, minerals were left behind in the creeks and rivers.

This was a process that happened repeatedly over the course of thousands of years. Clearly at some point, rich gold-bearing ores were deposited in the St. Croix River. The erosion continued and resulted in the gold placers that can be found today.

Note: This same process has also left a lot of gold that can be found along the shores of Lake Superior . This gold is extremely fine textured, but many prospectors have success using a Gold Cube to process the sands along the shore.


Prospecting Laws


Both Wisconsin and Minnesota have fairly limited laws regarding gold panning. Since there has been essentially no economically viable placer gold deposits found, the states generally consider the activity to be “recreational” and are allowed as long as your activities aren’t mechanized or extensive enough to attract much attention.

From the Wisconsin DNR:

Similarly, the Minnesota DNR does not require permits as long as the impact is minimal:

One should certainly keep in mind that the same rules apply regarding public and private lands. Access to private property requires permission from the landowner just as with any other activity.

Additionally it should be noted that certain areas may now be off-limits to mineral collection. State Parks, State Natural Areas, and other special designations. The St. Croix River does have special areas, however the information I was able to find mentions “some” areas “may” be off-limits.

To be safe, you will need to contact the DNR directly and let them know where you intend to try prospecting to get a clear go-ahead that it is allowed if you are uncertain. As with many state regulations, the wording is vague and difficult to find specific yes/no answers on where you can and can't go.

My sense from regulation I have been able to find is that a casual prospector, using basic small-scale placer mining equipment like a gold pan will likely have no issues. But check with the state DNR for the final say.

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The Gold Prospector's Field Guide:
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