There are plenty of “touristy” places in Montana where you can pay money to pan for gold in a trough. But if you want to actually go out to a creek… dig and pan the gravel and find some gold then Libby Creek is the place to go!
On Forest Service land in Northwestern Montana, there is a public gold panning area. It is called the Libby Creek Recreational Gold Panning Area.
Approximately 23 miles south of Libby, Montana.
To get there, drive about 12 miles south on Highway 2. From there, turn right (west) on Libby Creek Road. Go up the road approximately 11 more miles. The gold panning area is well signed.
There was never a huge gold rush here (as compared to bigger strikes near Helena
), but during the 1860s there were several hundred miners working the gravels on Libby Creek. Over the course of 10 years, most of these miners had left.
Some renewed interest happened again at in the 1880s, primarily in the area of Libby Creek and Howard Creek. The lower section of Bear Creek was also worked.
Some sizable hydraulic mining operations occurred in the 1930s and 1940s.
The gold found here is believed to be completely from glaciation. Over the past several ice ages, large glaciers pushed auriferous material down from the high country and fed gravels that now sit in Libby Creek.
Gold can be found at present creek level, as well as higher in abandoned creek channels (bench deposits) and surrounding glacial debris. Don’t limit yourself to only digging in the creek. Gravels high above the present water line also contain gold.
Gold is primarily small in size, but decent sized nuggets have been found.
Camping & Facilities:
The gold panning area is primarily undeveloped with limited services. There is a pit toilet available in the main parking area. Aside from that, you will need to go prepared.
The best camp site in the area is at Howard Lake, just 1 mile up the road past the panning area. You will turn off of Libby Creek and go up road NF-231. There are several nice camp sites and the lake is beautiful.
The Howard Creek campsite can accommodate larger RVs and campers.
*No material can be removed and all gravel must be processed on site.
*Only basic hand tools are allowed. Mechanized equipment (dredges, highbankers, metal detectors) are not allowed.
*No garbage service here. Please leave the site clean.
*14 day camping limit.Finding Gold in Montana eBookThe Ghost Town of Garnet, MTElkhorn, Montana | A Silver Boomtown