Oregon's Rogue River

The Rogue River is the main river system in Southwestern Oregon, draining from the peaks of the southern Cascade Range near Crater Lake all the way to the ocean at Gold Beach. The Rogue River is a major gold producer, and still holds great potential for gold prospectors. Placer gold can be found throughout the river all the way from its mouth, up to the town of Gold Hill where Bear Creek enters.

The area around Gold Hill and Grants Pass is a popular place to prospect for good reason; there have been millions of dollars’ worth of gold found here. In this area, the river is relatively easy to access due to close proximity to the freeway. Of course, be aware of private lands in the area.

There are three sites that are available to recreational prospecting that are located along Highway 234 about 2 miles northeast of the town of Gold Hill. They are called the Gold Nugget Waysides, and are located on the south side of the highway along the Rogue River. These places have been withdrawn from mineral entry, meaning that they are not claimed and are open to small-scale gold prospectors.

Some of the richest gold bearing locations on the Rogue River are located within the Hellgate Recreation Area. The upper-end starts at the confluence with the Applegate River, and continues downstream 27 miles to the confluence with Grave Creek. This area within the Hellgate Recreation Area does not contain any mining claims and is open to recreational gold panning. It also includes tributaries up to ¼ mile from where they enter the Rogue River. Just be aware that property boundaries are not necessarily marked on the ground, so you still need to be sure that you are on public lands when prospecting here.

Be aware there are some serious restrictions to prospectors within the recreation area. Gold panning is allowed year-round, and no permit is needed, but the types of equipment that you are allowed to use is quite limiting.

Prospectors are only allowed to use a gold pan, and larger equipment such a sluices, highbankers, and dredges are prohibited. Additionally, all digging must be below the current water line, and shovels cannot be used either. So basically, you will be restricted to “hands and pans.”

Gold can be found all the way downstream to the Pacific Ocean, but the richest areas are found around Agness where the Illinois River enters, upstream to the confluence with Bear Creek north of Medford.

Due to these mining restrictions on the Rogue River, much of the gold placer mining in southern Oregon is done on the many gold-bearing rivers and streams that flow into the Rogue. The two largest tributaries are the Applegate River and the Illinois River. Both of these are very rich river systems that have fewer restrictions for miners.

Sardine Creek enters the Rogue River from the north at Gold Hill. A good stretch of the creek has been dredged. Evans Creek is another rich tributary.

Grave Creek is one of the richest creeks in the area. Gold can be found throughout the drainage from where it enters the Rogue River all the way up to its headwaters. The gravels have been worked throughout the creek, and bench deposits can be found far above the existing water line. Anywhere around the towns of Leland, Sunny Valley and Placer are going to be productive.

There have been many large gold nuggets found in the Rogue River over the years. Back in the early days, it was not uncommon for miners to find nuggets weighing over an ounce. Generally the gold that is found today is much finer, but occasionally a nice chunky gold nugget is still found.

If someone wants to enjoy a beautiful Oregon day, there are ample areas along the Rogue River where you can dip a gold pan and find a little “color” relatively easily, but if you want to use larger equipment you may have better luck exploring some of the other gold-bearing creeks and rivers throughout southern Oregon that do not have so many restrictions.