The Trinity River in Northwest California is one of the primary tributaries of the Klamath River and was a major gold-bearing site during the California Gold Rush of the 1800s.
Once known as “Hupa” or “Hoopa” by the Yurok tribe, the river came to national prominence when Major Pierson B. Reading discovered gold in the river. This was during the early stages of the gold rush and it soon attracted people from far and wide in the hopes of finding their fortune.
Early Days on the Trinity
From the vey beginning, it was obvious that the river was carrying a large amount of placer gold that would sustain mining for years to come. This resulted in the settlement and development of a large number of boomtowns such as Lake City, Hobboken, Douglas City, Francis, Junction City, Quimby and Lewiston.
A major difference between other such gold bearing areas and the Trinity River gold deposits was the higher percentage of Chinese Miners. Approximately 2,500 Chinese miners who mostly migrated from Guangdong.
The initial operation was concentrated towards the upper Eastern valley of the river as the Western part was treacherous. The area was extremely profitable and was second only to Sierra Nevada in terms of production in the first two decades of operation.
Due to the profitability of the abundant gold deposits throughout the Trinity River valley, new mining techniques, operations, and methods were undertaken.
A large number of claims had opened up along the Trinity River and the miners were using waterwheels, flumes and other apparatus and methods to extract placer gold deposits.
However, the great Flood of 1862 destroyed much of the mining infrastructure along the river and mining operations moved westward. The major mining operations continued but most of the placer gold deposits started to deplete by the 1870s.
Expansion of Lode & Hydraulic Mines
The gold mining at Trinity River gained a second wind in the 1880s when lode gold deposits were found in the mountains. Immediately hard rock mining and hydraulic mining took the place of placer gold mining in the main river channel. These mines used pressurized water to demolish the hills to expose ore.
With as many as 145 hydraulic mines being fully operational at one stage, gold mining near the Trinity River was extremely profitable and prosperous during this period. The largest of these mines was the La Grange Mine
which itself created enough sediment to bury the entirety of the settlement of Oregon Gulch.
The hydraulic mining impacted the entire landscape of the area, the effects of which are still present even today.
Despite the large amount of placer gold and lode gold deposits, prolific mining ensured that by the early 1900s, most of the gold sources in the area were already exhausted.
During these final stages of commercial mining on the Trinity River, floating bucket dredges were used on the river to turn the river bed for previously unexplored placer gold deposits. This activity went on till 1959.
Current Status of Mining in Trinity County
After the commercial mining stopped, locals focused on ranching, logging, and farming.
In recent decades, there were still a few miners on the river, usually 1 and 2-man operations using suction dredges to recover placers from the riverbed. Recent laws preventing miners from using suction dredges has effectively halted almost all serious placer mining operations in this area.
There are still traces of placer gold in the river that make for great panning activities. And enthusiasts are often rewarded with quality gold nuggets even today. To pan in the private lands, prior permission is important.
Small creeks that drain into the Trinity River are often considered the best places for prospecting, especially where the river bedrock is exposed. I have a good friend who metal detects here uses a Minelab GOLD MONSTER 1000
and finds a lot of gold nuggets in this area.
Federal lands are usually open for panning but there are a lot of active claims in the area. You will need to arrange for permission beforehand. As the Klamath Mountain is still believed to be holding a large amount of gold within its rocks, placer gold deposit of Trinity River should continue to entertain casual miners for many decades to come.10 Free Places to Go Gold Panning in California