Using Maps to Find Prospecting Areas

When I head out for a few days of gold prospecting, I like to have a pretty good idea of where I am going before I leave the house. Of course many of the places that I hunt for gold I have been to many times so it’s not hard to find them, but when I am exploring new country I like to have my routes planned out to some extent.

I must admit that I am pretty “old school” when it comes to navigation; although I do own a GPS unit, I don’t use it much for general navigation. I know some folks love them, and I can certainly understand why. They can be handy in some situations, but I still prefer to navigate using good old-fashioned paper maps. This is a personal preference, and if you like using a handheld GPS for navigation then by all means go ahead and use one.

There are a few places that you can acquire maps for your areas. For pretty much any area in the western U.S., you can go to the local BLM or Forest Service office in your areas and they will have maps for your area. The maps that they sell to the public are generally 1:100,000 scale maps. These maps are decent for general navigation purposes, and will show land ownership (i.e. private and public lands) which is very important.

What most of the current maps seem to lack is good detail. It seems like the newer maps that the BLM and Forest Service come out with show less and less detail with each new addition. Sometimes they lack very important features like jeep trails and smaller creeks that are very important to us gold prospectors. For this reason, I prefer to use them for general navigation only, and rely on more detailed maps once I get near my location.

In my opinion, the best maps for exploring new country are the detailed 1:24,000 topographical maps that are put out by the USGS. These have much better detail, and will generally show all the roads and trails in an area. One important feature for gold prospectors is that they will often show details of historic mining activity such as small prospects, dredge tailings, lode mines, and other features that can indicate that there is gold in the area.

One great online source for these maps can be found at caltopo.com. This is an awesome resource for seeking out areas to explore. You can print maps directly from the website if you have a decent printer. This is one of my favorite websites because you can spend hours looking for potential areas to prospect, especially nice for those rainy days when it’s too nasty to actually go outside and hunt for gold.

I have certain gold districts that I prospect frequently. For these areas, I like to have maps that are printed professionally rather than printed from home.

The cost of these maps can get much more expensive than most since they only cover a small area and are quite detailed. However, for certain areas that I frequent repeatedly, I really enjoy having the higher quality maps that are printed professionally.

One thing to keep in mind is that these 1:24,000 scale maps do not generally show land ownership, and for this reason I always use them in conjunction with the more general 1:100,000 maps sold by the BLM.

See our U.S. Gold Map for information on areas that you can find gold.