North Carolina Gold Prospecting Laws

Pure gold from the mine in a black ore pan
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In North Carolina, recreational gold panning at gold mines is a popular hobby. Visitors at a gold mine like Gold City get free admission or pay an admission fee and may keep what they find. Visitors to state parks and recreation areas are not allowed to carry off rocks or minerals, but visitors to a national forest can engage in gold panning if they remove small quantities for personal, noncommercial purposes.

National forests do not allow gold panning in Congressionally designated wilderness areas; the corridors of designated wild and scenic rivers; and forest areas where mineral rights are owned by, or under lease to, a private party. Individuals cannot pan or dig for gold on private property without the permission of the property owner. Private property can extend into a river, stream, lake or other body of water.

When Permits Are Needed

Generally, an individual does not need a permit to pan for gold in North Carolina. In a national forest, an individual needs a permit to remove minerals, including gold, for scientific and research purposes. When a person gets permission to look for gold on private land, the permission is not a permit issued by local, state or federal government agencies.

Whether a person can pan for gold in North Carolina streams depends on where the stream is located and who has water and/or mineral rights to the stream. Public lands under the control of local governments are ultimately under the jurisdiction of the state. An individual or corporation needs a permit to open a mine in North Carolina.

Is a Mining Claim Needed?

An individual does not need a mining claim to pan for gold. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management defines a mining claim as a parcel of land for which an individual asserts a right of possession and the right to develop and extract a valuable mineral deposit. There are two types of mining claims:

  • Lode claims are claims to gold found in classic veins or lodes, veins of metal ore in earth with well-defined boundaries. This type of claim includes other rock-bearing valuable minerals, such as quartz with veins bearing gold.
  • Placer claims are deposits not within a lode claim. Placer claims are located by legal subdivision, such as naming the section, township and state of a location.

Where Gold Can Be Found

Prospecting will be most successful in the Carolina Slate Belt, an area that runs in a diagonal line across the center of the state. North Carolina gold can be found in Granville, Person and Caswell counties. The belt’s southwestern region includes Union, Mecklenburg and Gaston counties.

There are numerous placer streams in Granville, Person and Caswell counties. The Uwharrie River, known to be home to placer gold deposits, flows from Randolph County south into Montgomery County through the Uwharrie National Forest.

Davidson, Stanly, Cabarrus and Union counties are also good areas for prospecting. The Reed Gold Mine in Cabarrus County was the site of the first documented gold mine in the U.S. Prospectors are known to have found large nuggets there.

Gold Prospecting Equipment

Metal detectors are a popular tool for walking an area on land. A person who is searching for gold in streams, creeks or rivers should use a traditional hand or stream sluice box. A sluice box separates layers of dirt and rocks from a river until gold is set apart from the other materials.

As water moves through the sluice box, rocks, sand and gold are trapped in different layers called riffles. Using a sluice box is more effective than a gold pan. This is because the separation is accomplished by the device rather than by the miner.

A person interested in gold mining in North Carolina can buy a commercially made sluice box or build their own, using a sluice box frame, metal mesh and I-brackets for riffles. The U.S. Geological Survey offers suggestions in an online guide for prospectors.