Article: Gold Panning In California Is The Best Leisure Activity

on Jul-28-2013 in California

Article: Gold Panning In California Is The Best Leisure Activity

Gold panning brings out a determination that goes beyond your control. You can work on it for hours on end, up to the point when you know that you should stop but this certain urge to find the gold just pushes you further beyond your limits.

Our gold panning adventure took place at the Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park in California.

Historic House at the Park

Historic House at the Park

Immediately upon arrival at the park, you are surrounded by several historic houses. Amongst others, you can see real old miner’s cabins, an old post office, churches and an old blacksmith shop.  The park looks just like an old Western movie. You are just waiting for a gunfight around the next corner.

The most important historic date of the park was January, 24 in 1848 when James W. Marshall found gold flakes at the tailrace at Sutter’s Mill. John Sutter was originally Swiss and he actually founded a new colony in California named New Helvetia (Helvetia is the Latin name of Switzerland). Sutter provided the capital for the mill and James W. Marshall looked after the mill. Marshall’s discovery caused one of the biggest migrations in human history.

Sutter's Mill Replica

Sutter’s Mill Replica

Those days must have been quite exciting. Imagine everyone heading to the gold mining country for the hope of prosperity.

The park also contains a replica of the Sutter’s Mill and a very informative gold discovery museum. The rangers were very friendly at this park. A ranger at the visitor centre even showed us a sizable piece of gold.  You can hike along various trails inside the park and enjoy some other activities.

We bought ourselves two small gold pans at the shop next to the gold discovery museum and then headed to our gold panning class. The courses (about 45min) take place on the other side of the road just opposite the museum at Bekearts Gun Shop. The gold panning classes cost USD 7.00 per person.

Sign Gold Discovery Museum and Visitors Center

Sign Gold Discovery Museum and Visitors Center

For us, this was the best payment for any leisure activity ever made. At the Bekearts Shop you can see several water basins set up for the glasses. Inside the water basins is water and sand with real gold inside.

The ranger handed everyone a gold pan and a small vial. After the introduction, everyone was able to dig deep into the sand and search for gold. The gold panning process requires a lot of patience. After a while you could hear a few stating that they found gold. The ranger checked their pans and unfortunately some of them only found the fool’s gold. Fool’s gold looks like gold but when you look closer you can see that it is not. Real gold is mustard yellow and this is also how you can identify it. The ranger was very helpful and made sure that each and every one of us found some gold.

It is the rangers who transform a good park into an extraordinary park.

After the lesson, we were able to keep the gold we had found and the vials where we stored our gold in.


Steel Frame at Coloma Bridge

Steel Frame at Coloma Bridge

Then most people chose to head down to the recreational gold panning area. You get to the area by crossing the South Fork of the American River at the Coloma Bridge. The steel framed bridge was built in 1915.

When we arrived at the river, the sun was standing high into the sky. The air smelled fresh and the clear water not just invited you to pan for gold but also to get a cool breeze onto your legs. The ground of the river is full of stones and sand. To be able to dig deep for gold you really have to pick up the stones and move them to get to the sand filled with those shiny yellow flakes. The only tools allowed for the gold panning at the recreational area are your hands and the pan.

Coloma Bridge

Coloma Bridge

You can forget the time as you stand inside the water and pan one scoop of gold after another.  This feeling is an experience in itself and shows you just how much you are really capable of. The most exciting bit is when you find a little flake inside your pan.

Every now and then, you look up and remember that there are other people around. They are laughing away and eagerly panning their gold.

It really was the best leisure activity we have ever experienced.

Click here to see our video and learn how to do gold panning

Official website of the Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park


You can find the park in the Town of Coloma on Highway 49 between Auburn and Placerville. In Auburn you just have to head south along the Highway 49 for about 18 miles (approx. 29 km) and from Placerville you head north on the Highway 49 for about 9 miles (approx. 14 km).

Physical address of the park:

310 Back Street
Coloma, CA 95613

Entry fees (last checked March 2015):

Entry fees to the museum/park per adult: USD 6.00

Fee for parking per vehicle: USD 8.00

approx. fee for gold panning course at the Bekeart Gun Shop: USD 7.00

approx. fee for small black gold pan: USD 6.50 plus tax*

Opening hours:

Most of the park is open the entire year with the exception of the public holidays Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day.

Day Use Areas are open

Summer (Mar to Nov): 08:00am to 19:00pm

Winter (Nov to Mar): 08:00am to 05:00pm

The museum is open in the summer (Mar to Nov) from 10:00am till 5:00pm and in the winter (Nov to Mar) from 10:00am till 4:00pm.

Where to stay:

We stayed at the Holiday Inn in Auburn in California. From Auburn you can reach the park with the car within 30 minutes. Auburn is also an historic city filled with gold history.

The hotel immediately made us feel at home. Everything was clean, it had a lovely pool inside the small hotel square and a good gym with some workout machines. The food in the restaurant was good and we particularly liked those cute miniature sized cake slices.

Website of the Holiday Inn in Auburn

Address of the Holiday Inn in Auburn, CA:

120 Grass Valley Highway, Auburn

California 95603

United States of America


Camping is not allowed in the park, however, you can find some campgrounds in the Coloma and Lotus communities.

What to wear:


In the summer sandals or other shoes suitable for the water. Shorts and a shirt and perhaps a cap for your head to protect you from the sun.


Gumboots for the water and some warm cloths depending on the temperatures.

*Good To Know

In the USA the sales prices often exclude the sales tax. You really have to watch this when you are not used to this system. In some states like Oregon they don’t even have a sales tax.