Route 1: “Beam Me Up, Scotty”
The most direct route is a straight shot up US-93, clocking in at about 630 miles. You’ll pass through Coyote Springs, Nev., which boasts a stunning oasis of a golf course. Nestled between the Delamar, Arrow and Meadow Valley mountains, the course’s sprawling terrain is surrounded by snowcapped peaks, red mesas and a prehistoric riverbed. Then just over 100 miles north of Vegas, you’ll hit Crystal Springs, a classic Wild West ghost town smack dab in the heart of the “Extraterrestrial Highway,” where there was once a booming silver mine — and a popular stop for horse thieves. Nearby is Alien Research Center (you can’t miss the gleaming silver alien statue), where you can treat yourself to some exotic “alien jerky” if you’re feeling peckish. Continue northbound and you’ll bisect US-50, the “Loneliest Highway,” and hit Ely, Nev., a quaint and historic gambling town situated along the old Pony Express Route that once served as a stagecoach stop. Don’t be fooled by Jackpot, Nev. — there’s not much to be won here, unless you get super lucky on a slot machine. Passing into Idaho, you’ll hit Twin Falls, where you can stop and ogle Shoshone Falls and the iconic Perrine Bridge, paying homage to daredevil Evel Knievel.
Waterfalls & Snake River “Float” Gold
The area surrounding Twin Falls is rich with gold in the sand and gravel along the banks of the Snake River. The 800-mile stretch of the Snake River has been a prospecting haven since 1863, with mining camps popping up from “Dry Town” (present day Murtaugh) to Buhl, attracting everyone from Chinese prospectors to Depression-era fortune seekers over the years. From its headwaters near Yellowstone National Park to its tributaries all the way in Green River, Utah, the Snake River contains extremely fine gold particles that originate high in the Rocky Mountains. Snake River gold is often referred to as “flour” or “float” gold, because of its ultra-fine nature. This frustrated the hell out of the miners of yesteryear. It’s extremely hard to collect and has very little value, but it sure is pretty. It’s said that there are still millions of dollars worth of gold hidden in the Snake, and while you won’t get rich quick mining for it, you can pan for it just about anywhere. Wherever there are sediments present in or near the river, you’ll likely find traces of gold. American Falls (about an hour and half east of Twin Falls, 88 miles) is an excellent place to do some Snake River prospecting. Check in with the Snake River Chapter of the GPAA, located in Twin Falls, for details about specific sites and claims (see Page 19 for contact info).
Gold Rush Ghost Towns for the Bold & Daring
Thunder Mountain (1.5 hours from Twin Falls, about 80 miles) and Roosevelt in Valley County are prospecting sites for the adventurous miners with four-wheel-drive vehicles. Located about 75 miles east of McCall, Thunder Mountain is notorious for one of the last big gold rushes in Idaho when gold was discovered at Mule Creek and then later at Monumental Creek just around the turn of the century. And once upon a time, there was a town called Roosevelt, which contained the only trail into the Thunder Mountain mining camp. Now it’s deep underwater and known as Roosevelt Lake, formed when Monumental Creek was dammed by a mudslide in 1909. Panning Monumental Creek, Mule Creek, Big Creek and other tributaries surrounding Thunder Mountain and Roosevelt Lake is ambitious, and will certainly be an exciting journey. Be wary of the mountain’s extreme weather, as its prone to cloud bursts of rain during the summer months and may still be socked in with snow in the spring.
Historical Pit Stop
Glenns Ferry (established in 1871) makes an interesting little pit stop, located just northwest of Twin Falls along I-84. It’s famed for being one of the most historically treacherous crossings for pioneers on the Oregon Trail. Gold seekers were forced to ford the Snake River at the Three Island Crossing until 1869, at which point Gustavus “Gus” Glenn built a ferry about two miles upstream. The ferry could hold just two wagons at a time, cutting approximately 20 miles off the former route.
Fork in the Road
Now you’ve got a choice: Either take US-30 west to Hagerman or US-93 north to Shoshone, both are about 30-40 minutes away from Twin Falls and both possess some great potential prospecting sites. Hagerman is known for its hard rock mining, but panning anywhere along stream beds or near old mines in the region offers potential for a flash in the pan. Shoshone has several GPAA claim sites amid its mineral-rich Coeur d’Alene mountain region.
Route 2: “Gold, Gold Everywhere, and Not A Drop To Drink”
Nevada isn’t all golf and roadside attractions. In theory, gold can be found in every single county in the state. If you’ve got the time, consider taking the US-95 route, which will add a few hours and about 100 miles to your journey, but passes through some of the best gold prospecting sites in the bone-dry Silver State. But make sure to pack your metal detector and dry washer, as there’s so little water in Nevada that your sluice box may prove useless.
Bonus: There are so many hot springs and RV parks along this route throughout all of Nevada, for maximum relaxation after long days of driving and/or prospecting.
Tours & Tourists
Virginia City, located just north of Carson City and southeast of Reno, is home to several historical mines, including Savage Mining Company, Ponderosa Mine and Chollar Mine (famed for producing over $17 million in gold during the rush!). You can take tours of these mines, checking out the old equipment and trying your luck panning in the nearby areas.
These spots are definitely a bit more touristy, but probably won’t amount to much, but fun nonetheless.
Fish ‘n’ Nuggets
About seven hours north of Las Vegas is Rye Patch State Recreation Area, home to the GPAA’s Rye Patch Nugget Shoot, an annual free metal detector hunt that draws hundreds of people each year. This 22-mile long reservoir has 72 miles of shoreline and 11,000 acres of water surface (when full).
It costs $15 per night to camp out in the park, which is located in the trench cut by the Humboldt River. But this area offers more than an expansive area in which to metal detect — it’s got great fishing, too! Make sure to purchase your Nevada fishing license online and bring your own bait, then drop your line and wait for crappie, white bass, channel catfish, black bass and walleyes to bite.
Goin’ to Winnemucca, Mack
North of Winnemuca off of US-95N lies Dutch Flats in Humboldt County. This is the land of bedrock and rattlesnakes, and the surrounding Hot Springs Mountains still hold loads of potential for drywashing its sporadic gold deposits. Just west of Winnemuca is Pershing County, home to the Humboldt District, Rochester District, Seven Troughs Range (30 miles west of Lovelock), Sierra District and Spring Valley District — all of which are teeming with old mines and have lots of great sites for prospecting.
Additionally, the Rebel Creek District in the Santa Rosa Mountains has yielded lode deposits near Willow, Rebel and Pole creeks. Black Rock Desert, best known for its annual Burning Man Festival in late August, has also been known to contain disputable amounts of gold in the Pine Forest Mountains along its northern border around Teepee, Snow and Leonard creeks in its Varyville Mining District.
Strike It Rich Near Elko
Fuel up and grab supplies in Elko and then continue about a 1.5 hours north, where there are lots of fantastic prospecting sites to be had.
The 130-year-old town of Mountain City (formerly called Cope) has nearly 20,000 nearby mines and a rich history of boisterous saloons fueled by placer gold wealth.
Both Hammond and Coleman canyons are known to still contain significant amounts of placer gold. There is also great potential for gold to be found around the Owyhee River and at both Grasshopper and Hansen Gulch. The Aura District is still allegedly rich with placer gold, specifically near Sheridan and Columbia creeks.
Gold Dust & Ghosts in Silver City
About two hours south of Boise is Silver City, Idaho, where gold was first discovered near Jordan Creek in 1863. The gold around this region is only about 50 percent pure, hence the name “Silver City.”
The original lode claim was located at War Eagle Mountain, and the historic region still has some likely gold floating around. Some other ghost towns along the Snake River that may still contain a golden glimmer are De Lamar, Ruby City and Empire City.
Route 3: “The Road Less Traveled”
There’s a more roundabout route from I-15 to I-84, taking you on a brief jaunt into Arizona, all the way up through Utah via Salt Lake City and back around to Twin Falls, Idaho, before reaching Boise. This route clocks in at about 760 miles in roughly 10.5 hours, if you’re driving direct — but you won’t want to do that, because there are so many awesome points of interest along the way. National parks, campgrounds and fishing holes are abundant ... plus some opportunities to seek out that ultra fine Utah gold.
While Utah is definitely the underdog in terms of prospecting, due in part to its neighboring states being so mineral rich, there are still a few select spots where drywashing could produce a glimmer. Recreational rockhounding is popular throughout Utah, from topaz and geodes to Indian artifacts and invertebrate fossils. Escalante, Juab County (Dugway Geode Beds and Topaz Mountain Area) and Millard County (specifically Antelope Springs and Sunstone Knoll), are en route from Las Vegas to Salt Lake City, and are all renowned places for treasure hunting.
Of course, Utah offers some of the most spectacular nature in the country, from Valley of Fire State Park to Bryce Canyon and Zion national parks and Red Cliffs National Conservation Area — all of which are also along this route. Whether you want to do some backpacking and camping or simply like to pull over at every single scenic overlook (of which, there are many) and snap some selfies, Utah’s got it all.
Utah’s Great (Un)salted Lake
About 45 minutes south of Salt Lake City near Provo is Utah Lake State Park, where you can rent off-highway vehicles (aka ATVs) for a romp through the rocks, go on a walkabout on one of their many trails, partake in some boating or fishing activities or just camp out under the stars near one of the largest freshwater lakes in the west.
Scenery & Speck Sightings
You can take the Alpine Scenic Route (State Road 92) to the north side of Utah Lake, where you’ll encounter American Fork Canyon. This recreation area and expansive wilderness was once home to Forest City (now a ghost town), where you might have luck finding a few specks of placer gold, if you’re lucky.
The remains of Pacific Mine and Burnt Canyon Mine can be found in this region, if you look closely. Even if you don’t come across any gold dust, you’ll still take pleasure in being surrounded by this pristine nature, with plenty of caves and grottoes to explore.
Mine, All Mine
Kennecott Copper Mine (formerly Bingham Canyon Copper Mine), the world’s largest man-made excavation and largest producer of gold in the state, is also along this route just about 30 miles southwest of Salt Lake City.
The visitor center offers tours, educational videos and lots of information regarding “safe mining practices, sustainable development practices and the importance mining plays in modern life.”
If you’re at all interested in Utah’s rich mining history, you’ll dig the breathtaking view of this gaping hole in the ground — plus, you can witness their enormous haul trucks, whose electric shovels move up to 320 tons of ore at a time into the in-pit crusher.
Kennecott Mine produces about 25 percent of our country’s copper, making it the second largest copper producer in the United States. Additionally, this mine produces about 400,000 ounces of gold annually.
The Logan River in Logan Canyon is about 1.5 hours north of Salt Lake City and is a stellar spot for fly fishing, rich with brown, rainbow, cutthroat and brook trout. The reasonable water temperatures combined with its diverse fishery and multi-dam configuration make this spot a favorite among locals and visitors alike, particularly the The Blacksmith Fork tributary.
Either which way you go, Boise is the beacon at the end of the tunnel. And surrounding Boise are lots of claims, from the Boise Basin to the rugged Atlanta District. From the banks of the Salmon River to the Payette River, there is still plenty of gold to be had all throughout Idaho. Unimaginable quantities of gold were discovered throughout this region since 1862, during one of the richest strikes in the entire country.
Remote towns like Pioneerville, Placerville, Centerville and Idaho City all popped up just to accommodate the influx of prospectors during this time period. Ample gold has been found in the Boise Basin as recently as the 1950s and people continue to get lucky in this area to this day.
The Atlanta District, located southeast of the Boise Basin, still harbors tons of gold in its rivers (and great fishing!). Towns like Atlanta, Featherville and Pines likely still contain placer gold, if you’re patient and savvy enough to unearth it.
Additionally, the little towns of Burgdorf, Warren, Bayhorse, Leesburg, Yellowjacket, Murray, Elk City and Yankee Fork are located off of tributaries of historic gold mining sites.
There are a million things to do from Las Vegas to Boise. Any way you cut it, one week just isn’t enough time to do all the activities, take in all the sights and pan for all the gold between Nevada and Idaho.
We sure hope to see you at both of our GPAA Gold and Treasure Shows this spring, and may whatever you do during the in between time be fun and exciting — and potentially profitable!
Allison Cohn is a freelance writer and agent based in Colorado