In 1860, E. D. Pierce made the first significant gold discovery in what was to become the Idaho Territory, on Oro Fino Creek in Clearwater County (approximately 60 miles east of the present town of Lewiston, Idaho). Subsequently, the discovery of gold on the Salmon River in 1861 inspired a rush to the Salmon in 1862, involving upwards of 10,000 miners. Later that year, placer gold was discovered in the Boise Basin. Lode mining began in earnest, with discoveries near Atlanta, Rocky Bar and Silver City between 1864 and 1869. Placer gold was discovered on Loon Creek, approximately 25 miles northwest of the Yankee Fork, in mid-1869. Discovery of the rich placer and lode deposits of the Yankee Fork region began in 1870. In the Panhandle of Idaho, A. J. Pritchard discovered gold in the Coeur d’Alene region in the fall of 1882.
Panning for gold and recreational suction dredging may require a Recreational Mining Permit issued by the Idaho Department of Water Resources (IDWR). In addition to this permit, panners and dredgers must be careful about obtaining the landowner’s permission. Once you have identified your area of interest, review county records in the county assessor’s office or other maps to determine ownership. Navigable rivers and streams are under the control of the State of Idaho, and many are open for casual exploration if no one has filed an exploration location or mineral lease on that portion of the river and a Recreational Mining Permit is obtained from IDWR. A number of navigable rivers have been withdrawn from mineral entry. For additional information concerning these withdrawals check with the Idaho Department of Lands.
If you want to prospect in a small river or stream, be sure to check the ownership of the property. If the creek is on privately owned land you may be able to obtain permission from the landowner. If the creek is within public land administered by the US Forest Service or the Bureau of Land Management, check with those agencies for any mining claims which may have been filed and for current regulations. If the creek is on state endowment land, an exploration location or a lease is required for any recreational activity because these lands are managed for the benefit of public schools and other endowment beneficiaries. Please contact the local Idaho Department of Lands for information on exploration locations and mineral leases on state lands.