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Mother Lode Field Office

Recreational Gold Prospecting

Suction Dredging

BLM is no longer issuing recreational use permits for suction dredging

The State of California has passed SB 670 which prohibits the use of vacuum or other suction dredging equipment for instream mining in any California river, stream or lake.

This moratorium will remain in effect until the Department of Fish and Game completes an environmental review of its dredging permitting program and revises its regulations.

Additional information can be found at 


Much of the public land administered by the Bureau of Land Management's Mother Lode Field Office is open for the filing of mining claims under the Mining Law of 1872. Under the Mining Law, the claim holder has exclusive rights to valuable minerals which may be found on the claim. Currently there are roughly 5,000 mining claims on the public lands administered by the Mother Lode Field Office.

Persons who wish to stake a mining claim should contact the BLM State Office in Sacramento to find out if a site is already claimed or not. The BLM must be notified prior to the use of mechanized equipment on a claim. Mining claims may not be filed for the purpose of living on public land.

California State Office Mineral Resources Homepage 

Gold Panning

Because of the Mother Lode Region's history as a gold-producing area, there is high public interest in casually looking for a gold nugget or two. Unfortunately, the most promising public lands are already under claim and cannot be worked without the claim holder's permission.

There are areas within the jurisdiction of the Mother Lode Field Office, however, that are available for casual prospecting: the South Yuba River, the lower Merced River and the South Fork of the American River.  Gold seekers can try their luck in these areas. 

South Yuba River

Recreational "Hands and Pans" are the only tools you may use on the South Yuba River.  No digging with shovels or other hand tools.  You can only pan in stream-run gravel -- never from dry areas.

Merced River  and  South Fork of the American River

Both rivers are open to "casual use" gold prospecting which includes panning, the use of non-motorized sluice boxes, metal detectors, and hand tools.

Additional Maps and Brochures

Related Subjects

  • High banking is not allowed and is not considered casual or recreational use
  • The use of suction dredges, machinery, winches, water pumps, or explosives is not considered to be casual or recreational use
  • Before you begin prospecting on public lands, please check for existing mining claims to avoid conflicts with claiments
  • The camping limit is 14 days within any 90 day period