Mining Claims and Sites FAQ

Mining Claims and Sites

Frequently Asked Questions

Mine Head Frame

Suction Dredging

General Mining Law of 1872, as amended



Mining Operations

1. What rules apply to gold panning? 

Answer: Gold panning is allowed on BLM lands without special permits, unless expressly prohibited.  Gold panning is considered casual use. Casual use is defined as those activities that cause little or no surface disturbance (43 CFR 3809.5(1&2)). 

There may be special rules that apply to certain areas including, but not limited to, the Arkansas River area.   Contact the Surface Management Agency’s field office with jurisdiction over the area where you intend to gold pan for further guidance before you begin.


2. I want to go rockhounding on public land; do I need a mining claim to legally collect?

Answer: No.

        Brochure Rockhounding on Public Land

BLM Colorado, Rockhounding & Fossil Collecting

Refer to the brochure for additional information and contact the local Federal Surface Management Agency with additional questions.









3. I have a favorite place on public land where I dig for minerals, but I don’t find many that I take with me. Does this activity still qualify as rockhounding?

Answer: It may qualify as casual use according to BLM regulations. Check with the appropriate Federal Surface Management Agency and the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety for guidance.


4. Does an active mining claim guarantee me rights to extract minerals without a bond?

Answer:  No.

Prior to conducting surface-disturbing activities, contact the appropriate Federal Surface Management Agency and the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety to ensure the proper paperwork is filed and the appropriate financial guarantees are secured.


5. Do I need a mining claim to suction dredge on public land?

Answer:  It depends on the area.

 Placer mining using a suction dredge

Suction dredge under water 

Contact the BLM field office with jurisdiction over the land where the prospective operation will occur BEFORE beginning any activity beyond casual use to determine what level of operation your activity is classified. 

For example: the BLM Grand Junction Field Office and the Royal Gorge Field Office have designated rules and locations for suction dredging and other mechanical placer operations. A Notice of Intent (NOI) for work in these areas can be obtained by contacting these field offices.


6. Is a patented mining claim private property?

Answer: Yes.


7. Is an unpatented mining claim considered real property?

Answer: Yes.

The discovery of a valuable mineral deposit within the limits of a mining claim located on public lands in conformance with state and Federal statutes validates the claim; and the locator acquires an exclusive possessory interest in the mineral deposits within the claim.

Further, the claim is property in the fullest sense of that term; and may be sold, transferred, mortgaged, and inherited without infringing any right or title of the United long as he complies with the provisions of the mining laws.  United States Supreme Court case of Wilbur v. U.S. ex rel Krushnic, 280 US 306 (1930).

The owner of an unpatented claim is entitled to mine, remove and sell all valuable mineral deposits within his claim boundaries provided he follows the regulations for Surface Management under 43 CFR 3809, and is entitled to such surface rights necessary for mining operations.


8. Can I file a mining claim to get my own land in the mountains?

Answer: No.

A mining claim on public lands is a "possessory mineral interest." This means that a mining claimant has a limited right to the location for mining or milling purposes only. No deed accompanies this right.

If the surface use is not otherwise encumbered, anyone may enter upon a claim on public lands for any purposes other than mining locatable minerals.


9.  If I file a mining claim can I eventually obtain title (patent) to the land? 

Answer:   No.

As of October 1, 1994, Congress imposed a moratorium on spending appropriated funds for the acceptance or processing of mineral patent applications that had not yet received First Half Final Certificate (FHFC) or were not in Washington, D.C. for Secretarial review of FHFC on or before September 30, 1994. Until the moratorium is lifted, the BLM will not accept any new applications.


10. Who can locate a mining claim?

Answer: United States Citizens and those who have filed an application for citizenship as well as business entities organized under the laws of any state (43 CFR 3830.3) can locate a mining claim.

The steps to locate a mining claim/site are summarized on our website and within the brochure Mining Claims and Sites on Federal Land

 Brochure, Mining Claims & Sites


11. Is the General Mining Law of 1872, as amended still in effect?

Answer: Yes.

The General Mining Law of 1872 as amended regulates mining on public land.  Budget Acts by Congress, portions of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA), as amended, and the Surface Resources Act of 1955 affect this law.   

Further, the Federal regulations for unpatented mining claims/sites on Public Land may be found in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) under Title 43 "Public Lands,” Section 3802, 3809, and 3830.


12. I want to locate a mining claim/site on US Forest Service (USFS) land; do I follow the same procedure to locate?   

Answer:  Yes.

The regulations and procedures to locate and maintain a mining claim/site on Federal land are the same for BLM and USFS land. 

However, the regulations and procedures to begin mining operations are different depending on the Surface Management Agency (BLM or USFS).  Contact the appropriate Federal Surface Management Agency and the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety office prior to conducting surface-disturbing activities on your mining claim.


13. Is there information on the location of unpatented mining claims/sites available on-line?

Answer:  Yes.

Current information on unpatented mining claims may be found by searching the LR2000 database, at  A query for active or closed mining claims/sites may be run by selecting a report under the title "Public Mining Claim Reports."  If you have questions regarding running a LR2000 report, contact our Public Lands Information Center (Public Room) at 303-239-3600, Monday through Friday from 9am to 4pm.


14. Can I determine the exact location of the claim using LR2000?   

Answer:  No.

The exact location of the claim can be found by locating the claim markers on the ground. Requesting a copy of the certificate of location and map from the official case files kept in the Dockets Library, may be helpful as a guide to locating the claim markers.

All documents within an official mining claim case file may be copied for the public.  A fee of $0.15 per page (letter or legal size only) will be assessed for copy work. The documents (letter or legal size only) may also be scanned and emailed to you for an additional $0.15 per page. Contact the BLM Colorado Dockets Library at 303-239-3615 for more information.


15. How can I get information on mining claims that date back to the early 1800’s or 1900's? 

Answer: Research the General Land Office Records website or land status records on microfiche in the Public Room.

Historic mining claim information may be found online at the General Land Office Records website ( or by contacting the Public Lands Information Center (Public Room) at 303-239-3600.  

In order to do an effective search you will need to have some basic information on the mining claim, such as legal description, Mineral Survey number, or the original patent serial number.  Records of official surveys as well as original patents are available. 


16. Will I need a bond for my mining operation? 

Answer: Yes, if the level of activity of your operation is anything other than casual use. In addition, the bond will be determined by the location and activity level of your operation.

Contact the appropriate Federal Surface Management Agency and the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety office prior to conducting surface disturbing activities.


17. How does the BLM classify a mining operation? 

The extraction of minerals on BLM land is generally identified by three levels of surface-disturbing activity as well as by any intended commercial use (sales). 


Casual use prospecting includes those activities that cause very little or no disturbance, for example: collection of geochemical, rock, soil, or mineral specimens using hand tools; hand panning; or non-motorized sluicing. It also generally includes use of metal detectors, gold spears and other battery-operated devices for sensing the presence of minerals, and hand and battery-operated dry washers. Operators may use motorized vehicles for casual use activities only if the use is consistent with the regulations governing such use (part 43 CFR 8340), including following off-road vehicle use designations and temporary closures ordered by the BLM. Casual use operations do not require notification of the BLM except where specific land use or recreation area plans call for a recreational mining permit. You must reclaim any casual use disturbance that you create.


Notice level prospecting means any prospecting operation that is motorized, mechanized, uses explosives, or is reasonably expected to result in greater land disturbance than is caused by the ordinary, lawful use of the land by persons not prospecting. To conduct notice level prospecting, you must file a Notice of Intent to Conduct Prospecting Operations (NOI) with the appropriate BLM field office, as defined in 43 CFR 3809 regulations.  The operator will be required to provide a financial guarantee warranty for reclamation costs of the prospecting operations, which is filed and held by Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety (CDRMS) in the form of a cash bond or a corporate or insurance instrument.


An approved Plan of Operations is required for exploration activities disturbing more than five acres, bulk sampling of 1,000 tons or more, and all proposed mining or milling operations (regardless of the acreage disturbed). A plan is required for any operation causing surface disturbance greater than casual use in special status areas as defined in 43 CFR 3809.11. Financial warranty must be supplied for all plan level operations.


18. As the BLM and the USFS are both Federal agencies, are their regulations for mining operations the same?

Answer:  No.

The regulations for mineral activity on Federal land, are issued by each Federal Surface Management Agency. This means the Federal regulations will be different according to the Federal agency who manages the surface estate.


19. Are there additional State of Colorado regulations for prospecting and mining operations on Federal land?

Answer:  Yes.

We recommend you discuss your plans to prospect as well as plans to operate your mine with the local Federal office and the State of Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety prior to any activity. 

In addition to state regulations, there may be other agencies with whom you should contact prior to mining, depending on the location and activity you intend to complete.


20. What is Sustainable Development?

Answer:  The idea that we develop today to meet the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. 

Brochure, Sustainable development and your mining operation. 

Sustainable Development and Your Mining Operations Making it Work for Company, Community, and Society

Sustainable development can be applied to mining operations to be more sustainable socially, environmentally, and economically.


21. Who do I contact if I have questions about my mining operation?

Answer:   Contact the BLM field office or USFS ranger district office that has jurisdiction over the location where you propose surface-disturbing activities. In addition, you must contact the State of Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety. 


22. What is involved in reclamation of a mining claim?

Answer: Reclamation is the rehabilitation of mined land in order to mitigate the adverse environmental effects of mining.

Components of reclamation include:

  1. Isolation, control, or removal of acid-forming, toxic, or deleterious substances;
  2. Regrading and reshaping to conform with adjacent landforms, facilitate revegetation, control drainage, and minimize erosion;
  3. Rehabilitation of fisheries or wildlife habitat;
  4. Placement of growth medium and establishment of self-sustaining revegetation;
  5. Removal or stabilization of buildings, structures, or other support facilities;
  6. Plugging of drill holes and closure of underground workings; and
  7. Providing for post-mining monitoring, maintenance, or treatment.


23. If I file a mining claim/site over a historic mining site, do I have any rights to the abandoned equipment?

Answer:   No.

It is a Federal crime to remove any historic or pre-historic items from Public Land including a mining claim. 

24. If the boundaries of private land or a withdrawn area such as a wilderness area are not marked on the ground, am I still responsible for trespassing?

Answer: Yes.

In the State of Colorado, there is no law that land owners must mark the boundary of their land. It is the claimant’s responsibility to determine their location in relation to the private property or withdrawn land to avoid trespassing. You are responsible for knowing your location.  

Additional Information:

Collection of Petrified Wood on Public Lands ( 43 CFR 3622 )

Mineral Materials Disposal on Public Land ( 43 CFR 3600 )

BLM Mineral Policy Statement