Gold panning, or more generally speaking gold prospecting is a popular and fun activity here in the southern portion of the mother lode country. Over 160 years ago, gold was discovered up near Sutter’s Mill in Coloma, California. Since then people from all over the globe have come to the mother lode in search of that precious yellow metal. Despite the enormous amounts of gold being discovered and mined over the last 160 plus years, there is still a lot of gold to be found if you know where and how to look for it.
A lot of the gold-bearing land here in the mother lode is claimed, meaning the owners of the claim have the mineral rights but the land is still open to public entry as long as it is public land (National Forest, BLM). There are still several ways for you to access your share of gold. One common method is to join a gold prospecting club. The only club I am familiar with is the GPAA (Gold Prospectors Association of America). This is a popular gold prospecting club because they have access to claims all over the United States. In addition, GPAA also has local chapters that hosts outings throughout the mother lode such as the Delta Gold Diggers. You must, however, be an active GPAA member if you want to attend one of the outings. The advantage be attending local chapter outings is you typically get access to private claims the GPAA does not own or lease.
In addition there are still areas that are open to the public for gold prospecting. One area is the South Fork Stanislaus public area. It is located just downstream of the LDMA mining camp and extends down river for almost a mile, nearly to Five-Mile Creek, where the short bridge is. The river is easily accessible in a couple of spots but there may be campers there. You can sluice, pan, and I believe metal detect here. Another area open to the public for gold panning only (you can only use a gold pan and trowel) is the Knights Ferry Recreation Area, which is managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. I have found some flecks of gold here and is a great place to bring the kids. And there is lots of exposed bedrock.
If you know nothing about gold prospecting and want to learn you can also visit one of the local companies that hosts gold prospecting outings like Gold Prospecting Adventures, LLC. They offer prospecting courses, family adventures and school programs. Another one is California Gold Panning. These companies are both in Jamestown, CA.