With the high prices of gold these days, many folks are interested in panning for gold for fun and recreation. The chances you?ll strike it rich are dim, but if you will work at it, there is still gold out there to be found. Many new prospectors have a problem finding good places to prospect for gold. Many spots are either located on private property or already held as a private mining claim. As a result, many people get together and form clubs.
The prospecting clubs and acquire their own claims for the use of the members. However sometimes a new prospector would like to try his hand panning for gold at least the first few times without having to pay the money to join a prospecting club. This article describes a beautiful little spot where one can dredge, sluice, metal detect, or pan for gold, all for free. It is called Mineral Bar campground and is located where the Colfax - Iowa Hill Road crosses over the American River. In the terms of the old miners, a bar is a place where gold bearing gravel accumulates.
The North fork of the American River has been mined for its gold since the days of the 49ers. At Mineral Bar, you can get a feel for that historic time, when hearty miners struggled to win a living by working the sands and gravels of the River. The signs are all around in the form of many large piles of rocks which were left behind by the miners who worked this area. Some nice nuggets have been found here, and it is still possible to find some nice flakes without too much effort. The picture at right with the buffalo nickel shows gold flakes taken from a days panning on the North Fork of the American River and Mineral Bar. If you know how to pan for gold and know where to dig, you should be able to get a similar amount with a days worth of effort. Much of this gold is flat and flaky and has been washed down from the hydraulic mines up above at places like Iowa Hill.
Both Colfax and Iowa Hill were important towns in the gold rush days, and millions of ounces of gold were harvested from these hills in the early days. If you come to stay and try your hand prospecting at Mineral Bar, you should set aside a little bit of time to visit both Colfax and Iowa Hill and see the historic sites there. The town of Iowa Hill is practically surrounded by large old hydraulic mines, locations where miners washed down the entire hillside to capture the gold located there. It is easy to see the hydraulic mines on both sides of the road just before it enters Iowa Hill.
Because it is so dense, gold likes to work its way down to the bedrock, and it's usually in the cracks and crevices of the bedrock that you will find the most gold. If you would like to read more information on placer mining in general, and some instructions on how to pan for gold, be sure to check out my website on gold panning located here:
Getting to Mineral Bar is not too difficult - it is about 2 miles East of the little town of Colfax, northeast of Sacramento. The map below shows what you need to know to get there. Take the Iowa Hill Road which diverges from the frontage road on the east side of I-80. It intersects the frontage road roughly a quarter mile south of the Chevron gas station. The road down is paved all the way, but it is a little steep in places and there are a couple real sharp turns. The road is not advisable for larger motor homes, but I?ve had no problems getting there with my trailer. It?s a popular camp spot and usually nearly or completely full on weekends during the summer. Arriving early on Friday or on Monday are usually best if you want to camp. Even if the camp spots are full there is still plenty of day parking for non-campers. There are limited facilities: pit toilets only and no running water other than what is in the river (and that is not safe to drink). Even so, it has good gold and is less than an hour from the Sacramento area, a perfect place to get away from it all, a quiet spot well worth the time to stop and enjoy a visit to the area. The nearest supermarket in this area, which is also the best source for food and other goods, is located behind McDonald's in Colfax.