Cherry Creek prospecting tips

Cherry Creek in lower downtown Denver (photo: USGS)

Cherry Creek was one of the first places early prospectors found gold in Colorado. In 1858 William “Green” Russell and his party even briefly set up the gold camp “town” of Russellville south of the modern town of Parker on Cherry Creek. They moved on toward Denver fairly quickly looking for richer diggings but left some gold in the creek-bed for us. The area is still called Russellville Gulch. Sadly the area where they were is all large private ranches now so it’s unavailable to dig casually…maybe someday we’ll get access, most likely when suburbia gets this far!

Another early prospector, George S. Simpson found gold near the confluence with the South Platte before Green Russell arrived on the scene. He passed through the area in 1857 as part of a small group bringing supplies to the US Army in Utah. When they paused at Cherry Creek to rest, George panned out a nice sample of gold. This likely makes him the first US citizen to find gold in that creek! His letters, to his mother back in Missouri, about this moment were reprinted in eastern newspapers and were part of what triggered the Pikes Peak Gold Rush in the following years. That next winter while back east, he was asked to guide Green Russell and his group to Cherry Creek. He declined, preferring to see his mother in St Louis and imagining the excursion would end in disappointment, but he did describe his recommended route to them. Back in the area of the confluence On May 5, 1858, while still working as a teamster for the military, he taught the others how to pan and found gold using just a shovel and a bread pan. Today, you CAN dig in that very spot where he found gold down near the confluence.

Anyway, Cherry Creek in the City of Denver is open to non-motorized prospecting. The gold is a bit spotty due to all the sand but I’ve found a few decent spots and I’m sure there are many more to be found if you are in the mood to look.

There are generally two types of gold deposits to search for:

– streaks of gold bearing black sand in/on sand bars above or in the water. Obviously this gold will be sand grain sized or smaller.

– deposits caught behind larger rocks, concrete and other debris in the creek. Gold Particle sizes here can be a bit bigger.

I’ve panned both of these types of deposits just upstream of the Colorado Blvd bridge over the creek in north Glendale and in Lower Downtown (LoDo) Denver in the area just east of the Pepsi Center. I also was able to run a drop riffle sluice there (Angus Mackirk Expedition). I really had fun finding a hundred year old carnival token in my classifier in LoDo!

Carnival token from LoDo Cherry Creek (photo: me!)

Of course there are many miles of Cherry Creek running through town that I haven’t even dipped a pan in. Maybe you’ll find a hot spot just blocks from home if you’re local!

Prospecting Tips:

1. Right after a rain, the water levels are often higher and faster than usual. This makes sluicing much easier.

2. If you plan to sluice, bring a 1/4 inch screen and several buckets. You can fill the buckets with water and use them like big rocks to hold your sluice in place if there aren’t rocks where you want to set up.

3. Access is often good in winter due to the paved rec path. Water levels are mostly quite shallow. It can be a pleasant place to pan on a sunny winter day.

4. Only dig in the creekbed. Inside bends on even the most modest curves can be good, especially if there are rocks or other things interrupting the water flow. Islands in the stream can also be good.


1. As you may find yourself in manicured areas, don’t make a mess!! Fill holes, pack out trash, be a good representative of prospecting to the many other users of the rec path and the creek. A few years ago, the Denver City Council considered banning all prospecting here…please don’t give them reason to reconsider the rules that continue to allow non-motorized prospecting.

2. When spring/summer storms hit the area hard, the water levels can really rise in this creek so if the clouds roll in, be smart. Watch for rising water and be aware of your exit path. People have died in recent memory. Don’t take chances!

To read more about the creek and it’s history, the Wikipedia article is:

As mentioned there, you should keep your eyes open for petrified wood and fossils in your classifiers. Cool stuff!

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