Digging in the city means participating in recreational gold prospecting as a guest of a local government, parks & rec district or similar organization.
While the tools of prospecting are the same (shovel, pan and sluice, maybe an electric highbanker like the Gold Cube), the process of finding a spot to dig is vastly different. No worries about the BLM, National Forest Service or checking on prior mining claims at the county clerk office. Instead, once you find a spot you’d like to dig, go to the local county assessor website to find the parcel of land there. The assessor website will hopefully (usually) have an interactive map you can use to spot your spot and see who owns it. Then you contact the owner to ask permission, or just review their website to confirm rules of use.
– Most waterways in South metro Denver (north Douglas county, western Arapahoe county and Denver county itself) are owned by parks and rec districts or stormwater management districts who have chosen to allow, or ignore, casual recreational prospecting, treating it as rock hounding. As private ranches were converted over to housing developments in recent decades, the waterways went from being unaccessible private property to highly accessible public property. This is exciting since there’s been a dramatic increase in available placers for prospectors to explore. Many of these creeks are gold bearing and are virgin dirt due to being too small to have ever attracted commercial attention. Generally, the creeks feeding into the South Platte carry gold and are controlled by local authorities who DO allow manual prospecting. Waterways that feed into Cherry Creek also often carry gold but in Douglas County, many are managed by Douglas County Open Space which doesn’t allow any disturbance to the lands…you can’t even pick a blade of grass to chew as you hike along! For more about gold in South metro Denver check out this post:
Cherry Creek itself running through Denver has gold too, mostly carried downstream out of the Castle Rock formation zone I suppose. Read about it here:
– West metro Denver waterways don’t tend to carry gold with the exception of the South Platte River, Ralston Creek and Clear Creek. I’ve written about all of these waterways in other articles so here I’ll just say “check the rules and go prospecting!”
– North metro Denver includes the downstream segments of the waterways listed in above in west metro Denver, namely Clear Creek and the South Platte River. In every case the gold continues to be present downstream. I’ve also written about some hot spots in this part of town such as here, but there are other spots out there such as the little Adams County Open Space park on the south side of 70th Ave a bit east of Washington, really just downstream of the I-76 bridge. That one is a bit of a walk to get to since the county closed the parking lot at that site. Go for a walk, sample, prospect and dig!
– East metro Denver has virtually no areas of interest since the creeks are chock full of light quartz sand. Any gold is under many feet of sand in most cases.
A Key Resource: This map will show you every tiny little stream across metro Denver…go check out the ones near you!
It bears repeating that you need to know who owns the land and what their rules of use are before you dig! Or just read my articles of course, I’m here for ya!
Here’s a typical small but gold bearing suburban creek running full and murky after a rainstorm:
General Tips for prospecting in town:
– Land that is a tax assessor parcel displayed on the assessor website with no owner, or is “not a parcel,” is owned by the county. In that case the county laws apply. There are NO counties who ban casual, non-motorized prospecting. IF the land is administered by a parks and rec district, their rules are important to respect but often that’s not the case.
– Stay out of manicured park areas at all times. If the grass is mowed up to the edge of the creek, you aren’t welcome there.
– Access to these areas can be easily revoked by local authorities if damage is done or other recreational land users complain about prospector behavior or how we leave our dig sites. Please be very, very careful to follow the rules and be a good ambassador for all prospectors. Please leave things as you find them and pack out any trash you find.
– Gas powered equipment is not allowed anywhere in metro Denver. You’ll have to head into the foothills and mountains west of town to use gas powered gear.
Some of these creeks rise several feet (with records up to 8-10 feet) during sudden spring/summer storms so be careful out there. Drownings have occurred in the urban creeks of metro Denver in recent years!
– None of this land can be claimed as a federal mining claim; sharing is the approach here.
– Places where all prospecting is banned include:
- Douglas County Open Space
- Boulder County Open Space
- Wheatridge east of the designated prospecting area at Arapahoe Bar
- Cherry Creek State Park and Chatfield State Park
- Jefferson County Open Space except Clear Creek and the South Platte River (but that’s OK since the other relevant creeks don’t have gold)
Here’s what 2 hours of digging in a metro hot spot looks like:
Just west of town the rules are much more wide open. Learn more in my article here.
For a page full of all my articles on places to dig, click here.
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