Clear Creek (Broadway to Washington) – Prospecting tips

The chunk of Clear Creek in central Denver from Broadway to Washington St has some really good gold. 

This stretch of river also has quite a few bridges over it which does two good things:

  • provides some shade for summer digging
  • Means there’s bigger gold in the top gravels that was brought up during bridge building (I heard from an eye witness about a 10 gram piece here!!)

On the other hand, all those bridges mean finding parking near where you want to dig is harder… but I’ve got tips for you!

The easiest place to park is in the lot at the North West corner of 70th and Washingon. From there, walk south across 70th at the crosswalk, go a few yards west and then follow the dirt path south to the paved creekside path. Now you can cruise along the path to your preferred prospecting spot! There are quite a few easy entry points to the river here. Here’s a view of that spot (note: Highway 224  is 70th Ave):

You can also park in the lot at the NE corner btw. Whichever lot you use, I suggest also patronizing a business in that shopping area so you are a legit customer. There’s an Vietnamese restaurant (Denver Pho & Grill) in the NW shopping area I can recommend for a frosty beverage after digging😉 Even so, be cool, leave the parking spots near the shops for the customers since your car will likely be there a while.

Please don’t park in the office park on Broadway just north of the creek. This property used to allow parking for users of the open space but no longer does due to conflicts over parking, trash and access for business customers. A good reminder to be a good guest yourself. If you want to be on the Broadway end of things, try parking just north of the creek on the west side of Broadway or at the Top Sirloin Restaurant at the SE. Corner of 70th & Broadway…another good spot of an old school meal or at least a drink.

How’s the gold here? Really good. There is quite a bit of fine gold in many spots along here and you’ll have a hard time finding a shovelful of dirt without colors in it.

Equipment, Seasonal access & Safety: no gas engines allowed (seems like a silly rule when you are next to a highway overpass but I don’t make the rules!) so bring a sluice or your pans. Electric highbankers are also commonly used from what I’ve seen. The water here runs much too high to be safe in the late spring due to mountain snow melt and occasionally when there’s a big rainstorm. Be safe, fast water kills! Most of the rest of the year, the water is low enough to walk all over the creekbed so bring your hip waders, boots or water sandals. This area also tends to be accessible almost all winter. I once came down here the day after Christmas when I got a new sluice under the tree. I did get snowed on a little but it was still easy to find a place to set up my sluice and to dig. 

AHere’s another view of the area…I’d love to hit the cobble at the base of that cliff but I left it for you.

Digging tips: try the cobble above. Or any cobble island just downstream of a bridge. Or the streambed on an inside bend. Keep track of how the gold changes as you go deeper so you know which layers have the good gold. Enjoy being in a city with gold all over and thanks to Denver County and Adams County for being welcoming to us urban prospectors🙂

Gold Tourism News Flash: New viewpoint at Cripple Creek & Victor mine!

Newmont North America runs a huge open pit gold mine near Cripple Creek, a small town in the Colorado Rockies. The folks running the largest gold mine in Colorado today have done a lot to support the local community from sponsoring local sports leagues to donating the gold to cover the state capital dome. However, due to safety issues, it’s been a while since there was a way for tourists and fans to see the mine in operation but no more! As you’ll read in the link below, they are about to open a new viewing area.

(Photo courtesy of Newmont North America)

Click here to read the press release:

I hope this inspires you to start planning a trip because there’s lots of other cool mining history tourism to do in the area as well. First, go underground on the Molly Kathleen gold mine tour and get a sample of their gold ore. One note, the mine tour is 1,000 feet underground and quite chilly. If you don’t bring a jacket, they will offer a free one to borrow – take them up on it! Here’s their website for all the logistics:

Also, while you’re in town, ride the narrow gauge railroad, tour some of the many museums, check out a bar that served the original miners and check out the old stone jail…those miners could get pretty rowdy back in the day so I’m sure a lot of them spent a night or two in those cells😉

Photo courtesy of Visit Cripple Creek

Fairplay town prospecting park – prospecting hints

The Town of Fairplay has done what we all wish every town in gold country would do: bought some land on a gold bearing waterway and set up a prospecting park! It consists of about 1/2 mile of waterway, some huge dredge tailings piles and a beautiful setting on the South Platte River next to the town that inspired the TV show South Park. The commercial dredging barge is long gone and the gold they missed is yours for the taking. Here’s a view of the road coming down to the river. Parking is on the flats above the river but the road down makes it easy to use a cart to haul your gear down the hill.

As you can see, a pass is needed. It’s $5/week with passes available at the Town Hall, The Hand Hotel on Front St, High Alpine Sports at 6th & Main (they also sell some prospecting equipment) or in advance via the town website.

Where’s the gold? The best gold is down by and in the water where the flow has had a chance to reconcentrate it. The gold is pretty fine with some interesting shaped, chunky flakes too. You can dig anywhere from the area where the dirt road reaches the river and downstream from there to the 285 highway. To explore the area I suggest following the river downstream, from the point where the dirt road meets it, looking for likely hot spots. I dug a hole down about 3 feet and found the gold pretty consistent all the way down. The top 8 inches may actually be the richest, especially if you are in sticky clayish material as I found.

Take a look at the tall dredge tailings pile behind us:

Although it’s tough to tell in this picture, the gold here is a bit rosy colored, very nice🙂

How do you get there? From the intersection of US 285 and CO 9, the town is north on 9 so pick up your pass there and then head southwest on 285 over the river to Platte Drive. Take the right and head up to the point I’ve marked for parking.

Fairplay is a full service town so if you take a look on TripAdvisor (or your favorite travel site) you’ll find places to stay and eat. Help support small town Colorado🙂

Just for fun, here’s another gold pic with +50 mesh gold on the left and -50 on the right:

Gold Tourism – Denver Museum of Nature & Science


If you make it to Denver, this is a must stop! The Hall of minerals has lots of gorgeous crystals, mineral samples and lots of gold, especially Colorado gold. Here’s the entry area on the ground floor of the museum:

They are even encouraging everyone to “be a prospector”!!
Here’s a preview of the gold you’ll see. It includes the largest known placer nugget from Colorado and the largest gold specimen.

There are also lots of educational displays about Colorado mining and mineral types.

So, stop by the museum on your way to or from the goldfields to ogle the big gold and get a little education too🙂

Dudley’s Bar prospecting tips (& that area)

Dudley’s bar is upstream from Big Bend (see my other post on Big Bend) a bit. This part of the South Platte is just down stream of the confluence with Clear Creek and due to some quirks of river flows during high water events, there’s GOOD gold on the west bank of the river in exposed cobbly deposits. Here’s a pic of Red Wilcox (co-inventor of the Gold Cube, Banjo Pan, etc) at his favorite spot along this stretch of river.

That cobbly, unvegetated material is what you are looking for. Our recent sampling showed 12 colors per pan in a number of areas. You’ll have to sample a bit to make sure you aren’t in a more barren spot but there’s really good gold here.

Getting the gold: there’s nowhere here to set up a sluice and the parks don’t allow gas powered gear so you have two good options: a gold pan or an electric high banker such as the Gold Cube or other packable electric setup. I suppose a hand pumped Gold Getter (by Alan Trees) or a Gold Rush Nugget Bucket could work well too. Anyway, the gold is almost all -50 mesh material so you need a setup that’ll catch fine gold well. Red and his Gold Cube co-inventor Mike Pung have done very well here with a Gold Cube (he said I should drop a hint or two about it 😉). I would like to thank Red for agreeing to let me share this site info here since this spot’s pretty special. Here’s what the gold’s like:

This is what we got in our sample pans!

To get there, you can either park at Steele Street Open Space Park (78th and Steele) and then walk the rec path south a couple blocks or park at the lot on the south side of 74th street/CO 224 and walk north/downstream. 

For those with GPS, here’s the spot to turn off the rec path toward the river:

And here’s how the path looked a couple days ago:
In the map image below, if you extended 76th St east to the river, that’s the spot you are headed for. In this pic, you can even see the unvegetated river bank area where Red is posing in my first pic.

There are probably more spots along here worth digging since the whole western side of the river here is one long inside bend. Explore around and find your personal hot spot to dig🙂

In the sat photo you can also see the parking on the south side of CO 224. The pull off from the highway is unmarked so look for it just before the road rises to go over the river. This is just west of the I-76 freeway btw.

 If you walk south along the river from this parking lot, you’ll quickly get to the current confluence of Clear Creek and the South Platte. This is also a relatively popular prospecting spot. However you are likely to find better gold just downstream of a confluence in my general experience and that rule seems to apply here. This picture of the confluence is courtesy of Adams County Open Space:

As always, I’m happy to answer questions, drop me a note at findingGOLDinColorado at gmail dot com.

A moment of fame (now I just need to find the fortune!)

The Jefferson County Open Space website has a page on their rules for prospecting in the park and guess who they picked as a model for doing it right? to see their rules, which my colleagues and I at Gold Unlimited helped them update last fall, and to see me!

Finding spots to dig in town (metro Denver)

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.

Metro Denver: 

– 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 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!

– 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 before 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. In every case the gold continues to be present downstream. I’ve also written about some hot spots in this part of town 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 as well as the area just upstream of Washington Street. Go 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.

It bears repeating that you need to know who owns the land and what their rules of use are before you dig!

Here’s a typical small suburban creek running full and murky after a rainstorm:

Although you can’t see it in the picture, this spot is quite close to a car repair shop on one side and a neighborhood on the other!

General Tips for prospecting in town:
– Land that is a tax assessor parcel with no owner, or is “not a parcel,” is owned by the county. In that case the county laws apply. 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 or 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 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 Cleer Creek and the South Platte (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:

(Dug July 9-10, 2016)

Gold Tourism – The Phoenix Mine Tour

I recently had a friend from China and her husband come visit. They wanted to spend a day as gold prospectors so we visited Arapahoe Bar to dig (see my post about this site a couple months back). We dug the bottom of an existing hole and did very well so they got to take home a nice souvenir vial of Colorado gold. We also made a visit to the Phoenix Mine. You can easily learn about the mine here

We were lucky enough to hear the intro and history talk from the owner himself, local legend Al Mosch. Here he is in front of the west portal of the mine.

Al tells a lot of great stories and he was charming around my guests.

If you ask folks who know, many will say the Phoenix should be your first underground mine tour. It’s a fairly short tour, has good walking surfaces so it’s accessible regardless of your physical condition, the tours are led by real hard rock miners and most importantly…there’s a VISIBLE GOLD SEAM you can reach out and touch! Most mines have microscopic gold or gold bound up in complex ores- still great tours but this one should be your first. It also helps that it’s just a 30 minute drive west of Denver on I-70 then 6 miles up a good dirt road.

Inside the mine you can also see some cool ore processing equipment. Outside the mine you can pan in Trail Creek which runs across the property. After your tour, your tour guide will be happy to loan you a pan and teach you to use it. You can also see another collection of commercial mining gear:

If you go, I hope you get a blue sky day like we did but maybe with less snow in the panning area😉 Tell them Kevin from FindingGOLDinColorado sent you!

Hints for prospecting Goldstrike Park

Goldstrike Park is an Arvada City park at the confluence of Ralston Creek and Clear Creek…both of which are gold bearing and open to non-motorized prospecting. 

On Ralston Creek, you can find fine gold just about anywhere in the stream bed. A large cobble bar has developed under the 56th St bridge with decent flood gold in it. You will easily find a spot to set up your sluice here too. Working in the shade of the bridge also has its advantages on a warm day.

I’ve been told that the first discovery of gold on Ralston Creek was actually about 1.5 miles upstream of this site. Prospecting upstream is a great idea as long as you stay in city open space parks (NOT private property or manicured park areas). As you can see in the following pics, there are lots of spots to prospect Ralston Creek!

Ya gotta love metro Denver gold and we haven’t even talked about this stretch of Clear Creek yet.

Clear Creek through this area is quite pretty from a creekside pov which is surprising considering how close to I-70 we are here. To get a sense of the place, walk out on the bridge over Clear Creek; here how it looks as you approach:

Looking downstream from a vantage point on the bridge, you can see the confluence and a couple modest gravel bars:

You can see a fellow miner running an electric highbanker on the little bar just beyond the confluence. He reported good material a foot or two down. Sometimes digging deep pays off!

And here’s the view looking upstream:

I sampled that upstream bar in several locations from head to center to tail and found gold in every spot. You can easily get to this bar by following a dirt trail along the creek bank for a little way along the chain link fence. The easiest place to set up my big Bazooka Goldtrap Prospector was at the downstream end of the bar. Material dug from underwater paid nicely. I only took the first layer of paydirt, 0-6 inches deep as that often pays better than digging deeper on these sort of bars. However I’d love to have someone show me I missed the richer, deeper deposits!

What’s the gold like: in both Ralston Creek and Clear Creek I found decent amounts of fine gold (all -50 mesh).

How to get there: the park is on 56th Ave, just west of the intersection of Ralston Road and Sheridan. It’s just a little north of the Sheridan exit off of I-70. There is plentiful parking and a bathroom on site. This is just about the easiest access you can find for gold prospecting!

There are a couple of signs highlighting the history of Ralston Creek at the park as well. Here are some highlights:

As always good luck, have fun and leave it better than you find it (minus the gold of course!).

So where did all this gold come from anyway?

The gold in metro Denver is in almost every waterway big enough to have a name. In the early days of the gold rush this was confusing and frustrating for the first American prospectors. They found gold way out southeast in Elbert County, due south of what’s now Denver in Douglas County and right in downtown Denver. Of course that’s why Denver is where it is!

However each of these deposits was quickly shown to be too small to make the miners rich. They also couldn’t find the hard rock sources of the gold. This meant many of the first prospectors in 1858 gave up and went back east. Of course we know there’s lots of gold in the mountains of Colorado …as the more tenacious prospectors found for themselves in 1859!

Here’s an early map showing the important early towns. It illustrates the locations focused on by the first migrant prospectors:

Places like Frank’s Town (now Franktown) and Russelville (not really a place any longer) were important early gold discoveries in the summer of 1858 but were declared a hoax by that fall.

The story behind this is that there are multiple origins of the gold in metro Denver. The obvious source is the mountains just west of town. This gold was washed down via the South Platte River (unlabeled above but running north thru Denver, shown as a wide line on the map) and via smaller waterways such as Clear Creek (called Vasquez Cr. On the map) and Ralston Creek. The confusing part is the gold in Cheery Creek (now called Cherry Creek) running throug Franktown and Russelville. It actually originates from mountains long weathered away to nothing before the time of the dinosaurs. These mountains left a layer of river cobbles and gold bearing sediments in our soil called the Castlerock Formation. This thick layer of conglomerate rock can be easily seen today as the cap layer on the Castle Rock next to the town of the same name. 

The interesting part for prospectors lies in the fact that this layer of gold bearing rock once covered virtually all of south metro Denver from the Castle Rock area north almost to the edge of the city of Denver. It stretched from the edge of the foothills on the west, all the way into the western part of Elbert County in the east. Of course, across most of this area, the gold bearing rock is long since decomposed and is often buried under a thick layer of sand in the east or clay in the west. This means there’s a layer of gold bearing material under many homes and businesses in south metro Denver and it’s been laying there as placer gold for hundreds of millions of years!

Cool but “so what?” You say? Well, in many spots, this gold layer is close to the surface or even on the surface. This naturally means it is cut through by local creeks and there is the possibility of finding honey holes where those modern creeks have concentrated the gold from the material they washed away over the last thousands of years. These creeks feed into the South Platte in their turn and are also important contributors to the gold in the South Platte through metro Denver and north from there. Of course the South Platte itself gathers and reconcentrates this gold as well. What confused the original American prospectors can be great information for us…and a fun, productive source of gold as well!

I’ve had very good success prospecting the smaller waterways of south metro Denver and you can too. If you go looking please:

1. Know who owns the land and get permission or follow the rules on locally owned public lands. (I’ll write more about this in another post soon).

2. Leave sites as you find them so as to avoid inspiring complaints from other users of recreational open space.

3. Pick up trash and be friendly to those you meet – be a good ambassador and guest!

4. Keep in mind that most of these spots are very small and can’t support many visitors at once.

5. Above all, avoid being that one bad apple whose action leads to prospecting and rock hounding being banned in an open space park!!

As always, I look forward to your thoughts and questions via comments here, email (findingGOLDinColorado at gmail dot com) or Facebook comments.

Just for fun, here’s shots of gold I found in the little creeks of south metro Denver:

By the way each of these pics documents my result from 1-2 hours of digging and feeding a sluice. Yup, there’s good gold in South metro Denver. Go get yours!