Several sites in the state of Washington can be suitable locations to pan for gold, such as areas along the Snake River, Sullivan Creek or Stehekin River. In particular, areas in and along streams in Central and Northeastern Washington offer the best opportunities to find placer gold--one type of gold deposit, according to GhostTownUSA.com, an online site for gold panning information in Washington. Just a few steps can help you effectively pan for gold in the state of Washington.
Contact your local county assessor, who maintains records of ownership of all land in each county in the state of Washington. This is important because you cannot pan for gold on privately owned land or areas with mining claims unless you get the landowner’s or claim holder’s permission to pan there.
Call the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service. These federal agencies manage lands that are open to panning and can tell you areas in Washington on which you can pan. In addition, contact the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (see Resources). This state department publishes a booklet called “Gold and Fish,” which lists seasonal activity restrictions on different Washington streams. For example, the state of Washington prohibits panning on streams during critical times of the year for fish, such as spawning periods, reports the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
Purchase a gold pan from a prospecting supplies store in Washington. You also can find a pan at a rock shop or even a local hardware store. Then, use a shovel to dig as deep as you can under the stream or river of your choice, which will help to loosen gravel from the bottom of that body of water.
Fill your gold pan almost totally full with gravel and sand. Take out the largest pieces of rock from the pan by hand. Then, place the pan under the water in the stream to make sure all of the sand and gravel gets wet. Rapidly shake the pan from one side to the other while it is full of water, which will allow heavy minerals--including gold--to settle to the bottom of the pan.
Next, tip the pan away from you. At this point, you should see the water wash the pan's lighter material toward the front of the pan and over the brim to be carried away by the current.
Add more water to the pan, just enough to barely cover the heavy material remaining. Then, swirl the contents of the pan to “feather” the heavy material by hand. This will allow more of the lighter particles to be washed away quickly and thus leave behind the gold in the remaining heavy material. Use tweezers to collect the gold.
Although the gold you find most commonly will be in the form of flakes in Western Washington, you might find gold nuggets in Eastern Washington, according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.