When most people think about panning for gold or gold mining, they think of the American West. A hobby steeped in history and intrigue, finding gold is easily one of America's most sought experiences. Although it can seem daunting, anyone with a little patience and a few simple tools can find a few flakes of gold simply by hiking up to a mountain ridge with a known gold deposit in it and spending an afternoon.
Do some research to familiarize yourself with the area you wish to go prospecting in. You may choose a local mountain ridge or stream bed that is well known for containing gold, or you may walk out to the creek behind your house. Either way, make sure you know a little bit about the area before you begin, such as how to get there and back, what type of weather to expect, and whether gold has been found there in the past.
Hike, bike or drive to the place where you will be prospecting.
Choose a good location to dig. Stream beds or shallow cracks in the earth are both good starting places, as water brings gold deposits downstream from mountain ridges. Gold is unlikely to be found on hillsides for the same reason. Make sure you are close to a water source.
Fill your pan with dirt and rocks. At this point, don't worry about whether you can see your gold -- it will most likely be indistinguishable from the rocks around it.
Add water to your pan. The easiest way to do this is to gradually dip your pan into a creek or nearby water source. It is important not to spill any water.
Carefully shake your pan, using a back-and-forth motion. Your objective is to loosen any gold from the sediment in the pan so it can sink to the bottom.
Pull out any large rocks and begin pouring the gravel out slowly. As you get closer to the bottom, make sure to add more water. You want the liquid in the pan to maintain a thin, mud-like consistency. Repeat pouring and adding water, occasionally shaking the pan, until the water is clear and you can see gold in the bottom of the pan.
Use your tweezers to remove the gold from the pan and place it in your vial or other small container. Fill the container with water and seal.
Consider purchasing a gold map, which will tell you the best places to find gold in your state. Gold maps can be purchased online for very little and show you both the topography of the area you are visiting and where gold is likely to be located.
Don't expect to make much money from your gold. Most gold deposits in the United States have been mined at least twice, and there are rarely significant amounts of the ore left.
Be aware of private property, and never trespass in your search for gold.
Watch out for local wildlife. If you are in the American Southwest, rattlesnakes are a real threat, especially on hillsides and ridge lines. If you happen upon a snake, back slowly away and leave the snake alone.