Breckenridge, CO was founded on gold and you can still find gold in Breckenridge today. The first pioneers to discover the mineral fields of Breckenridge in 1859 relied on the trusty gold pan, the premier method for searching for the valuable metal. With little more than a pick, shovel, and large pan, riches were discovered and Breckenridge became famous. Like the earliest gold prospectors, you can find gold on these entertaining and informative gold panning tours from the Breckenridge Heritage Alliance, offering affordable fun for the whole family.
First off, what are you looking for? Gold is heavy, over 19 times heavier than other rocks and debris, so it sinks. That means you’ll find the gold in the bottom of your pan below all the other material you have to wash off first. Gold is yellow and buttery, glowing with luster rather than sparkling like a crystal. Because it is soft and malleable, gold takes on many shapes, from dust to pickings to flakes to nuggets.
It’s easy to be fooled by Iron Pyrite, also known as Fool’s Gold, because it is a similar color. But Iron Pyrite forms in crystals, doesn’t change shape, and glints instead of glows. Iron Pyrite is still very pretty to find in your pan. Other mineral treasures you might discover are jade, garnet, quartz and mica.
Local experts at the Breckenridge Heritage Alliance mines provide a gold pan to search with and a vial to take home your discoveries, along with instruction on how to pan for gold with tips and techniques. Want a primer before you go? Check out this video from Parker Schnabel of Gold Rush on the Discovery Channel.
Where to Pan for Gold
Just steps from downtown Breckenridge, you can step back in time and learn to pan for gold in a natural running creek, just like the miners did 150 years ago. One of the favorite panning locations in Breckenridge, Lomax Placer Gulch, recreates the history of the early mining era with displays of antique equipment, a restored Assay Office from the ghost town of Tiger, and an old miner’s cabin. The highlight for all ages is learning how to pan for gold. Expert local guides instruct on how to use a gold pan, employing techniques like dry panning, shake and shimmy, rock clearing, and how to make the best use of the riffles on the edge of the pan. Take your pan to the nearby wash buckets or head to the cold running stream to try your luck there. Pan as long as you want (‘til closing) and keep what you find in the vial provided.
Open Tuesday-Saturday 10am-3pm in the summer only; the site is free to visit and panning is $10/person (reservations not required). Free on-site parking!
What our guests say: “Andrea taught us how to develop our gold panning skills. We loved learning the technique from her. My husband and I could have stayed here for hours. It's a real deal, too, and knowing we support the heritage foundation is worth it.” - Paige from Pennsylvania
Washington Gold and Silver Mine in Illinois Gulch
Gold panning, the earliest form of gold mining in Breckenridge, was supplanted by underground mining techniques when the railroad arrived with heavy equipment in the 1880’s. Learn about the various mining methods employed in the Breckenridge area at the Washington Mine Gold and Silver Tour. The tour includes a re-created underground mine with a 200’ long tunnel, views down a mine shaft, and a significant display of vintage equipment. Try your hand at gold panning in wash buckets with tips and advice from an experienced guide, and take home what you find.
Tours offered Tuesday-Sunday at 10am and 1pm in the summer only; $15/adult (ages 13+), $10/chilld (ages 4-12); advance reservations required. Free on-site parking!
What out guests say: Washington Mine was “a great tour of a Colorado mine! We learned about the life of miners, the ruthlessness of mine owners and the history of the area around Breckenridge. Going into the mine, the miner’s cabin and seeing the tools of the trade was very informative. The best part of the tour was panning for gold, and I found a few flecks! Such a good lesson for persons of all ages.” - Missy from Florida
Gold Panning Championships
Learn from the pros at the annual Breckenridge Gold Panning Championships, held each June in the Blue River Plaza in downtown Breckenridge. Gold panning experts from around the state come to our Town to try their hand at finding the most gold, teaching guests along the way. It’s a great way to catch gold fever.
written by Leigh Girvin