Finding Gold in Small Streams & Creeks: Is It Possible? | Prospectingplanet (2023)

If you have ever wished to go gold prospecting, you have probably wondered whether there is gold in every river. While, theoretically, this is possible, some rivers contain quantities of gold so minute that it is challenging to retrieve. However, this is valid for small streams as well, so it is always worth checking.

Gold can be found in small streams and creeks, but not all sections are gold-bearing. Gold tends to be found in sections where the current slows down, causing the gold to settle on the streambed. Some locations to pay extra attention to include inside bends, cracks in exposed bedrock, and behind larger boulders.

Let’s dive into what you should know to retrieve more gold from a small stream.

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Finding Gold in Small Streams & Creeks

Finding Gold in Small Streams & Creeks: Is It Possible? | Prospectingplanet (1)

Theoretically, all streams and rivers could contain gold particles – to an extent. However, in most, these quantities are so small that it is impossible to retrieve valuable particles, even with the right knowledge and equipment.

Generally, the presence or absence of water will not influence the formation of gold on the surface of the Earth, but it can affect where it can be found.Streams and creeks could be said to act as a concentrating force, taking any gold along their meandering paths and concentrating it at various locations along the waterway.

Small streams offer excellent opportunities for prospectors wishing only to use a pan or sluice box. The generally slower rapids and shallower waters make it easy to access all parts of the streambed.

With that said, it’s crucial that you learn how to read a river, to be able to concentrate your efforts on the locations that are most likely to contain high concentrations of gold. Gold isn’t distributed evenly across the streambed, meaning that just going out and panning without paying a second thought isn’t likely to yield good results.

The Path of Gold: How Gold Deposits Form

If you wish to prospect in any stream or creek, regardless of its size understanding the path that gold naturally follows- or the “gold line” – allows you to set up your equipment and dig in the right spot.

Generally, gold particles travel through the path that presents the least resistance. Usually, this virtual line runs through the center of the river and along the inner side of stream bends and curves.

If along this route, there are crevices and cracks in the rocks – and the current allows – gold will eventually settle. These locations are also where you should opt to set up your equipment.

For more information about the path that gold follows and what a pay streak looks like, check out the video below.

How to Read Small Streams & Creeks to Find Gold

Scientists have confirmed that the Earth’s dense center contains the majority of gold on this planet, which, over time, comes to the surface through eruptions and volcanic activity.

However, several natural forces such as winds and rains erode the gold particles from the lode (or rock containing the gold deposit). Then, the particles will travel towards the bottom of the elevation. From there, some of it will get caught by nearby rivers or streams. This process is illustrated in the following image.

Finding Gold in Small Streams & Creeks: Is It Possible? | Prospectingplanet (2)

These waterways will transport the gold particles for long distances, as long as the current is strong enough to carry gold along.

Rivers will also naturally split into smaller streams, change their course, and even enlarge or diminish depending on the seasons. Due to this, some streams’ gold particles are replenished from time to time due to heavy rains and ice melting.

All these dynamics are helpful to keep in mind when looking for gold in any stream, river, or creek.

So, here are some of the most common gold traps you should be looking for when prospecting in small creeks and streams

Bedrock Formations (Boulders & Cracks)

Once you have become more familiar with the path gold follows, it is essential to understand what type of rock formations could contain or trap gold. If you identify any bedrock that boasts several cracks and cuts along the surface, it is worth checking whether there is gold trapped in it.

Finding Gold in Small Streams & Creeks: Is It Possible? | Prospectingplanet (3)

Indeed, the stream’s current will transport the gold particles along, but it is likely to become trapped in the crevices and cracks of the rock formations that break the current force.Even the smallest cracks can contain surprisingly big flakes or pieces of gold.

Additionally, it is worth considering the presence and position of boulders. These formations, being extremely heavy, will behave in a way somewhat similar to gold. Indeed, they tend to drop and settle on the riverbed when the current is not powerful enough to push them along.

Finding Gold in Small Streams & Creeks: Is It Possible? | Prospectingplanet (4)

Many prospectors tend to examine the locations surrounding boulders because there are likely to be found in more significant deposits of gold.

However, it is crucial to keep in mind that not all boulders will also boast gold deposits. This happens because not all boulders will take the same route as the gold takes, sometimes depositing in locations skipped by the gold particles.

If you can identify boulders that are on the same path that gold follows, these are worth checking out.

Rapids and Changing Water Velocity

Rapids – or other sections of the river with high water velocity – are where the gold is pushed along. Gold particles can cover great lengths if it is located in a fast-flowing river, and it is likely to stop if it becomes trapped in crevices and rock cracks.

At the same time, any river is likely to boast lateral smaller rivers and creeks, where the current is not as fast. The locations where the water velocity diminishes are the ones that give you more chances of finding gold.

For example, the pool created by waterfalls (also known as “glory holes”) is usually one of the best places to start prospecting.

Finding Gold in Small Streams & Creeks: Is It Possible? | Prospectingplanet (5)

However, due to the depth and power of water in these areas, prospectors prefer to use pieces of equipment such as small dredges to retrieve it.

In this case, the gold is more likely to be in the cracks of rocks at the bottom of the pool rather than in streambed material, so pans and sluice boxes might not be the most effective methods.

Other Great Locations to Find Gold in Small Rivers & Creeks

Aside from waterfalls, there are some other locations along the course of a river that can be viable sites for your prospecting efforts. These are easily identifiable on topographic maps, a tool that every prospector should benefit from is an available option. Indeed, especially if you wish to prospect in an area you are not familiar with, topographic maps are essential to analyze the different sections of a river.

  • Where two streams meet

Also known as confluence placers, the place where rivers, streams, or creeks meet is an excellent area to start prospecting. In these sites, the water turbulence is high, creating rotations and obstructions.

As this happens, the current and water flow will change direction rapidly. Among other effects, this can cause the water to slow down enough to cause the gold particles to drop at the bottom of the river.

  • Near obstructions

If there are obstructions along the river course, you should prospect on the downside of it. Blockages can be represented by boulders or more substantial rocks accumulation.

Located along the stream course, the obstructions cause the water to run around them and slow down just after. In these areas, the gold is pushed just after the obstacle by the current, which will not then be strong enough to carry the gold further along the river.

  • Other formations

Other areas that are worth checking along a small stream are when the course of the creek flows rapidly and then slows down. Reasons for this include a sudden enlargement of the river bed, which causes a drop in water pressure.


For a much more detailed guide, I highly recommend you read my article on how to read a river!


Small Creeks vs Bigger Streams & Rivers

As a general rule of thumb, gold deposits in small waterways are more unpredictable and spotty than those in larger waterways.

The reason is that gold is heavy to move, and requires violent flows to be lifted up by the current. Thus, larger rivers will meet these conditions more often and rearrange the gold more often. In other words, the gold is given more opportunities to deposit in the “right” locations, reducing the role of randomness.


Finding gold in small streams requires you to have some knowledge of the geology of the area. Additionally, you should be able to “read the river” and identify the locations in which gold is more likely to settle.

Generally, gold reaches rivers due to the effects of natural forces that have separated it from the lode and transported it into water bodies. However, how far it will travel once in water depends on the course and water velocity of the stream. Identifying the areas in which the current slow down allows you to pinpoint viable locations for prospecting.

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