Where to Find Gold in a River

Where to Find Gold in a River


Assuming you have a basic Gold Prospecting Kit, the next thing you need is knowledge. Knowing where to find gold in a river will save you a lot of time, a lot of work and also increase your prospecting efficiency. On this page i will give you the general rundown of where gold will accumulate in a river system.

As you already know from the page on the physical characteristics of gold it is VERY dense, almost 20 times more dense than water. it is also virtually indestructible (billions of years old), which goes some way to explaining its phenomenal price and how it always keeps its value throughout human history.

An easy way to understand where gold will be in a river system is by constantly reminding yourself of the following statement while you are prospecting – GOLD IS LAZY. Yes, the gold is LAZY. It  simply does not like moving and if it does move –

  • it moves as little as it possibly can
  • it tries to drop out of the river flow at the soonest possible chance
  • it tries to bury itself deep down within the river gravels (so nobody disturbs its sleep :) )
  • & it will ALWAYS take the shortest and easiest route between two points on the river which results in paystreak formation.

So if we were to draw this laziness of gold on a map of a river what would it look like? The image below shows a basic map of a river system as it would travel down a mountainside. It is supposed to represent a river system from its source high in a mountain – the river starts its life at the junction of three small rivulets at the top of the image and takes a winding and dropping course down to the Sea. Please note that all images can be viewed in full screen by right-clicking and selecting “open image in new tab”.where to find gold


In the images on this page i will attempt to show you all of the places in a river system that gold can accumulate and be found. I will start at the source, or Mother Lode, and follow the golds journey through the river system and eventually down to the Sea.




where to find gold - the mother lodeThe first location is of course the Mother Lode, this is the parent rock. This would have been formed alongside a molten Quartz vein as both were brought up to the Earths surfac

e due to an intense volcanic event many millions of years ago, the molten gold would have been intertwined with the molten quartz. Many gold specimens are extracted from the ground still attached to their quartz hosts.





Next on the gold Journey is Residual Gold. This is gold that has broken off from the main lode due to thewhere to find gold - residual gold weathering of the surrounding rocks and Quartz – when rocks freeze at night and heat up during the day they eventually crack and fall under gravity, in the case of our rock, this means that the gold is released from the mother lode, it then becomes residual gold. After many years of weathering and erosion, sometimes millions of years, gold will eventually find its way into either a river, stream or creek, this can be due to gravity or hydraulic action. This is the point where residual gold turns into alluvial gold. Further reading – Residual Gold.



where to find gold - alluvial gold

Due to Golds high density it will travel along the lowest points of the riverbed, it will usually dig its way all the way down to bedrock along with other heavy elements such as silver, tin, platinum and the magnetic sand called hematite and magnetite. Gold will do most of its moving during periods of intense flooding – areas picked clean of gold by previous prospectors will usually refill their gold reserves after heavy flooding.






The next stage of accumulation in owhere to find gold - glory hole aur river occurs when it encounters a change in elevation – this usually occurs when the river drops suddenly over a waterfall.. Not only will the gold fall out of the flow here but the river itself will gouge a hole out beneath it as it hits the bedrock below, this is the perfect trap for large gold, for this reason it is sometimes known as a glory hole. The two images to the right show this process –

where to find gold - glory hole b


where to find gold-where two rivers meet












Our next possible place where gold can be found is where two rivers meet. This can cause gold to concentrate in an area due to the complex vortices and rotations of the river waters as they meet each other – gold will not be carried along a river if the speed of the current either slows down or changes direction suddenly, it will instead drop out of the flow and settle in a calm part of the river.





where to find gold - ancient riverbedsThe next thing to look out for are ancient river beds. These occur where a river once ran but no longer does. This could be due to volcanic forces, earthquakes, a landslide or simply the river “deciding” to meander a different way. If you find one of these you can be almost certain that the vast majority of it has been unprospected and may contain large concentrations of gold –






where to find gold - obstructions & eddy currentsObstructions to the flow of the water can create eddy currents behind them, gold will tend to settle on the seaward side of such obstructions. These can range from boulders to tree roots and everything in between.Please note that these obstructions could indeed have been further up the river system (ie before the waterfall) –








where to find gold - bends in riversPay-streaks can be formed when a river begins to lose some of its flow strength.  A river loses its strength of flow when it is no longer falling from a high elevation and begins to run along more flat terrain, a river will often begin to meander like a snake at this stage. These twists and turns in the river create highly lucrative paystreaks. A prospector without the knowledge of paystreaks could be within feet of a huge haul of coarse gold and never find it. I have read many books on the California Gold Rush and many prospectors noted that some of their fellow were digging up huge hauls of gold but others were digging up absolutely nothing – one was following the paystreak and the other was not. Find out more about these here – Paystreaks and river bends.



where to find gold - high benchesHigh Benches can also be a good place to look, these will generally be unprospected and can contain large gold. A bench deposit occurs when a gold-bearing river erodes its banks and cuts deep into the Earth. An example of a well know high bench would be the Grand Canyon – over the course of millions of years the Colorado River has dug deep into the earth to create a HUGE high bench – there could literally be millions of ounces of gold stranded high in the side walls of the Grand Canyon.

High benches leave rich gold seams high and dry above the present day rivers height, this can range from just several feet above the current river to several hundred feet. Further reading – Bench Deposits.

where to find gold - cracks and crevicesAt any point along the rivers journey it may come into direct contact with the bedrock that lies beneath, this is a good place to look for flakes and nuggets that may be trapped within cracks and crevices within the bedrock, this is sometimes referred to as sniping –







where to find gold - beach placers and gold dredgingAs the river nears the end of its life and returns to The Sea it also takes the gold with it. This gold can still be found in the sea in the form of nuggets which can be found through dredging. Beach Placers also form when a gold bearing river meets the Sea, these are accumulations of the gold through the action of the waves and long-shore drift –




Further reading

Below is a list of GPS Maps and books, these are mainly for United States clients – unfortunately there have not been many books written on Europe regarding gold prospecting locations. Alternatively, you can learn more here about what was discussed on this page here –

Paystreaks and river bends, Ancient riverbeds,bench deposits & residual gold deposits.