Find Gold in Texas
Gold remains one of the most sought-after metals on the planet. Its consistent high price means that gold prospecting can be extremely profitable — as long as you know where to look for gold deposits. All you need is some good prospecting equipment, gritty determination, and local knowledge.
Although Texas is best known for its massive oil reserves, it is actually one of the best places to prospect for gold. In this guide, I’ll be explaining where to find gold in Texas and what you will need to start prospecting for gold in Texas.
How to find gold in Texas
The best location to find gold in Texas will vary based on how you intend to prospect for gold. The four most common options used by prospectors looking for gold in Texas include:
Gold panning is the most popular approach used by amateur gold prospectors in Texas. It is a popular method because it is a cheap way to get started and you won’t need much technical knowledge.
To go gold panning, you will just need a gold pan, which is a large shallow pan that is usually dark in color, so the gold is easier to see. Green pans also work well because gold is easy to see against a green background.
Then, find a stream or river where gold has been found before and use the pan to scoop sediment from the riverbed. You can also carry in material from a nearby area. By gently swirling the sediment in the pan, you can separate out any free gold particles. Because gold is heavier than sediment, it will naturally accumulate in the bottom of the pan, making it easy to find. This short video shows gold panning technique.
Using a metal detector to find gold
Using a metal detector is a slightly more sophisticated approach to finding gold in Texas. Metal detectors work by creating an electromagnetic field, which is altered when certain metals are nearby. Using a metal detector to find gold means you can prospect in areas where there are no streams or rivers.
The downside of using a metal detector that you may find yourself uncovering some worthless items like bottle caps and soda cans. Metal detectors can also be expensive to purchase and some technical knowledge is required to use one effectively.
Dredging to find gold
Gold dredges extract gold from dirt, sand, and gravel using a variety of technologies. Small suction machines are very popular in Texas, as many of the gold deposits consist of small flakes of gold that are slow to extract when gold panning. A dredge can work deeper into the creek bed, helping you obtain material that has not been panned before.
Hard rock gold mining
More experienced prospectors might look for hard rock gold deposits, also called lode deposits. To find a hard rock gold deposit, a prospector must perform an examination of rocky outcrops and look for exposures of mineral veins or rock types known to host gold deposits. They will then need to excavate until they find a gold vein.
Alternately, prospectors can search for gold in an existing gold mine, but permission needs to be obtained from the mine’s owner and it can be extremely difficult work. This form of prospecting is usually best left to very experienced gold prospectors.
Permits and laws when prospecting for gold in Texas
Most of the land in the state of Texas is privately owned, which means you will need to get permission from the landowner before prospecting. It’s important to understand that a person leasing a property will not be able to give you permission unless they are also leasing the mineral rights.
If you do manage to obtain permission to prospect on private land, you won’t need any permits from the authorities. However, there are still several federal and state laws that apply for mining. Most of these laws are targeted at large scale operations and designed to protect the environment.
If you intend to prospect for gold on State-owned land, you must obtain permission from the Texas General Land Office (GLO). If you go to the Texas General Land Office web site you can learn which areas are already permitted and which areas may be allowed to obtain a permit.
You are allowed to use dredges in public waterways in Texas, but the nozzle size must be less than 5 inches. All prospecting must be performed at least 100 ft away from bridges and it is illegal to prospect under banks of waterways or under trees. Collecting of any sort is prohibited in all National Parks and Texas State Parks.
11 Places to Find Gold in Texas
With an area of 268,820 square miles (696,200 km2), Texas is the United States’ second-largest state. It is a diverse state, with 10 climactic regions, 11 ecological regions, and 14 soil regions. It also has more than 3,700 named streams and 15 major rivers, including the magnificent Rio Grande. There are several locations in Texas where prospectors often find gold. The best include:
The Llano River
Areas surrounding the Llano river are by far the best places to prospect for gold in Texas. The Llano is a tributary of the Colorado river that is located just northwest of Austin. It is a winding river that flows through several towns including Mason, Llano, and Kingsland.
The river attracts thousands of prospectors from around the country each year and finds are common. The only problem is that the finds are usually fairly small and mostly gold flecks – although some good-sized nuggets are occasionally found.
The river is quite sandy, so a keen eye is required to identify gold flecks. However, with some careful prospecting, you can expect to have some gold in your pocket after a few hours. Black sand deposits provide the best results as gold is more likely to accumulate there and it is easier to see your finds.
Using techniques and equipment that are designed for the recovery of fine gold particles can improve your chances of success dramatically.
Goler Gulch (El Paso)
In 1849, a man named John Goller was with a group of immigrants attempting to cross Death Valley. Goller and another person in the group found some gold nuggets as they journeyed across the desert. Goller eventually reached Los Angeles, where he established a wagon shop. He would often return to the area to search for more gold, but never had any luck.
In 1893, placer gold was discovered in the washes which drain the El Paso Mountains. One of these areas was named Goler Gulch after the long-lost gold mine of John Goller.
Mining soon began at Laurel Mountain and a mining camp was established nearby at El Paso City, with Willow Spring Well used as a primary source of water. Gold, silver, and copper were all discovered in the location over the subsequent years and several shipments of precious metals made their way to San Francisco.
The mine closed after the superintendent of the Yarborough Gold and Silver Mining Company was murdered at Mesquite Springs. The company was responsible for developing the Manzanillo and Ophir claims on Laurel Mountain.
Gold was discovered again in Goler Gulch in 1893 with a half-million dollars worth of gold nuggets and dust being discovered in two years. This included some large nuggets up to 57 ounces in weight. Finding gold in this area is still a possibility, particularly if using a metal detector to search the creek beds.
The name of this site should be a dead giveaway that gold has been found here in the past! Bonanza Gulch is located about 11 miles to the West of Goler Gulch, near Red Rock canyon. Gold was first found here in 1893, with over $50,000 of gold taken from Bonanza Gulch and Goler Gulch in that year alone.
It was one of the most developed areas in the region, with multiple mills being added to the site and tons of rock being excavated. However, by 1898, the amount of gold being pulled from the area declined and the town that have been built to support the mines began to die. However, it remains a popular site for prospectors today and small finds are common.
There are many stories of significant gold deposit beings found in the Guadalupe Mountains of west Texas. There was also a gold mine that was operating briefly in this area, which helped to establish local towns.
One of the most well known tales was of William Caldwell Sublett, a man from Kentucky who found a huge gold find in the mountains. He reportedly kept the location of his gold finds secret and only shared it with a handful of people. Unfortunately, several of the people he shared the mine’s locations with met tragic ends. According to the stories, the largest gold finds are located near a “blue mound”, so some exploration will be required to find the general location.
Some geologists believe that the area is not conducive for forming gold because of the sedimentary structure of the stone. However, hydrothermal solutions can push through rock and create underground pockets of molten material where gold can form.
Guadalupe river near Kerrville
A couple of years ago, a lucky prospector named Joseph F. found large gold nuggets near this section of the river using dredging equipment. A very unusual find for Texas, where prospectors usually find finer particles of gold — but an incredible one! It is definitely a promising area for prospectors to explore.
Located South of Llano, Sandy Creek has become a popular location for many prospectors. However, most of the gold found here is powdery and is difficult to collect without the right equipment.
The mouth of the Rio Grande
Some prospectors have had excellent luck finding gold at the mouth of the Rio Grande in South Texas. Recents finds have mostly been gold flakes, but it could be a good location if you have the appropriate equipment for small particle prospecting.
Presidio Country in southwest was home to the Presidio Mine — the last commercial goldmine in Texas. This mine was active from 1880 to 1942, when it closed down as the government asked private industry for help in the war effort.
The rocks in this area are mostly sedimentary, but there are also some older hard rocks that have become exposed over time. This is the same phenomena that occurs in the southern gold belt (Piedmont) in the Appalachian Mountains.
The mine is located on the southern flank of the Chinati Mountains, which overlooks Presidio. To give you an indication of how much gold there was in the area, this single mine produced 73% of the gold ever produced in Texas.
The Lost Spanish Mine (Riley Mountains)
In 1753, Spanish soldiers patrolling the Llano River heard stories of huge veins of silver running through a nearby hill. It was so plentiful that the Apache Indians were making silver bullets from it.
In 1756, a Spanish official named Bernardo de Miranda found the hill in the Riley Mountains of Llano country. They also discovered gold in the central mineral district around the Llano Uplift. It was near where the Spaniards had discovered the lost San Saba Gold Mine, which had been previously worked by Mexican miners.
The Llano Uplift is unique for the area because it is mostly made from Grenville aged rocks, which are more common in the Appalachians than the Rockies. Gold is sometimes found in small quantities within these rocks and is washed downstream in areas which are exposed to the elements. Read more about this mine.
The Lost Bill Kelly Mine
In 1884, a young African American man named Bill Kelly was herding some horses across the Rio Grande when he noticed something gold in the water. He told the ranchers who he worked for, but they refused to believe him.
However the next day, one of the ranchers was near the spot and Bill offered to show him precisely where he saw it. Even though Bill found a quartz rock that had gold flecks in it, the rancher refused to accept it was gold.
A few days later, Kelly took a train to San Antonio to have his find assessed. A conductor on the train said he could help him and sent the rock off to a specialist to be examined. A letter was sent to the ranch to explain the importance of the find, but Kelly couldn’t read. The ranchers then realized that there was gold near their property.
They told Kelly that he had to tell them of where he found the piece of quartz or face consequences. Kelly, fearing for his life and wanting the gold for himself, stole a horse and fled to Mexico in the middle of the night. The ranchers looked for the mine site, but could never find it. Kelly never returned to the ranch because he was afraid he would be killed by the ranchers.
There was also a story of a young black man arriving at a store in Eagle Pass who wanted to exchange information about a mine and a bag of gold nuggets for $1,000, but the storeowner refused. Some say that was Bill Kelly. You can read the full story here.
So where is the gold? Judging from the location of the ranch, the Lost Bill Kelly Mind is somewhere in The Big Bend, near the Rio Grande. But we don’t know exactly where. If you have some time on your hands and want to see one of the most spectacular locations in the United States, searching for the Lost Bill Kelly Mine might be a great way to spend a few days.
Gulf Coastal Plain
There have been some gold finds in the Gulf Coastal Plains to the south of Texas, however, it is somewhat rare. The gold in these locations has probably eroded out of the Llano Uplift rocks and been carried south by water. If you have a metal detector, you may be able to find small gold deposits in some waterways.
Finding other areas to prospect for gold in Texas
If you live far away from the locations mentioned above, you can always search for gold prospecting opportunities in your local area. A little research combined with a dash of local knowledge can uncover some interesting areas to look for gold and other valuable metals.
Start by checking out this geological map of Texas. This map will tell you which kinds of rocks are found in certain locations. You can also use resources like Google maps and historical documents to view images of the geological conditions in the area. Gold is mostly found where there is:
Areas that have quartz are much more likely to have some gold nearby. Look for quartz stones in river beds and larger seams in hillsides. Because quartz is usually a translucent white or grey, it is easy to find.
- Intrusive rock
Intrusive rock occurs where hot molten magma has pushed its between other layers of rock underground. You end up with rocks that have large, well-formed crystals like Dunite, Granite, Gabbro, and Diorite. These hard rocks will often be seen jutting out of rock faces as the softer rock surrounding it has been worn away by the weather. Heavy gold particles are more likely to accumulate near this harder rock.
When gold and other materials erode, small pieces of minerals are pushed by water, pressure, or wind into creeks and other bodies of water. They settle to form Alluvium, which are deposits of sediment that have gathered in one place. Gold is a heavy metal, so will often be located at the bottom of these deposits.
- Color changes in the earth
In many parts of Texas, you will see the ground bleached from acidic minerals. This can be a sign that gold may be present in the area.
- Rock contact zones
Quartz veins commonly occur in areas where two different types of rock are in contact with one another.
- Iron Staining
Some gold deposits won’t be near quartz. They can also be near calcite and sulfides. The easiest way to see the presence of these minerals is by looking for iron stained spots where pyrites change to iron oxides (rust). Look for rust spots on iron-rich rocks like hematite, magnetite and ironstone.
- The correct topography
Coarser gold tends to be further upstream, because it does not move as rapidly as gold flecks. If you are in an arid location, look on moderate to flat slopes with the right geology It can also be useful to search hills surrounding creeks, as they may have been a part of the creek hundreds or thousands of years ago when it was wider. They may contain gold washed from upstream.
While geological indicators can be an excellent way to find gold, the relevance of each indicator can vary from location to location. In one part of Texas, the presence of quartz might be a great sign that gold is nearby, but in another part, iron staining is more important. This is why local knowledge is so important. Talking to other prospectors about the signs that work best in specific areas can often be helpful.
Consider joining a prospecting club or social group like Prospecting Texas. They often have get-togethers where prospectors share their finds and discuss the techniques they use. It’s unlikely that they will tell you precisely where they are prospecting, but most prospectors will be happy to give you hints on what to look for when choosing a site.
Metal detector clubs are also a great source of information. You can meet some dedicated metal detectorists who will share their finds and can help you with technical advice.
Another great way to find gold is to search locations where gold was found in the past. This includes:
- Abandoned gold mines and mineral exploration areas
- Abandoned worksites and living areas near gold mines
- Historical town sites
- Ghost towns
If you have a metal detector, you can also search for lost gold items, including nuggets, rings, and other types of jewelry. Use a metal detector to search:
- Show grounds
- Race courses
- Picnic areas
- Swimming areas (creeks, rivers)
- Old battlefields
- Abandoned towns
- Camping and sports grounds
- Parks and playgrounds
- Around jetties and piers
Of course, always obtain permission before entering any private property.
Other resources you can use include history books, local libraries, historical societies, the Texas State Department of Mines, local town plans, newspaper archives and so on. Think of yourself as a gold detective, looking for the perfect site to prospect for gold!
Always remember to cross reference any historical information with geological information. If you find a location with the right geological conditions for gold, look for old mining sites or abandoned towns around it. Some poor prospector may have lost a nugget the size of their thumb somewhere in town, which you could find in a few minutes using a metal detector!
I hope you found Where to Find Gold in Texas helpful. Gold prospecting is a fun past time that can also be very lucrative. It’s usually best performed with other like-minded prospectors and can be a very social activity. Get out there and find some gold!