South Fork Koyukuk River

Ah the mighty Koyukuk!  This fork is a rather shallow and wide portion of the river, and a great place to try your hand at gold panning and sluicing.  We spent a couple of hours on this river and recovered a number of specks of gold.  None of it was worth very much and more difficult than finding it was trying to transfer it into the film canisters we were using as receptacles.  This was Aliza’s first time attempting to find gold, and she recovered three or four specks.  This is a nice area to pan because you can scoop up a bunch of earth and usually find at least one speck.  Other places you may find bigger pieces, but you will work many pans with no recovery.

Doug found the richest strike on a side bank of the river where gold had settled on the clay layer.  Bends in the river have good gold bearing banks.  Look for where the water seems to hit a bank before continuing.  Heavy gold settles out in those areas.  We sluiced out a dish pan of dirt and clay he dug out, and then transferred the “heavies” into the Aliza’s and his pans for a final rinsing.  Sure enough, they each found multiple specks in the bottom of the gold pans.

The bridge over the South Fork of the Koyukuk River is located  at mile 156.3 of the Dalton Highway.  Recreational gold panning is open in the areas from the bridge upriver 1.5 miles and downriver 2 miles.  However, people are not allowed to gold pan in the pipeline right-of-way.  This is defined as 27 feet from either side of the pipeline.  The area is open to the use of metal defectors, hand fed sluice and rocker boxes and, of course, gold pans.  There is no charge to look for gold here as it is open to the public.

We drove out onto the banks of the river using one of the pipeline access roads.  On the opposite side of the road from the pipeline there is a large parking lot with a toilet.  Another family even camped there.  The drop down to the river bed is pretty steep, and should not be attempted unless the vehicle has four wheel drive and good ground clearance.  There is no charge to camp or use the facilities here.

Many rivers and streams in this area contain gold and are open to recreational mining.  We only had time to stop at one.  We chose this one because information we gathered indicated this river would have the most gold per cubic yard.  If you are interested in trying more sites along the Dalton, the visitor center in Coldfoot has an excellent brochure published by the Bureau of Land Management called “Dalton Highway – Recreational Mineral Collection” that they give away for free.  It lists 19 different locations to find gold along the Dalton Highway.

Last Visited: July 2001

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