How To Detect Gold Without a Metal Detector

When you’re used to prospecting with a metal detector, it is hard to imagine searching for gold without it. It makes finding metals easier, but a metal detector is a modern invention. Gold has been mined for centuries, and miners always used geological signs that point them toward gold. 

You can detect gold without a metal detector by observing spots where the river’s movement slows considerably. These spots include areas with boulder outcrops along the river and the inside of a turn. Other signs include iron-stained rocks, quartz vein material, and large boulders on river banks.

Metal detectors make prospecting faster and easier because you can find any metal, provided it is not buried too deep, without digging. In this article, I’ll explore different ways, depending on the location, to identify spots that probably have gold without using a metal detector. 

1. Observe the River’s Movement 

Gold prospectors often end up in rivers and streams because water moves rocks and minerals quickly. It is also where metal-bearing rocks end up during a volcanic eruption or earthquake. Additionally, it is less strenuous, especially for prospectors who don’t want to climb cliffs and hilly areas. 

Since gold is a dense metal, you must observe how the river moves to identify spots where the water slows down. It is typically where gold settles, and rocks and other sediments will cover it over time.

The other thing to remember is that gold always takes the shortest route along the river because of its weight. That is why gold prospectors often search on the inner side of the river instead of the other side. 

Here is a video giving tips on how to find gold without a metal detector:

For more information on what to do if you do find gold, check out my article: If You Find A Gold Nugget, Can You Keep It?

2. Identify Spots With Boulders Along the River

Boulders usually slow down flowing water. When water encounters this obstacle, it usually goes around it. However, when this happens, gold and other heavy metals will likely be left behind the boulder. 

So, even without a metal detector, you can pan for gold using the sediments you collect behind these boulders along the rivers.

3. Check the Inner Turn of the River

As the water curves in the river and moves around the corner, it will leave some of the heavy metals and minerals in the inner corner. Some rocks may also be caught in the sediments, which is another area where you should pan for gold.

4. Observe the Gravel and Vegetation Along the River Bank 

When you notice a collection of gravel and vegetation along the river bank, you should take a look. These rocks show that the river was once wider than it currently is. If you imagine the water movement, you’ll probably realize that these rocks are at the inside of the turn.

Some of the signs that show this include the following:

  • The rocks closer to the river are larger.
  • As you move away from the river, the rocks become smaller.
  • If the plants are on the same side as the smaller rocks, it shows that the flow greatly diminished along that part of the river. Otherwise, those plants wouldn’t have grown there. 

Focus on the parts of the gravel where the water flows a little faster. The area with smaller rocks and plants may have fine gold, which is more difficult to separate from the sediments. Follow the rocks and see where they intersect with the bedrock. You are likely to find gold there. 

5. Look for Smaller Crevices Along a Bedrock 

The rule of thumb is if you’re looking in an area where many gold prospectors visit, ignore the obvious crevices. They have probably been dug too many times, so the chances of finding gold are minimal. 

Instead, you should look along the bedrock to see if there are smaller crevices. You should look for abrupt angles that may have caused gold to drop into the bedrock. 

6. Dig Out the Stone and Sediments in the Crevice 

The next step is to dig the crevice you have identified. Carefully dig out the sediments and collect them in the pan. If you can, break a small part of the parent rock and brush all the dirt off. Sometimes, gold is hidden within the parent rock. 

However, the assumption is that gold was washed down the crevice and settled in the spaces around the bedrock. So, your focus should be getting all the dirt out of the part of the crevice you just dug.

7. Pan Down the Stones and Sediments

Panning down the stones and sediments will reveal what you have removed from the crevice. Observe and take note, as these are important pointers that show if the area has gold or not.

Here’s what you will need to check:

  • The weight of the stones. Since gold is dense, the presence of heavy gravel is an indication that heavy metals may have also settled where you collected the sediments.
  • The amount and coarseness of the black sand. Gold prospectors usually look out for coarse, black sand when panning for gold because it indicates the presence of placer gold deposits. 

If your pan has coarse black sand, you should probably go back to the same bedrock and keep digging. Search for other crevices, preferably those that haven’t been dug out. 

8. Look for Quartz Veins

Quartz is a mineral that takes longer to cool when exposed to magma and hydrothermal solutions. Gold and silica also become soluble at very high temperatures and cool at the same temperatures. It is one of the reasons why quartz tends to be heavily mineralized with gold and other metals and minerals. 

So, even if you don’t have a metal detector, if you spot a heavily mineralized quartz vein, it is worth exploring it for gold. If you find gold flakes, you should keep breaking the vein. If you’re lucky, you may discover lode gold. 

However, there is no guarantee that you will find gold in the quartz vein. Sometimes, it may only have quartz crystals, pyrite, and sulfide minerals.

9. Search for Iron-Stained Rocks 

While quartz veins are the most obvious place to search for gold without a metal detector, you can also search for gold in areas with iron-stained rocks. Some gold-bearing vines contain calcite and sulfides. 

When these rocks start weathering, they form iron sulfide, which leaves stains on the rocks. The rocks are usually reddish yellow in color, and the redder the stone, the more likely the ground has some gold. 

10. Identify Gold Host Rocks

It is also easier to find areas with gold by identifying host rocks. Gold is primarily hosted in volcanic rocks; the older the rocks, the more likely you are to find gold deposits. Most gold mines are located in regions where rocks that are older than 2.5 billion years are found. 

A good place to search for these rocks is in the region where gold mining activities occur. Search calderas and areas beyond volcanic mountains because, during volcanic eruptions, some rocks are flung further away during volcanic eruptions. 

See if you can find rocks similar to those in gold mines. They may have gold hidden within the rocks. 

11. Check for Rocks With Unique Colors 

Locations that have rocks similar to those in mining areas are great. However, rocks with a unique color can also lead you to gold. Observe the rocks in the area, and spot their similarities and differences. 

Mineral-rich rocks are easily bleached and oxidized, so they take on a different color over time. Some may appear yellowish, while others may be red. As long as the rock stands out, you should take a closer look at the debris around it. 

Pan out the sediments around the rock and carefully check for coarse black sand and gold. If you find both, you should explore the area thoroughly and even go downhill in case some of the gold was washed down due to erosion.  

12. Look for Rocks With Fractures

As I mentioned earlier, when looking at the rocks along the river bank, rocks with crevices are great hiding places for gold. However, this sign is not limited to river banks. You can also look at the rocks on the sides of an inactive volcanic mountain or the outer edges of a caldera. 

If you notice that other prospectors have looked at the larger crevices, try to find rocks that they may have missed. 

13. Spot Heavily Oxidized Gravel

When you find a spot with gravel that has disintegrated over time, it probably has some gold in there. You’ll need to carefully move the broken pieces as you observe the rocks. Minerals react when exposed to oxygen and the weathering process over a long period.

If the rock is breaking down, it is a sign that it has lots of minerals, and chemical reactions are causing it to weather. You just may be lucky to find some gold. 


A metal detector is a handy tool to have if you are a seasoned prospector searching different types of ground for gold. However, not having a metal detector should not hold you back, especially if you are in a new area where you can explore. 

Technology is great, but traditional miners didn’t have the tools available today, yet they successfully found gold. You can use some of the signs they looked out for in their quest for gold.

Alexander Picot

Alexander Picot is the principal creator of, a website dedicated to tips on finding and collecting precious items. Inspired by reading countless adventurer reports from the oldtimers, Alex is passionate about discovering hidden treasures and loves to share his experience with the rest of the world.

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