National Forest (BLM) Land is the best land to explore in all of the United States. It’s 245 million acres that act as a playground for anyone and everyone who wants to experience the outdoors. People hunt, backpack and fish this acreage, but very few choose to metal detect it. Most don’t ever bother trying.

There are going to be restrictions when it comes to metal detecting on BLM land. However, the recreational use of metal detectors is generally legal. These landscapes are not only beautiful, but they are full of artifacts worth finding.

What BLM Land is Illegal to Metal Detect on?

As metal detecting has gained popularity, the exact guidelines and restrictions have begun to become more clear. The National Forest Service encourages people to metal detect, but are protective over certain areas. Any piece of BLM land that is considered historic is off limits. However, as of the last 10 years, there is a program called Passport In Time that allows the public to work with archaeologists to help work through historical sites. Visit passportintime.com to find out more information on how this can become a partnership.

Using a Metal Detector on BLM Land
Using a Metal Detector on BLM Land

There are considered to be four types of metal detecting. The first type is searching for “treasure trove.” Treasure trove is considered to be money, precious metals, etc, that have been hidden with the intention of recovering it later. This type of detecting is going to require a permit. Applications for those permits can be found through the state’s website in which you choose to detect.

The second type of detecting is searching for objects that have historic or archaeological value. The requirements for this are mentioned in the paragraph above. Don’t remove artifacts or detect in any area that is considered to be historical.

Searching for gold is allowable without a permit on most BLM land. As long as you aren’t searching within a mineral claim, you’re good to go. If you are, all of the minerals found belong to the claim holder.

The safest type of detecting is what the Forest Service considers to be recreational. If you are searching for coins that are less than 50 years old or other small objects with no “historical value” in areas that aren’t restricted you should be good to go. Don’t be surprised if these rules continue to get more strict. The best option is to call the local National Forest Service office to get up to date information on the exact regulations.

What artifacts can and can’t I remove from BLM land?

Like mentioned earlier, cultural materials are not allowed to be removed without a permit. Anything that was used or produced by humans that is more than 100-years-old is considered a cultural artifact and can’t be altered.

Newer artifacts dropped by tourists such as jewelry, coins, etc., are all fair game. Also, gold and other minerals are allowed to be kept.

Exception to Metal Detecting in ARIZONA
Typical Exception to Metal Detecting. Above is for ARIZONA

The main issue is your location more so than the artifacts you find. If you’re disturbing a historical site, you are likely going to be subjected to a hefty fine. First, pay attention to your location and then worry about the things you find.

Here is a great link that shows what the Federal Government considers to be legal to remove: https://www.blm.gov/sites/blm.gov/files/documents/files/collecting_on_publiclands.pdf



There is also information on this article about fossils and other artifacts. It’s a great one stop shop for all things collectable!

How to Find the Best BLM Land to Metal Detect

There are a few answers to this question. For the most accurate information, here is a list of emails for states with BLM land to contact for more information:

Otherwise, the best option is to choose places with a decent amount of civilization around. For example, the BLM land in Wyoming is extremely barren. The Bighorn National Forest is vast and only has a few lodges spread across it. In this case, there are likely not as many artifacts to be found. If you’re searching for seclusion, Alaska, Wyoming and New Mexico are going to be your best bets.

The Black Hills National Forest in South Dakota would be a great option for metal detecting. This is where I have done the most of my detecting and I have been successful every time. There is a large stretch of National Forest, but there are towns and other communities spread throughout the forest that provide plenty of artifacts.

Access can be a bit tough, but any road sign that is brown is considered a forest road. Travel down these and as long as you don’t cross through privately marked cattle gates, you’re okay to begin searching. The north side of Custer all the way up to Hill City is full of lakes and forest roads. You can spend a weekend alone on this land!

Colorado, Utah, California and Arizona are going to be some more populated land that is great for metal detecting. I’ve spent quite a bit of time searching the Prescott National Forest since it’s only an hour and a half from my parents house in Phoenix. It’s a beautiful, wooded escape from the heat of the valley. I have found the Forest Service employees to be extremely friendly at the Prescott office.

Metal Detecting at BLM Campgrounds
Metal Detecting at BLM Campgrounds

Try detecting near campgrounds or picnic areas. These are obviously going to have the most traffic around them and keep you the safest. Also, any public beach is going to give up solid treasure. Any lake in a National Forest is going to receive a lot of traffic. People love lakes in beautifully wooded areas and the more people, the more treasure.

Rangers will not stop people detecting around these areas because chances are anything found is going to be newer than 50-years-old and considered to be recreational. The further you venture off the beaten trail, the more risk you are putting yourself and your group in.

Can I Metal Detect in a National Forest?

The National Forest Service is extremely happy to answer questions. They’ll always tell you that they are much happier when people ask for permission before they start doing something. More often than not, if you call to ask, they’ll give you some secret spots that people don’t know about.

A great resource for understanding if you can metal detect is the linked document provided by the NFS. Check it out – The Use of Metal Detectors on National Forest Land