Ahhhh, Idaho. You might be a metal detectorist’s dream come true. You are beautiful, with geography varied from arid landscapes to green, forested hillsides, to rugged mountains and spine-tinglingly beautiful rivers once famed for gold. And, best of all, Idaho is one of the most metal detecting-friendly states I’ve found in terms of regulations and areas open to detectorists. As for those snooty, superior looks you sometimes get from other outdoor recreationalists…. I can’t promise anything, but just look the other way and you’re sure to have a jaw-dropping view to look at!
Before I dive into my list of top Idaho metal detecting sites, it might be useful to narrow down your primary interest in metal detecting. Do you hope to make historic finds and fascinating relics from the past? If so, you’ll want a historical, research-based approach to choosing sites like former home sites and farms. Keep in mind, you’re not legally supposed to keep archaeological finds but it can be exciting nonetheless. Historically-minded detectorists should learn the basics of using maps and historical records to locate promising spots – and you’ll have to request permission if your target is on private property.
Do you just want to find cool trinkets and potentially valuable items lost by modern people? These are items you’d most likely be able to keep and/or sell. Then, you’ll want to focus on high-traffic public places.
Now that you’ve identified your interest, you can choose appropriately from my top 15 places to metal detect in Idaho. Note: I’ve done my best to research the jurisdictional regulations for these places, but I’m not an attorney and cannot guarantee this information. You should always check with local authorities before metal detecting.
Boise, Idaho: City Parks
Boise City Parks allow metal detecting with a permit, which cost $10.50 at the time of publishing this article. You can find permit application info here .You are, of course, required to fill in any holes or divots made if you dig.
Boise parks are great if you’re a metal detector interested in modern finds. Parking lots, playgrounds and sports fields offer much in the way of lost coins and sometimes jewelry.
1. Ann Morrison Park
This is one of my favorites because it offers playgrounds, a variety of sports fields, multiple parking lots and even some river frontage where object might be washed ashore from the Boise River.
2. Hulls Gulch Reserve
Drainages with intermittent flow are arguably the most effective locations for random finds (i.e. not requiring historic research). The water washes objects into gulches, arroyos or creeks then, when the flood or seasonal flow ends, the relics have already been excavated and consolidated in one relatively condensed area. You’ll find a huge variety of things – from modern to historical. Hulls Gulch offers 292 acres to explore at the base of the foothills and, as a Boise City Park, allows permitted metal detecting.
Abandoned Villages and Ghost Towns
Roosevelt Lake is located in the Payette National Forest, about 6-7 hours from Boise. Roosevelt Lake is a fascinating place to visit – with or without a metal detector. Like most of Idaho’s ghost towns, it was part of the gold rush. Unlike other mining towns, however, it wasn’t abandoned just because the gold petered out (though that had already happened). The town was inhabited from 1902 to 1909 when a mudslide damned up the creek that flowed through the valley. The waters rose over the months until the entire town was underwater. Today, the naturally-created reservoir is known as Roosevelt Lake, and logs from cabins beneath the surface occasionally float to the surface. If the water is smooth and clear, you may be able to make out the shadows and shapes of the buildings underneath. And you never know what you’ll find metal detecting along the shore!
3. Florence, Nez Perce National Forest
This ghost town, near modern day Riggins, was once a silver mining town. When the silver waned, it had a brief resurgence with the discovery of quartz in the region, but it’s been uninhabited since the 1950s. It’s more easily explored with an informative driving map from the US Forest Service. You may access that HERE. Metal detecting is permitted, though removal of artifacts is not.
4. De Lamar
This ghost town is listed on the National Register of Historic sites, so no metal detecting is permitted. However, it’s located on BLM land – where metal detecting is permitted as long as no artifacts are removed. So make sure you explore farther away from the historic buildings and report any artifacts you find. The ghost town was once known as the “Womanizing Capital” of the state because of its abundant bars, gambling and madams.
Reynolds once was home to a school and a post office and a cemetery, of course. Nearby, the Camp Lyon Site, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, may be worth a visit but doesn’t permit metal detecting. However, BLM areas – accessed easily via the Hemingway Butte OHV Trailhead – do permit metal detecting. How do you decide where to hunt? Here are some expert tips HERE.
6. Vienna, Sawtooth National Forest
While metal detecting at an actual mine – even one long-abandoned like the Vienna Silver Mine – is rarely recommended due to continued mining claims, but Old Vienna town is a different story – if you can find it! That’s part of the endless intrigue of Vienna. Once one of the largest communities of its era, with over 200 buildings, 800 inhabitants and even its own newspaper, nothing now remains. It’s a mystery that someone with a metal detector might be able to solve…
Metal Detecting tip: Use a tool belt (similar to a carpenter’s tool belt) or a safari vest so that everything you need is within hand’s reach without digging through a bag. Come up with an assigned place for each item to make packing your gear beforehand faster and easier and you metal detecting trips more efficient. For example, have a certain pocket or pouch assigned for extra batteries, a hand spade, a water bottle (if you’re not using some kind of hydration system), probe, gloves, etc.
7. Wallace, Idaho: Pulaski Tunnel Trail
For any history enthusiast, the quaint mining town is worth a visit in itself. Named the “Center of the Universe” by official mayoral proclamation, the town has more than a fancy title to draw visitors. It’s got multiple mining museums, recreation trails (many good for metal detecting) like Route of the Hiawatha, the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes Rail Trail, the Blossom Lakes Trail and even Eagle City Park, a “Recreational Gold Prospecting & Small Scale Mining Park” perfect for newbies to metal detecting. I do love Wallace. But I’m not the only one. It’s a popular tourist destination, so time your visit accordingly. Nearby Kellogg is also a historic mining town that’s worth a visit and possibly some investigation into metal detecting sites.
Pulaski Tunnel Trail commemorates tragedy and heroism. In 1910, the largest forest fire in US history swept through the town and “Big Ed” Pulaski, a local forest ranger “saved 38 men by guiding them to safety in a mine tunnel south of town and holding the frantic workers there at gunpoint until the fire passed.” (link: http://www.wallaceidahochamber.com/history-wallace/). (If his name sounds familiar, it’s because he’s the inventor of the combination ax and hoe that’s used today throughout the world.) The trail has interpretive signs along the way and high visitor traffic, so the chance for finding lost personal items is good, but I’d go early in the morning or right before sunset to avoid crowds. Scan the parking lots, trail and trail shoulders for finds from modern visitors. Or, if you’re fit and have a high pain tolerance, do some bushwhacking through the spruce and fir forests to the banks of the West Fork of Placer Creek to see what the water’s washed up. Or maybe even find some gold!
Much of the abandoned, former mining town of Burgdorf, Idaho is registered on the National Registry of Historic Places, making metal detecting off-limits. However, because it’s located in a National Forest, you still have permission to metal detect in campgrounds, parking lots, trails and other areas not “known” to be of historic value. Additionally, long before the mining rush brought white immigrants to the area, Native Americans cherished the area as a sacred site, due to the hot springs in the area. You may find lost items from yesterday’s hiker or utensils from yesteryear’s miners, or even something much older – you never know!
Abandoned Logging Camps
Abandoned logging camps are some of the best places to metal detect because they’re usually on National Forest Service land where metal detecting is generally permitted. Like other temporary/nomadic settlements they were often packed in haste, leaving objects behind. With little value to today’s Americans, they’re often completely abandoned (unlike abandoned mines where oftentimes mine rights will interfere with your chances of metal detecting), and they’re rarely tourist destinations. These last two points, however, are also two downfalls of metal detecting abandoned logging camps: They’re often hard to locate – even in historical documents. And they’re even harder to locate in person. Here are some suggested general areas, but you’ll want to do some of your own supplementary research of maps and historical documents to pinpoint your own targets.
9. Marble Creek (closest town St. Maries)
From Forest Service Trail #261, you’ll see remnants of cabins and logging camps. More than a dozen logging splash dams were built along the creek between 1915 and 1931. Most are now long gone, but at least one remains (Number 7). I doubt you’ll find much with a metal detector there (though I’d love to be proven wrong), it’s still interesting to see.
10. Abandoned Marble Creek Railroad Tunnels (closest town St. Maries)
If you’re adventurous and willing to do some research with maps and GPS, you might try your hand at locating and metal detecting two abandoned railroad tunnels on Marble Creek. They’re nearly invisible from the road (Forest Service Road 321) and partially collapsed. One you find the entrance, shrouded by trees and growth, the tunnels themselves are spacious and enticing – but not to be deeply explored without some specialized cave gear and safety training.
11. Ruttledge Logging Camps.
Scattered around the St. Joe National Forest, in the vicinity of Clarkia, Idaho, the 15 logging camps have been abandoned since the early 1930s. Some of the 15 have been completely reclaimed by the forest (at least to the naked eye), so some skills with a map and reading the land to find metal detecting sites may be necessary. But you’ll have very little competition, that’s for sure! If you’re up for a hike, you can reach Camp #5 on Forest Service Trail #254, also off Forest Service Road 321 in the Hobo Creek drainage, and you’ll be rewarded with the partially collapsed remains of multiple buildings and exciting metal detecting.
Metal Detecting tip: Hunt after rain. First of all, it’s easier to dig in moist, soft dirt. Secondly, moist ground provides more conductivity for your signal so you can pick up deeper finds. Thirdly, you better get used to rain if you’re going to metal detect in Idaho!
As always, beaches are popular and promising locations to metal detect. Idaho has an abundance of options. Most of these lakes are in areas with a rich history of mining, railroad and logging industries, meaning they could be combined with nearby historically-focused metal detecting excursions. Of course, familiarize yourself with metal detecting regulations at the site before beginning any metal detecting.
Just take your pick!
12. Lake Cascade, Cascade, Idaho
A great day trip from Boise, this is a State Park. Recent proposed policy changes would open the park to metal detecting with permission from the park ranger provided it doesn’t interfere with other park uses. So check with the park ranger to be sure.
13. Payette Lake, McCall, Idaho
The “jewel of northern Idaho,” this lake is far away but worth the visit.
14. Redfish Lake, Stanley, Idaho.
Located in Sawtooth National Forest, you won’t have to worry about checking regulations for metal detecting at Redfish Lake.
15. Pend Oreille Lake, Sand Point, Idaho.
About as far into Idaho as you can get without crossing into Canada is Sand Point, Idaho. There, you’ll find Idaho’s biggest, deepest lake with a whopping 111 miles of shoreline. Whiskey Rock Campground, Springy Point and numerous beaches around the lake a great sites for metal detecting. I met a fellow detectorist with an antique diamond ring (diamond still attached) that he’d found at Pend Oreille.
16. Coeur d’Alene.
There are over 55 lakes within an easy drive of Coeur d’Alene! The metal detecting options are extensive.
Metal detecting tip: Overlap your sweeps and make sure your sweeps are slow and controlled, staying at the same approximate height. This systematic approach gives you greater accuracy and greater consistency of coverage, meaning you won’t accidentally miss spots or detect at varying depths.
Metal Detecting Laws in Idaho
- Metal detecting is not allowed in National Parks or National Monuments anywhere in the US.
- Metal detecting is allowed on BLM lands as long as no artifacts are removed. Artifacts should be left alone and reported to the appropriate Field Office. Avoid all cultural and archeological sites and only make minimal surface disturbances.
- Regulations for city and county parks and other public lands will vary from place to place, so be sure to check with the appropriate agency to determine if metal detecting is allowed.
- Metal detecting is permitted on private land with the property owner’s permission, but there’s an additional restriction that’s unique to state metal detecting laws: If you find something, it automatically belongs to the property owner.
- The pertinent info you need to know in National Forest Regulations is:
- The recreational use of metal detectors and the collection of rocks and mineral samples are allowed on the National Forests. Generally, most of the National Forests are open to recreational mineral and rock collecting, gold panning and prospecting using a metal detector.
- Metal detector use is allowed in developed campgrounds and picnic areas if they are not specifically closed to such activity. It is permissible to collect coins, but prospecting for gold would be subject to mining laws.
- Archaeological remains on federal land, known or unknown, are protected under law. If you were to discover such remains, you should leave them undisturbed, stop metal detecting in that area, and notify the local Forest Service office.
Item number 3 is not surprising and, in fact, is s standard regulation for metal detecting in any park, municipality or jurisdiction in the USA due to the Antiquities Act of 1906, the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) and the Archaeological Resources Preservation Act (ARPA). These national laws mean that, regardless of the type of property you’re on, you can’t remove anything you believe is 100 years old or more. These potential archaeological artifact should be reported to the State Archaeologist or the governing body of the park/land where you make the find.
Idaho Metal Detecting Clubs
Boise Basin Search and Recovery (http://diggin4treasure.org)
Gem State Metal Detecting Club (https://www.facebook.com/pages/category/Sports—Recreation/Gem-State-Metal-Detecting-Club-773913942980814/), Meridian ID
Northwest Treasure Hunters Club (https://www.facebook.com/Northwest-Treasure-Hunters-Club-180101685357904/), Spokane, ID
Additionally, there are numerous clubs devoted to prospecting and gem hunting in Idaho that may also be friendly for metal detecting in their ranks but few devoted entirely to metal detecting. If you find a gold and gem club in your area, don’t hesitate to reach out.
Favorite Metal Detecting Shops in Idaho
Gerry’s Metal Detectors, Boise, ID (http://gerrysdetectors.com/)
Wild West Metal Detecting, Pocatello, ID (https://wildwestmetaldetectors-com.3dcartstores.com/)
Fascinating Treasure Finds in Idaho and Metal Detecting News
“Boy diving ‘for treasure’ in Idaho hot springs finds wedding ring lost in the 1970s” (https://www.ktvb.com/article/news/local/wedding-ring-found-nearly-40-years-after-disappearing-at-trinity-hot-springs-in-idaho/277-dc23768e-655a-440d-808b-66475d6e6d7b)
“Kuna man finds, returns 28-year lost class ring” (https://www.idahopress.com/kuna/news/kuna-man-finds-returns-28-year-lost-class-ring/article_5faa7448-794d-5e72-9620-b95b9c556822.html)
“Spokane treasure hunters: Two men with metal detectors search for history” (https://www.khq.com/news/spokane-treasure-hunters-two-men-with-metal-detectors-search-for/article_b01265ec-89f2-5cfb-83de-c9c59ef382d2.html
“How a teen tracked down the owner of an engagement ring found buried on the beach” (https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/2019/11/01/how-teen-tracked-down-owner-an-engagement-ring-buried-beach-two-years/)