Whenever I talk to folks unfamiliar with metal detecting, they often ask if I’ve ever found gold. In most instances, I laugh it off. Stories about bags of gold hidden by history’s most infamous train robbers or gold prospectors dying before they can return for their buried treasure abound in American history. And even seasoned detectorists are often tempted by those fantasies. But, in my experience, finding gold and gems is rare, with one exception: metal detecting in Nevada.
Nevada is the top gold and silver producer in the US. It’s also one of the few places where gold and gems are discovered by recreational prospectors and detectorists with frequency. I’m not encouraging a modern-day gold rush, but if you have gold fever, Nevada is a great state to try your hand at it. As an additional selling point, there are public lands in Nevada that allow prospecting for gold and gems, which can simplify your research and planning.
Additionally, if you’re a metal detectorist with a passion for history, Nevada offers countless ghost towns – most the remains of previous gold rushes – that would make fascinating targets for a metal detecting trip. However, ascertaining the legality of metal detecting on those sites is more than I plan to cover in this article. If you’re willing to do your own research, I’d recommend looking into permissions for metal detecting ghost towns like Blair, Austin, Aurora, Belmont and Delamar. Or, do your own historical research (Hint: check out historicaerials.com) to find abandoned ghost towns because you’ll find no shortage of promising leads in Nevada.
Metal Detecting tip: The majority of your finds will be from modern-day folks, so choose a site with a high number of visitors to maximize your chances. HOWEVER, metal detecting is easier and more pleasant during uncrowded times (some metal detector regulations actually require metal detectorists confine their activities to “low” times). Therefore, your timing is often as strategic as choosing a location. You’ll have even better chances if you metal detect after a large event, such as an outdoor concert or sports competition.
Top Nevada Metal Detecting Locations (in no particular order)
1. Mill Creek Recreation Area, Battle Mountain, NV.
This BLM-supervised area allows metal detecting as long as you do no surface damage and don’t remove anything over 100-years-old (see the section on NV laws and regulations below for BLM guidelines). The area receives 30,000 visitors per year, making it a likely place for lost or forgotten personal items. The campground, in particular, is a promising spot to try because – in addition to the numbers of modern-day visitors – it was the site of a Civilian Conservation Corps work camp for nine years during the Great Depression. You’ll see the ruins of some CCC structures, such as the stone columns that once marked the entrance.
2. Illipah Reservoir Recreation Area & Hamilton Ghost Town, Hamilton, NV
The reservoir, parking lots and campground are promising locations for metal detecting finds dropped by contemporary visitors, but beware! This park is hugely popular with anglers, so you’ll probably turn up a good number of hooks, metal sinkers and other discarded fishing accessories in addition to more rewarding finds. The ghost town of Hamilton makes for a fascinating visit (metal detecting not allowed), but the extensive network of roads that once supplied the ghost town should be your target for your actual metal detecting. Their usage – both currently and historically – make them a likely place for a lucky find, metal detecting is permitted and they’re accessible by vehicle. Illipah Reservoir makes a great basecamp for exploring other nearby ghost towns like Belmont and Treasure City.
3. Garnet Hill Recreation Area , Ruth, NV
Explore this BLM trailhead, parking lot, roads and trails, particularly drainage areas. Additionally, this area is a designated rockhounding location, famed for its garnets. The garnets here, known as Almandine, boast an unusually vibrant red color due to the high iron content. You may find it interesting to try garnet-hunting or stick to metal detecting. If you want to try your hand at garnet prospecting, try to go after a rain storm or snowmelt and focus on the southwest corner of the area. In addition to your usual metal detecting gear, you may want to bring a hammer to crack the precious gems out of the rhyolite in which they form.
4. Red Rock Canyon Campground , Las Vegas, NV
This metal detecting location has numerous things to recommend it. For starters, it’s only 20 miles from Las Vegas, meaning it’s both convenient and high traffic, receiving roughly two million visitors a year. It helps that it’s gorgeous too! Red rock chimney and rock formations contrast with exquisitely blue skies. Check out the popular park visitor areas like the parking lots, picnic areas and the campground or set off on any of the 60 miles of trails that suit your fancy.
Metal Detecting tip: Always carry water, snacks and extra clothing on any metal detecting search that takes you away from your car. Even if you only plan to hike a short distance, getting lost or injured is always a possibility, so be prepared. In hot desert locations, water is of extra importance, as is sunscreen.
5. Wilson Canyon, Carson City, NV
I like this unassuming, no-frills BLM recreation spot not because of the chances of a modern find – though the picnic areas are certainly worth a scan. River drainages and basins are some of my favorite public land sites for finding older items washed down the hillsides over years of rain and snowmelt. In addition, you don’t need a mining claim to prospect on public land in Nevada so there’s always the chance of finding gold or silver, as well.
6. Rye Patch Placer District, Winnemucca, NV
This area is hugely popular for gold nugget prospecting with a metal detector. It’s about 50 miles southwest of Winnemucca in northern Nevada, west of Rye Patch Reservoir. The area is remote, some come with plenty of food, water, extra clothing, extra metal detector batteries and a full tank of gas! The area is well-known in the gold-hunting metal detector world because the gold is said to be shallow and easily read by a detector. There’s also little in the way of vegetation so the land is easy to traverse. Personally, I’ve never found gold there, but you might have better luck!
7. Rye Patch State Park, Lovelock, NV
Easily overshadowed by the fame and popularity of the nearby Rye Patch Placer District, Rye Patch State Park is not a go-to location for metal detecting – which is precisely why I like it. It hasn’t been picked over by decades of detectorists, and it offer more chance of finding human items as opposed to only gold.
8. Washoe Lake State Park, New Washoe City, NV
Metal detecting is allowed except at the sand dunes and Little Washoe Lake. Unlike most Nevada State Parks, a permit/permission is not required to metal detect, but – as a courtesy – the park likes to be notified if you’re metal detecting there. Eye-popping views of the Sierra Mountains and numerous trails make this a location that can keep you and your metal detector busy for many days. I love the scenery of this pristine, unpopulated area and highly recommend a visit. Nearby former mining towns, like Dayton and Virginia City, are historically interesting, and the remnants the Ophir Mill (which processed the treasure of Virginia City’s Comstock Lode) are on the west shore of the lake.
9. Nevada Beach Campground & Recreation Area, Stateline, NV
This location is high on my list for an overnight family camping trip with some metal detecting thrown in, but not low if your only interest is metal detecting. Beaches are always great candidates for modern-day finds, and this beautiful, uncrowded setting makes for a great getaway. But, to be honest, the metal detecting finds have been sparse.
If your looking for the tools and gear to metal detect for gold check out this article – Metal Detecting Gear for Gold
10. Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park, Incline, NV
This is one of the few Nevada State Parks that allows metal detecting – but only with the park supervisor’s permission. As the Coronavirus prevention measures have reduced visitor capacity at State Parks and recreation areas, there may be less opportunity for metal detectorists, depending on how they’re prioritizing use and taking reservations. When I contacted the park for this article, however, the park was currently allowing metal detecting with permission and the reminder that historical artifacts are not to be removed.
11. Zephyr Cove Resort Beach, Zephyr Cove, NV
This National Forest beach is popular and scenic – and you can enjoy a meal or a drink in the restaurant without resorting the squashed peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich and warm Coke in your backpack. And, if you time your detecting for after big crowds or crowded times, you’ll find enough in loose change to pay for it!
12. Round Hill Pines Resort Beach, Zephyr Cove, NV
Another National Forest Beach near Zephyr Cove. This beach is particularly popular with families, and the areas of traffic are always very promising. So, with lots of kayaking and paddle boating, picnic facilities, parking lots and play areas, you’ll hopefully have a fruitful detecting trip.
13. Skunk Harbor Beach, Spooner Lake, NV
This beach is rustic and remote, with no facilities. The hike from the parking area to the beach is a hike in itself, so be ready for a rugged day. The two things I like about this location are: the solitude of the out-of-the-way location (which can, conversely, be a detriment to metal detecting) and the historic stone structures that give the area a more historic significance than most beach metal detecting sites. Of course, you can’t remove artifacts from the historic sites, but they make for great sightseeing and ambiance while you metal detect the beach!
14. Chimney Beach, Carson City, NV
This small, rustic beach is, nevertheless, very popular with beachgoers. It has no facilities and is quite a strenuous hike from the parking area, so be prepared to be self-sufficient for the duration of your metal detecting hunt. I highly recommend metal detecting the trail between the parking area and the beach – I’ve had great luck there! By the way, if you’re curious about the name… Chimney Beach is named for an actual chimney on the beach, the remains of a historic cabin that once enjoyed that scenic real estate. Who knows, maybe you’ll find other evidence from previous residents in addition to modern-day beach visitors.
15. Camp Richardson Resort Beach, South Lake Tahoe, CA
Just over the state line in California, this beach is both hugely popular and historic. As usual, avoid crowded times but scan the most popular areas, particularly around the dock and marina. As Camp Richardson Resort is on National Forest land, it’s operated by a private concessionaire, so the permissions for metal detecting are hazy. Best practice would be to contact the resort for permission – or prepared to run away very, very quickly if someone starts shouting at you!
Metal Detecting Laws in Nevada
A note about metal detecting in Nevada State Parks: While the State Park Service website (http://parks.nv.gov/about/frequently-asked-questions) offers the somewhat optimistic guideline: “Metal detecting is permitted in designated areas with the permission of the park supervisor,” it’s not as promising as it sounds. After contacting half a dozen state park offices, the majority of them do NOT allow metal detecting. Those that do are included in the list above.
- Metal detecting is not allowed in National Parks or National Monuments anywhere in the US.
- Metal detecting is allowed on most Nevada Bureau of Land Management as long as no cultural artifacts are removed. “Cultural materials on public lands may not be removed, damaged, disturbed, excavated or transferred without BLM permit. Cultural resources include prehistoric and historic artifacts and sites, broken objects and debris more than 100 years old that were used or produced by humans. Historic sites such as cabins, sawmills, graves, trail traces, mining areas, townsites, ranches and railroads are not open to collecting.” You can collect modern money but not coins over 100 years old. Check out the complete Nevada BLM guidelines for collecting on public lands (link: https://www.blm.gov/sites/blm.gov/files/documents/files/collecting_on_publiclands.pdf)
- Some Nevada State Parks DO allow metal detecting with permission of the park supervisor. Contact any park you’re interested in detecting at before going.
- 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 written permission.
- 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.
- Archaeological remains on federal land, known or unknown, are protected under law. If you were to discover such remains, you should leave them undisturbed and report your find to the local Forest Service office.
Item number 3 is a 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 you can’t remove any find 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.
Nevada Metal Detecting Clubs
- Reno Prospecting and Detecting Club (link: http://renoprospectinganddetecting.com/)
- Gold Searchers of Southern Nevada (link: http://www.goldsearchersnv.com/). This club is unique as it’s not simply a source of social activities and informational resources for detectorists. It offers prospecting equipment that members can check out and has several gold claims where members can engage in various prospecting activities.
- Passport in Time (link: http://www.passportintime.com/). While not actually a club, this National Forest Service program offers a chance to metal detect, as a volunteer, on specific projects. It offers the chance to enjoy your metal detecting hobby, while preserving our country’s historical relics on public lands.
Metal Detecting Shops in Nevada
- Doc’s Detecting Supply (link: https://docsdetecting.com/) (warehouse only; order pickups), Henderson, NV
- Find It Metal Detectors (https://finditdetectors.com/password), Minden, NV
- Accurate Metal Detectors, Las Vegas, NV. Phone: (361) 255-9300
If you’re having trouble finding a (brick and mortar) metal detector shop near you, two things to keep in mind when shopping for or servicing a metal detector:
- Shops for power tool supplies and rentals will often carry metal detectors. Similarly, some small electronics repair or power tool repair shops may be able to service your metal detector.
Also, if you’re unsure about your commitment to the hobby, I highly recommend renting a couple times, keeping in mind the quality of a rental is usually lower than one you would by. Many metal detector dealers and, also, local tool rental companies have metal detectors for rent.
2. Online purchase – and even repair – of metal detectors is becoming hugely popular – for good reason. The selection is better and the convenience of the location isn’t an issue than a standard showroom-type shop. The only drawback is the long delay for shipping of your purchase or repair. This also brings me to my final metal detecting tip.
Metal detecting tip: Learn and perform basic maintenance on your metal detector. Even if there’s a great repair shop close to your home, there’s never any guarantee there will be one close to your search site. There’s nothing worse than being deep in the woods for a full-day or even a weekend-long hunt and having something break. Also: carry a spare coil, extra batteries and any other common replacement parts for the model you use.
Treasure Finds in Nevada and Metal Detecting News
“Eldorado Canyon Day; From Lawless Gold Mining Mecca to a Hoarder’s Dream” (Link: https://www.stgeorgeutah.com/news/archive/2018/03/25/eldorado-canyon-day-from-lawless-gold-mining-mecca-to-a-hoarders-dream/
“It’s All About the Treasure Hunt for Reno Prospector” (link: https://www.rgj.com/story/news/2015/02/19/treasure-hunt-reno-prospector/23706277/)
“Amazing Treasure Finds in Every State” (link: https://www.msn.com/en-us/money/personalfinance/amazing-treasure-finds-in-every-state/ss-AAK6ArC)
David Humphries, Writer and Creator of METAL DETECTING TIPS. After borrowing my son’s detector and finding $.25. I felt like a treasure hunter. FREE MONEY! I was seriously bitten by the metal detecting bug.