During Alaska's gold rush in the 1890s, prospectors followed rumors of gold into the Kenai Peninsula by hiking across Portage Glacier. It was worth it—they found plenty of riches in the Kenai Gold Field. People still love to come down here today, whether it's just for a fun afternoon or a lifelong passion.
But first, two bits of bad news: You can't just start panning anywhere. Prospecting is only allowed on certain pieces of land: designated public lands or private lands.
Second—remember, this is for fun, not to get rich. At some places, you'll be happy to find a few pieces small enough to make some earrings.
Where to Go
To do a gold-panning day trip from Anchorage, go to Hope, a town of 200 that became a prospector magnet after gold was first found in 1889.
To get there, head south from Anchorage down the scenic Seward Highway to mile 56.7. Hope lies another 16.5 miles down the Hope Highway, at the end of the road. You have a couple options for doing it:
A Day Tour
A great way to learn gold panning is a quick demonstration-based tour. Indian Valley Mine (907-653-1120) does one in Hope, as does local legend Gold Rush Peck Gold Rush Peck (907-744-1895), who can also take you on a walking tour around town.
Go Solo on Public Lands
There's a 1.5-mile access area along Resurrection Creek, but Indian Valley Mine tells us that anything 150 feet, each way, from the center line of the road around here is public land and fair game. Otherwise, keep an eye out for signs posting private claims or no trespassing.
What You Need
Gear: Plenty of people use serious gear such as metal detectors or suction-dredging devices, but all you really need is a pan and a small shovel. You can pick up a plastic pan and a foldable shovel for less than $20 total at hardware store or Indian Valley Mine (907-653-1120) in Hope.
Skills: Dip your pan into a creek, get lots of water and then swirl it vigorously to separate out the sand and find the glittering bits in the bottom.