Gold Panning, Rock & Fossil Hunting
Maine’s bedrock contains nearly 500 million years of geological history. Erosion, sedimentation, mountain building, deformation of bedrock, metamorphism, and volcanic activity shaped Maine’s unique geology. Glaciers and rivers that flowed millions of years ago deposited creatures that remain in the rock today as fossils. For people interested in panning for gold, hunting for interesting rocks, or searching for a special fossil, Maine is a geological treasure.
Panning for Gold in Maine
Panning for gold is a fun activity for visitors to Maine. Young children and adults alike will delight at the potential to find real gold flakes or nuggets. Gold occurs in several geologic environments — in bedrock, sediments eroded by glaciers from the original bedrock, and carried in streams travelling from the original source. Most of the gold found in Maine is found in stream beds. Summer is generally the best time to pan for gold, but black flies are common along stream beds. Wear appropriate clothing and bring bug spray to protect yourself.
No permit is required to pan for gold in Maine as long as you remain in sandy, gravelly, cobbly, and unvegetated stream beds. In general, the state of Maine owns stream water, but the stream bottom and stream bank may be owned by a private landowner. Always seek permission from the landowner before panning for gold.
One of the premier gold panning opportunities in Maine is Coos Canyon along the Swift River. This area, located near Byron in the western area of the state, has produced more gold than any other region in Maine. Finding gold flakes and small nuggets is relatively common, and some visitors strike it rich with larger gold nuggets. Visit the Coos Canyon Rock and Gift store in Byron to pan for gold in the store’s panning pool or for more information about where to pan along the Swift River. The store offers free demonstrations in addition to renting and selling gold panning equipment. Gold, special minerals, and other souvenirs are available for purchase.
Other popular areas to pan for gold include the Sandy River in Franklin County, the South Branch of the Penobscot River in Somerset County, Nile Brook in Franklin County, Kibby Stream in Franklin County, and the St. Croix River in Washington County. A stream called Gold Brook stretches through Oxford, Franklin, and Somerset Counties in northwestern Maine. Bring your entire family for an afternoon of gold panning and fun in these streams.
Maine Rock Hunting
Gold is not the only exciting mineral found in Maine. Several quarries are fruitful places to go rock hunting. Hunters frequently find tourmaline, aquamarine, beryl, garnet, or amethyst stones. Franklin, Oxford, Somerset, and Washington Counties in western Maine tend to be the most productive for rock hunting. Bumpus Quarry, located near Albany, produced some of the largest beryl crystals in the world. Rock hunters find albite, garnet, black tourmaline, beryl, and rose quartz in this quarry. Other rock hunting locations include a wooded area in Sanford, Songo Pine Mine near Bethel, and Hermit Island in Small Point. When rock hunting, bring a sturdy hammer to break specimens loose, gloves, safety glasses for eye protection, chisels, and a small shovel.
Mineral hunting with a guide can help novices find rocks that they would otherwise miss. The Maine Geological Survey has partnered with the Maine Mineral Symposium Association to offer guided mineral hunting trips that are open to the public. The Maine Mineralogical and Geological Society also offers tips and tricks to finding interesting minerals.
Maine Fossil Hunting
Fossils consist of the hard bodies of creatures or impressions made by soft bodies that decomposed over time. These fossils exist for millions of years in the bedrock and sediments of Maine. Most fossils in the state are from marine organisms, but some are formed from land organisms. To see exhibits of common Maine fossils, visit Bowdoin College, Colby College, the Maine State Capitol, the Maine State Museum, or the University of Southern Maine in Gorham.
Although fossils can be found in bedrock throughout Maine, coastal Maine remains an excellent place to search for fossils. The remains of many tiny sea creatures are present in rocks along the coast. Although there is some skill to recognizing fossils, many fossils are found by chance by someone with a keen eye. Walk along the coast and carefully look at rocks on the ground as well as the bedrock surrounding you when searching for fossils. Many fossils remain embedded in rock, so bringing a hammer or chisel to remove them may be helpful. The most common fossils in Maine are brachiopods, which are shelled organisms resembling a clam; coral; clams; crinoids, or stalked sea lilies; graptolites, which formed complex colonies; stromatoporoids, or marine sponges; snails; trilobites; and trace fossils, formed from animal movement or fecal droppings.