Did you know that there was a gold rush in Northern Michigan in the late 19th century? Gold was left throughout the state waterways when the glaciers moved across the entire state during the last ice age. Small amounts of gold can be found in just about any creek or river in Michigan.

According to the US Forest Service, gold has been found in over 100 places in Michigan. Gold has been found in the Manistee, Au Sable, Flat, Little Sable, Rapid, Yellow Dog and other rivers and on countless Great Lakes beaches. Rivers and lakes are not the only place for gold, many prospectors believe that gold can be found in just about any Michigan gravel pit by dry panning.

Mother Lodes

Gold-quartz_hydrothermal_veinMost gold found in Michigan is small and not in quantities that make commercial extraction a viable investment. There have been few “mother lode” deposits found across the state, most have been low grade and a byproduct of other mineral extraction efforts.

Vein deposits are mainly concentrated within the region north of Ishpeming and Negaunee in the Upper Peninsula, sometimes referred to as the “gold area”. Nearly all descriptions indicate that gold occurred in the native form, usually in quartz veins. There are three modes of occurrence of gold in Michigan: vein deposits, placers and glacial deposits. Of these types, only vein deposits have yielded commercial production.

Upper Peninsula Gold Rush

Small amounts of gold were found as early as 1845 in the Upper Peninsula, but it wasn’t until the 1881 with the opening of the Ropes Gold Mine that gold mining became a part of Michigan history. Ropes Gold Mine was located in Marquette County and was the only major gold producer in Michigan. Mining continued off and on for decades at the Ropes Gold Mine until the mine was closed in 1991.

There were many mines that opened in the late 19th century in the Marquette area. Michigan Gold Mine, Gold Lake Mine and Superior Gold Mining Company produced fine museum specimens of native gold from the area. Other prominent mines during that time were Peninsular Gold Mining Company, Grummett, Swains, Mocklers, Grayling and Giant Mines, but all had limited production.

Lower Peninsula Gold Rush

Gold-PanningThe lower peninsula didn’t experience a “gold rush” like the U.P. did. Folklore says that a man in the early 20th century kept hauling dirt from the river banks back to his shack in Alcona County. It is said that he found enough gold to take care of himself for the rest of his life. Some say it is near Black River in Haynes Township. Gold nuggets were found in 1912 on the farm of Mr. Fleming, others believe the lost mine is closer to Harrisville, along Mill Creek. Due to low volumes, not much exploration has been done on a large scale. There are many reports of placer gold being found in gravel deposits along waterways. Using pans, sluice boxes, or small scale dredging equipment to separate the gold from the gravel.

Where to find gold

Placer and glacial deposits have been found in both the Upper and Lower Peninsulas. In the U.P. these deposits were found in the “gold area”. There have been many report of gold in gravel deposits along lakes and streams through the Lower Peninsula.

Upper Peninsula

Gold-Ropes-Gold-Mine-Marquette-MichiganLook along the Flat River and Victoria Copper Mine in Ontonagon County and in Marquette County. This is the best producing county in Michigan for gold. All regional stream gravels and glacial moraine debris contain placer gold. Look near old mines and the waterways around them. The Yellow Dog River and Dead River which extends north to Lake Superior was the home of many productive mines that have a by-product of gold.

Northern Lower Peninsula

Many instances of gold in gravel deposits along waterways in Northwest Michigan:

  • Charlevoix County – Placer Gold can be found along the Boyne River in the low water gravels.
  • Cheboygan County – Cheboygan River and Mullett Lake
  • Emmet County – Along the Little Traverse Creek and its tributaries gold can be found. It is sometimes 5 or 6 colors per pan.
  • Grand Traverse County  – Around Walton in the area creeks, in the low water gravel bars, some very fine placer gold can be found. (US 131 & M113)
  • Kalkaska County – The gravel bars along the Rapid River produce placer gold.
  • Leelanau County – near Lake Leelanau along the shore and stream tributaries, particularly north of Solon
  • Manistee County – All along the Little Sable River you can find many placer deposits that contain gold. At low water gravel bars in the Manistee River you can find placer gold.
  • Wexford County – Around West Summit, the local streambeds contain placer gold. In the Northwest part of the county, along the Manistee River you can find some placer gold as well.

This is just a partial list of rivers in Michigan that have produced gold in the past. The nature of glacial gold deposits means that much of the gold across the state is widespread, but in very small amounts. Although you most likely will not get rich looking for gold in Michigan you are sure to have a good time. Any waterway has the potential to hold some gold, so get out your pan and start searching. Even if you don’t find gold you will find fossils, interesting rocks and have fun while doing it.

State of Michigan Recreational Gold Panning and Sluicing on State Land

 At the time of this writing, panning on state lands is allowed where both the surface and mineral right belong to the state. For more information visit the Michigan Department of Natural Resources website.

Excerpt from article originally published February 17, 2022 on Adventures in Northern Michigan