On the way up Libby Creek Road, just off Highway 12 there is a fork in the road. Don’t go right like I did cuz you thought you understood the broken signage in the ditch and went down the merry path of treacherous rocks and fallen down trees. It only leads you away from the intended site. When you can’t go any further on the road, take a left as the mile markers are right on, it is only 10 miles to the Recreational Gold Panning area.
When you reach the US signage marking your destination, you go just a little bit further and you are in a campground that sports the staging area for those who are mainly there to pan for gold. Because the campground is at the base of a huge hillside full of rocks, you can park most anywhere you can find a spot because you will be digging in the side of the hill to fill your bucket(s) and then hauling them to the creek bed below to wash your gravel, checking for that shiny golden nugget or to get your fine gravel of flour gold. Just know there is no water so your sluices don’t work there.
Another point of notice is the fact that this campground and access to the gold panning area is also shared with the Northwest Gold Prospectors Club who have 5 claims all around the area they utilize as well. This means many of the camping spots are taken up with their rigs and they can have a staging area for gatherings and meetings as well. You will notice that all vehicles have their hoods propped up and this is to the wood chucks don’t get into their engines and make a meal off of your wiring. It’s happened so the propped hood keeps them from feeling all cozy. Do as the locals do and prop your hood if you plan on staying awhile.
The Northwest Gold Prospectors Club is a very cordial group of folks and they welcome and help visitors to this area. Feel fortunate to be able to learn from the best and know that you can also utilize the campground at Howard Lake, just a mile down the road if you are looking for a place to stay while you are gold panning. Point of interest is the times that this is open. There is a momma bear who has a den uphill so this area is not open until after June 17th when the momma bear and her cubs are deemed out of realm for the local prospectors.
While I was there visitors from Georgia were panning on the hillside receiving help from the local prospecting club, and then a couple came from Cut Bank to pan for gold as they had seen this site on the national register as availability to pan. The convergence of people statewide as well as national means you can expect to meet up with people of similar interest from all over. This is a nice aspect of recreational prospecting. When you leave, expect to have a back window full of dust, but the drive up there and back is so worth it, that this badge of honor is worth carrying for awhile. My dust came with me to my driveway in Great Falls and had to be washed off as not all of it disappeared with travel.
NorthWest Gold Prospecting Club
While coming into the Recreational Gold Panning Area it was plain to see that I had driven into the staging area for a prospecting club with the multiple vehicles, campers, and table set ups; it was very clear there was a group working out of this campground. When I stopped and asked about the area’s activities I shared that a guy at the GPAA claim down the mountain had given relinquished his 160 acre claim to the leader of this NW Gold Prospector’s Club as he was “very liberal” with the sharing of the claims with members of his club. This was verified with the group sitting nearby as they divulged that there were 5 claims in the area, not the 9 that was stated on the internet.
Conversation so escalated to the upcoming events, the practices of the club, dinner this evening of tacos and margaritas (with invite) and a tour of the claim was offered up. I snapped that right up and got the grand explanation. Such great hosting and reception that one can’t help but be endured with this club. Wonderful group who are outstanding with invitational profiling and working together. This club is everything you want in a prospecting club. No hatred, animosity, secretiveness, deceit, manipulation and the various as sundried malfeasance that can rear its ugly head.
With a hop into the side by side, the tour began. Signage of the clubs’ claim was first to be noticed on the way up the hill. Upon arrival in the activity area there was obviously three distinct areas of operation here.
The first was the huge gravel pit where dump trucks were loaded to bring up to the upper level for processing through the trammels. Specific areas for digging were earmarked for club members to use and piles of gravel were there for members as well. The line of demarcation of the edge of digging site was indicated as well. Rules of excavation were mentioned too and can be found in the video. I might say this area was quite impressive to me; it is where all their gold comes from that is retrieved by the club’s activities.
The second area was the water holding area where the pipes, tubing and reservoirs were created so the club could use water in their processing of gold up above.
The third area was well developed with a long ramp type of affair that the trammels stood on and allowed the remains of them to be dumped into a trough. Behind it was a stand to which a gold cube processed the concentrates obtained from the trommels. Equipment was along the edges and waiting for the members to use when it was in full operation. Some members were there using gold detectors, classifiers, and small, legitimate machinery to continue hand panning processes.
After the tour there, Tim Graham, my tour guide took me down the road a mile to see Howard Lake and what can be had for the recreational activities of the prospectors and visitors to the area. It is in the Kootenai Forest and a nice area to enjoy the riches of Montana. Campers were cordial and talkative. The Forest Service had a post of users of the area for a survey so they had to stop and check of the intent of use of the lake and campground. There were interesting questions and a curiosity to the experiences in the deep recesses of the woods.