Swift River Gold Rush

Pan for Gold in Maine's Coos Canyon... Really!

Coos Canyon on the Swift River in Maine

Kim Knox Beckius

In Maine, the Swift River's sparkle isn't just from sunlight glinting off the rippling current. Coos Canyon, located along Route 17 in Byron, Maine, is a scenic, rocky gorge carved through bedrock by this scenic river. And if you're looking for evidence that people really pan for—and discover—gold in Coos Canyon, you can find it by thumbing through the pages of "The Big Nugget Book."

The Swift River is one of more than a half dozen streams and rivers in Maine known to harbor deposits of genuine gold. And you can bet there are others Mainers keep mum about. According to the Maine Department of Conservation's Gold Fact Sheet, "Gold occurs in several geologic environments in Maine: in bedrock, in sediments that were eroded from bedrock by glaciers, and in stream deposits derived from either of these sources." And you're welcome to join in the hunt for this precious metal: No permit is required for old-school panning, but you should not disturb riverbanks nor trespass on private property.

Any lucky prospector who finds a gold nugget weighing three grains or more is eligible to have his or her photo included in "The Big Nugget Book," a photo album displayed across the street from Coos Canyon at the Coos Canyon Rock & Gift Shop, where you can rent gold panning equipment (though a perforated pie plate from home will work fine, too). "The Big Nugget Book" is filled with smiling faces of prospectors of all ages proudly displaying their gold haul.

While fame may come from finding a three-grain nugget, fortune will not come as easily. After all, a grain is equal to just 0.0648 grams. However, the Coos Canyon Rock & Gift Shop sells a variety of vials and pendants in which you can display your glittery flakes of pure gold: a true treasure from Maine.

So, How Do You Pan for Gold?

If panning for gold sounds like an activity straight out of the 19th century, well... it is. Learn the simple technique by watching this two-minute video with Parker Schnabel of Discovery Channel's Gold Rush.

If you're going to Coos Canyon on the Swift River...

Location: Coos Canyon is located in the town of Byron, Maine, on Route 17. It will come up on your right as you're headed toward Rangeley on Route 17 West.

Admission: There is free parking available at the Coos Canyon site, and there is no charge to visit the scenic spot or to wade into the water to try your luck panning for gold.

Pan for Gold: Bring your own panning equipment, or rent gear and take a quick lesson in panning at the Coos Canyon Rock & Gift Shop, located at 472 Swift River Road, across Route 17 from Coos Canyon. As of 2019, the price to rent a pan and classifying screen is $2.50 per day, with an $7.50 refundable deposit required. If you don't want to wade into the river, you can still hit paydirt. This cute shop sells 8-ounce, 16-ounce or one-gallon buckets or river gravel enriched with at least a few flakes, so you'll be guaranteed of striking gold. Use them right on-site in the shop's panning pool, or take them home as gifts for people you treasure.

Camp Nearby: Coos Canyon Campground & Cabins, 207-364-3880, rents gold panning gear at the camp store and offers year-round cabin rentals and 70 seasonal campsites for tents, campers and RVs.

Hotels and Inns: The Rangelely Lakes Chamber of Commerce has a directory of inns in the area including the wonderfully restored Rangeley Inn.

Nearby Must-See: Just a 15-minute drive north on Route 17 is one of the prettiest spots in all of wild and scenic Maine: Height of Land. Don't miss this incredible photo op while you're in the area.

More Places to Strike Gold in Maine

Other Maine rivers and streams where gold has been found include the Sandy River (between Madrid and New Sharon), the Penobscot River South Branch and stretches of aptly named Gold Brook running through Maine's Oxford, Franklin and Somerset Counties. Before you venture out, read up on rules and regulations, which particularly pertain to motorized recreational gold prospecting.

Want to Get Serious About Gold Prospecting in Maine?

The Maine Gold Prospectors Club is open to all, and the group's Facebook page is a resource for tips on where and how to strike gold.

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