It’s unbelievable but true: you can still wade into the shallows of the South Fork of the American River and find flecks of gold, just like the fortune-seeking pioneers did over a century and a half ago at Sutter’s Mill. One of the best places to do it is in Jamestown, one of California’s original Gold Rush towns. In fact, Jamestown has seen two separate gold rushes in its history: the first in 1849, and a second boom in the 1880s, when new ways of mining helped uncover more gold.
To try your hand at prospecting you don’t need much more than some simple tools, a good attitude, and a pair of water shoes or boots (old trainers work well too). Shops around town sell gold pans-ask to be shown the special swirl technique that helps separate tiny bits of gold from worthless river silt. A small trowel can also help dig up river silt for panning. Admittedly, it is hard to know what’s what in the bottom of your pan, especially with plenty of 'fool’s gold' (technically worthless iron pyrite glittering in the bottom of your pan). For better luck, plus geological and historical trivia while you search and swirl, try panning with a guide.