It is where it all began in 1848. The gold strike at John Sutter’s timber mill on the American River brought thousands of Americans out west and many Chinese from the orient for adventure and for riches. See my article on California’s first Gold Discovery for more depth on that subject. Three years after the initial gold strike Placer County was formed from parts of Sutter and Yuma Counties. So much gold was taken from this county that there is no way it can be measured. Many of the gold districts in Placer County can be accessed by Highway 80.

Placer County Gold

American River

Near the city of Auburn you will find the Auburn district also known as the Ophir district, depending on who you ask. There are placer deposits all along the stretches of the American River. Hard-rock mines in the area produced an overwhelming amount of gold in this district, producing over a million and a half ounces of gold.

Iowa Hill District

East of Auburn on HWY 80, is Colfax where you will find the Iowa Hill district. For thirty five years, the area of extensively mined. Hydraulic mining operations ran day and night in the search for California Gold. The operations were brought to a halt, because of the environmental impact it was having. Modern day operations are much more responsible than in those older days. Many places were scared by hydraulic operations throughout the west. The Morning Star mine was a major producer.

Iowa Hill

Dutch Flat / Gold Run District

Dutch Flat District

It is images like this one of the Dutch Flat District that give modern gold mining a bad rep, even though modern practices are much more environmentally sound.


The Dutch Flat district and Gold Run district is along the northern boundary lines of Placer County on the system of Tertiary channel deposits that extends south from Nevada County.

Placer mining began in 1849, and by 1857 hydraulic and drift mines were producing on a fairly large scale. Though early records are almost nonexistent, it was estimated that the district produced about 479,000 ounces of gold to 1935. In recent years, because of high costs and restrictive legislation, production has decreased to less than 1,000 ounces per year. Total production through 1959 was about 492,000 ounces. Dutch Flat is one the better preserved mining areas and can be accessed by HWY 80.

Emigrant Gap
The Emigrant Gap district, includes the area of  Blue Canyon. The gold is found in quartz veins, occurring  in slate and schist. Emigrant Gap can also be accessed by HWY 80.

Duncan Peak

You can find some very coarse gold in the Duncan Peak District. Check the south side of Duncan Peak in the gravels to find rich diggings. There are deposits that can be found in Duncan Canyon.

Damascus

Placer gold can be found in streams and channels in the Damascus District. This district is located south of Monte Vista just off of HWY 80.

Foresthill District

The Foresthill district is in south-central Placer County. Foresthill Divide is a complex system of Tertiary channels capped by lavas. The gravels have been extensively worked by drift mines which reached their peak of productivity in the 1860’s . Before 1868 the Independence, New Jersey, and Jenny Lind mines produced $2,400,000 in gold. Estimates of production of individual mines given give a minimum total for the district of about 338,000 ounces of gold. In recent years, the district has been virtually dormant. Total gold production through 1959 was about 344,000 ounces.

Michigan Bluff District
The Michigan Bluff district is in southern Placer County, about 5 miles east of Foresthill.

From 1853 to 1880 considerable hydraulic and drift mining was done in the Tertiary channel gravels that underlie the eastern part of Foresthill Divide at Michigan Bluff.  An area of 40 acres yielded $5 million in gold. The Big Gun mine with an output of about $1 million to 1882 was the largest individual producer of the hydraulic mines, and the Hidden Treasure mine was the most productive of all the drift mines in the Tertiary gravels in the State, with a total of about $4 million in gold. Several lode mines were important gold producers, such as the Pioneer, with $900,000 in gold, and the Rawhide, with $300,000, were the most productive.

The total gold production of the district through 1959 was about 300,000 ounces. In recent years activity has slackened, and during 1942-59 less than 100 ounces per year was reported.