Recreational Mining Permits

Many people enjoy the challenge of searching for gold in Idaho's streams and rivers by means of recreational mining. The alteration of stream channels by using recreational mining equipment in a stream is regulated in Idaho by the Stream Channel Protection Act. Recreational mining equipment can be any implement that is used to dig, scrape, dredge, or otherwise move stream bed materials from below the mean high watermark in search of minerals. If powered your mining equipment may not exceed specific size and capability requirements. For example, if you use a suction dredge, it must have a nozzle diameter of 5 inches or less and be rated at no more than 15 horsepower and be capable of processing no greater than two (2) cubic yards of material per hour. Other powered and non powered mining equipment also have capacity restrictions. The Stream Channel Protection Act also requires that a miner must obtain a permit from the Idaho Department of Water Resources before the miner alters any portion of the stream bed. State regulations also specify the streams where recreational mining is allowed.

WARNING: It is a misdemeanor in Idaho to alter a stream channel without the permit or to violate the conditions of the permit. You can be fined from $150-$500 per day for violations. Also, it is important to understand that an IDWR permit does not allow you access to private lands or on another person's mining claim or lease. Mineral removal from streams on private lands requires permission or a mineral lease from the owner.

Where Can I Do Recreational Mining?

In general a valid permit allows you to do recreational mining in any stream on state or federal land where it is specifically allowed. Your permit directs the miner to the IDWR documents that identify the streams or stream sections where recreational mining is allowed and the time during the year it is allowed.

View maps of Streams Open for Recreational Mining as per IDWR Instructions

Ownership of minerals on state lands in the beds of navigable rivers belongs to the State of Idaho and no removal is allowed without a mineral lease from the Department of Lands. The instructions for your permit will provide a list of streams considered navigable by the State of Idaho. The Department of Lands also has authority over dredge mining in Idaho lakes.

What about Mining in Streams on Federal Lands?

Even though you have your State permit, you should check with the Forest Service district ranger station or the Bureau of Land Management offices. They can tell you about access, open roads, camping, land ownership, areas closed to mining and other information regarding Federal land. Many streams in National Forests may not be open for mining.

What about Environment Considerations?

Small recreational mining equipment operated in a stream channel may cause environmental damage if operated improperly or at the wrong time of year. This could potentially impact an entire run of fish and cause the stream to be closed to all future mining activities. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is responsible for administering the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) general permit program in Idaho. EPA approval under the NPDES general permit for small scale suction dredge operations in Idaho is required in 2013. Additional information regarding NPDES permitting may be obtained at EPA’s website: or by contacting the following EPA Office:

EPA Idaho Operations Office
950 W Bannock, Suite 900
Boise, ID 83702

In addition, Idaho is concerned with the introduction of invasive species into Idaho waters from floating craft or other devices, including recreational mining equipment that have previously been used in contaminated waters outside the state. To ensure that you do not introduce any invasive species aquatic invasive species, specifically Quagga/Zebra mussels, Idaho’s Invasive Species Law makes it illegal to import, transport, or possess invasive species. Recreational mining equipment operators are required to decontaminate their equipment before they come to Idaho or before returning to Idaho after mining out of state. The Idaho Department of Water Resources also strongly recommends that all mining equipment be decontaminated when moving into another watershed within the state. See for information on decontamination of equipment.

Operators of recreational mining equipment shall ensure that all internal and external surfaces of their equipment are cleaned and free of bacterial growth by circulating hot water internally and thoroughly pressure washing all exterior surfaces. Cleaning should ensure that all rough or gritty spots (microscopic mussels feel like sandpaper) are cleaned using high pressure 140+ degree Fahrenheit water or similar cleaning processes and thoroughly drying dredge for a minimum of 24 hours prior to use. Also see the Idaho Department of Agriculture's web site .